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General - The Adversarial System
It is a fundamental premise of our legal system that the truth is best arrived at through an open process in which every affected party in a dispute has the opportunity to present his or her case to the person or persons (judge or jury) who is/are charged with deciding the dispute. This process includes both the ability to present one’s own case and to critique the case put forth by the other party. Hence, the system is sometimes called the “adversarial system.”
The classic method of resolving disputes “legally” is through a trial. Trials are governed by elaborate rules covering every stage of the process, from pre-trial information gathering, called “discovery,” through appeals. While every person has a right to represent him/herself in court, the complexity of these rules dictate that you should consult with a lawyer if you are sued or are considering suing someone else.
The legal system also includes other methods of resolving disputes, including mediation, arbitration, and negotiation. Lawyers are frequently involved in alternative dispute resolution, but mediators and arbitrators need not be attorneys.
It is worth mentioning that decisions made in administrative settings, such as whether a person is entitled to disability or unemployment benefits, or should have their driving privileges suspended, often take on a more adversarial character than might be expected. “Claimants” normally have the right to be represented by an attorney in administrative hearings, and it is often vital to the success of a claim to have assistance.