If I had a nickel for every time a new client asked me this question, I could personally replenish the much-needed funding of the California court system. Well, that might be a slight exaggeration but you get the point. Many people with a lawsuit to file share a very unrealistic expectation of how long it will take to resolve their case, estimating a few months at the most. Maybe, they have been involved with an eviction or a small claims case, when the case moves along rather quickly. Maybe, it’s because of all of those television legal dramas where the client hires an attorney, litigates the case and has her day in court, all in under an hour.
In California, and San Diego specifically, plaintiffs are optimistically looking at 18-24 months before a judge will hear their case. It used to be that with San Diego’s “fast track” rules, all cases were to be set for trial within 12 months of the lawsuit being filed. However, like the rest of the country, the courts struggled in the economic downturn. Court budgets were severely slashed and access to justice was thwarted. There were many lay-offs of court personnel. Courtrooms were closed and our sitting judges were burdened with hundreds of additional cases on each of their individual dockets. As a result, motions that would normally be set for hearing within 35 days, are now scheduled 6-12 months out. If the hearing date for an ancillary legal issue cannot be heard before the trial date then the trial will be continued to a later date. These continuances can occur several times throughout the case preventing the plaintiff from seeing her day in court before 24-36 months from filing.
Consequentially, plaintiffs have to drastically adjust their expectations and work patiently with counsel to navigate through each legal battle as efficiently as possible. This includes making adjustments with your family and at your job to ensure that they are prepared and you have the tools available to continue see your lawsuit through to completion. As with any legal situation, it is prudent to have a realistic discussion with your attorney to determine what you can expect in your specific case.