I have often found myself telling a client, “our next step in the process is to attend the pre-trial conference”. The problem is that I never really explained what a pre-trial conference is, or what happens at a pre-trial conference. In plain English, a pre-trial conference is a fancy lawyer term for a meeting between the parties. In a criminal case, that means a meeting between the prosecutor and the defendant, who is accused of a criminal charge. In civil cases, it means a meeting between the plaintiff, who filed the complaint, and the defendant, who is typically accused of some wrongdoing in the complaint. The meeting is usually held in person at the courthouse, but it can also be conducted by telephone or video conference. The purpose of the meeting is for the parties and their lawyers to discuss the status of the evidence – has the prosecutor provided the evidence to the defense for review, and are there pieces of evidence which still must be provided to the defense? If all the evidence has been exchanged between the parties, there is typically a discussion about the admissibility of certain pieces of evidence, and a discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of each side’s case. The parties may engage in plea discussions, or they may simply agree to move ahead with a trial at a future date. Often there are more than one pre-trial conferences, depending on the complexity of the case. Many clients are very anxious to resolve their case as quickly as possible. It is always wise for the lawyer and their client to discuss the predicted timeline of the case, and to be aware of the possibility for delays in any case. Having this discussion up front will hopefully alleviate some of the client’s anxiety.
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