Case Management Conferences

In the early stages of a case, the parties may find out that they are required to attend a meeting called a case management conference.  A case management conference is the first step in moving the case forward and gives the judge and the parties the chance to see what the case is about and how it will likely proceed.  Case management conferences are typically short with a quick update and a chance to schedule any other necessary hearing dates.  The parties will often leave with a clear plan moving forward and what topics will need to be discussed at trial.  This plan will help the parties begin to prepare for their trial and any possible alternative dispute resolution processes that may be scheduled.  This article will discuss what the case management conference is, what happens at the conference, and how to best prepare for a case management conference.  

The Case Management Conference:

When the plaintiff files the case with the court and the defendant or respondent files an answer, the court will often schedule a case management conference to discover what the parties are actually in a dispute about and how the case will need to proceed.  The parties may talk about the issues and discuss what the parties need to do moving forward.  During this conference, a judge will need to make several determinations.  These are: 

  • Agreement: The judge will need to determine where the parties agree in the case.  This may be clear from the pleadings, but the judge may ask if the parties have attempted or have reached any kind of agreement on the case.  This determination will decide what items will need to be set forward for alternative dispute resolution or trial.  
  • Remaining Issues: The flip side of finding the areas the parties agree on means that the judge will also need to determine which areas of the case the parties are still in disagreement about.  This can include narrowing the issues based on agreements in the pleadings and finding only the places where the parties are unable to agree.  This also helps create a plan moving forward because it allows the parties to focus only on the issues at hand.  
  • Other Cases: Occasionally, at a case management conference, the parties or the judge will need to determine if the current case is connected to other cases in such a way that they should be combined, or if the case is too complex and needs to be broken into smaller cases.  
  • Motions: The judge may also ask if there are any motions to dismiss or other preliminary motions that will need to be addressed.  If there are motions, the judge will often schedule a motion hearing for the case.  
  • Protective Orders: Occasionally, protective orders may need to be issued at the case management conference if there is a reason that one of the parties needs to be protected from another.  This will often be the only order that is granted outside of scheduling orders. 
  • Discovery: Because this process is about managing and understanding the case, the judge will also need to determine where in the discovery process the parties are and what will need to be exchanged moving forward.  The judge will usually set a discovery deadline after considering how much more discovery the parties may need to undertake.  
  • Plan: The court and the parties will need to make a plan for the case moving forward.  This may mean that the parties will agree to attempt to mediate the dispute or negotiate a settlement.  However, it can also mean that the parties know the dispute will need to be set for trial, and the judge can schedule other conferences and hearings before this trial.  

What happens at a case management conference? 

As mentioned above, the case management conference is often a short hearing.  Typically, the judge will call the parties and ask for an update on the case.  They may ask whether the parties have reached a full or partial agreement, how the discovery process is going, and whether there is anything that the judge needs to know about at this point in the case. The parties may give a summary of where they believe the case currently stands, how they think it should move forward, and help schedule any other hearings or conferences that may be necessary.  The case management conference may happen in the same space, but the parties may be separated while talking to the judge.  The parties may even have the opportunity to agree at the conference on certain issues and create a shorter list of issues for the trial.  Finally, it is important to note that in many places, the judge who is the judge at the case management conference will not be the judge for the trial.  This allows the parties to speak freely about their case and not risk prejudicing themselves.  

Preparing for a Case Management Conference: 

In many places, the council and the parties are required to meet before the case management conference to have a better understanding of the issues that will need to be decided at the conference.  Some important topics that should be discussed before a case management conference are: 

  • Stipulations: Stipulations are agreements between the parties on certain issues on the case.  It may be that one party stipulates certain facts that the other party presented in their pleadings, or it may be that one party will stipulate to the entry of certain exhibits.  The parties should come prepared with any possible stipulations to help the conference run smoothly. 
  • Discovery: Discovery can be a massive undertaking in some disputes, and there are often disagreements about what was given in response to a discovery request or what format the documents should be exchanged in.  The parties should discuss these disputes before the conference and have any remaining questions ready to present. 
  • Motions: Any possible motions should be discussed before the conference to allow the parties to be prepared to schedule hearings on such motions.  This also allows the parties to attempt to resolve the motions informally before the conference.  
  • Availability: If the parties know that the dispute will need to go to trial, it will be important for them to discuss their availability for a potential trial.  This will help the scheduling process run more smoothly at the conference. 
  • Settlement: Finally, the parties should discuss the possibility of settlement and whether they would like to attempt mediation or negotiation to resolve the case.  It will help to have an agreement on the possibility of settlement before going into court for the conference.  

Case management conferences are all about managing the case.  From the issues still in dispute to the possibility of settlement to plans for future hearings and trials, the conference provides a space for the parties and a judge to discuss the possible ways that the case may move forward and create a plan.  Understanding what issues will be discussed will be a key to preparing for the conference and knowing the ins and outs of the case may just help the parties reach an agreement before trial is even necessary.   

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