Call docket: A list of cases that will be called out to see if the defendant has entered for purposes of defending the suit. If the defendant is not present, but the plaintiff is, then the case will be a default. If the defendant is present and the plaintiff is not present, then the case will probably be dismissed without prejudice for failure to prosecute (show up).

Call docket settings: Times when a case is assigned to a call docket, or (sometimes) a case’s numerical location on a call docket.

Case in chief: This is the part of a trial where you present the evidence you want the judge or jury to hear regarding the claims you are making against the other side, or your facts opposing the case brought against you. After you present your case in chief, the other side may present a rebuttal.

Case style:The name of the case, including the parties to the case, the Cause Number and the Division of the Court. The case style would normally be the first half of the first page of a pleading.

Cause number: An identifying number given to a case when it is filed. No other case has the same number, and in the courts of my state, cases before the Associate Circuit Court have the letters “AC” in them.

Cause of Action: This is a legal claim against the other party, where the litigant is asking the court to provide him a remedy for something the other side did.

Certificate of service: A statement, at the end of a document you are providing the court,that says you have served a copy of that document upon the other party to the suit. This is required because you are not allowed to communicate with the judge without the other party being there (ex parte).

Charge-off: This is an accounting term, not a legal term. When a creditor gets tired of waiting for payment that is not being paid as it comes due, it can charge it off and take a tax loss on the debt. This does not mean that the company does not own the debt or will not try to collect it, it is simply an accounting device to recognize that the company has not been paid as expected.

Charged-off debt: A debt that has been charged off. Note that this does not mean that the company has actually disclaimed the debt or given it away or sold it. It is an accounting device that reflects the debt’s status for record-keeping purposes.

Civil Procedure or Rules of Civil Procedure: The rules that control the way a whole case is conducted, from beginning to end.

Claim: Your legal assertion that somebody committed a legal wrong against you for which you are entitled to a remedy. In other words, it is what you are suing the other party for.

Closing argument: The argument you present to the jury or judge after the evidence has been presented. You relate the evidence you have provided to the law that governs your claim, and you show the jury why they should rule in your favor.

Collectability: The winning party’s ability to collect on a judgment gained in the lawsuit. Judgments are not in any way guaranteed by the government, and if the losing party does not have assets you can reach, then the judgment is said to be “uncollectable,” but this is not a term or concept with legal effect, so the holder of a judgment is free to keep trying to collect on the judgment for as long as the judgment lasts. In my state that is ten years, renewable for ten more years. Judgments that were initially uncollectable sometimes later become collectable.

Complaint: Another term for “Petition,” which is the formal pleading which a plaintiff files to start a lawsuit against a defendant.

Compound interest: Interest on interest. That could arise in any number of ways. Suppose the original creditor had charged you interest on your charge account. This is often added to the amount originally borrowed when it is sold to the debt collector, who then asks for the entire amount as principle plus interest from a certain date or “up to the date of trial.” But this is seeking interest on interest. In some states a plaintiff is not entitled to compound interest unless there’s a contract which specifically permits it. Most credit card agreements do, of course, but note: many debt collectors cannot find your credit card contract (even assuming you’re the right person to sue).

Without the contract, they can’t get compound interest in my state, maybe in yours too.

Consent judgment: In theory, this is a judgment that one party agrees to with another party, typically admitting liability. In reality, consent judgments are usually entered as the result of fear and intimidation, or confusion, and almost always by people representing themselves. Lawyers will rarely agree to consent judgments, and then almost always simply as a means of giving a court oversight of the agreement.

Since a consent judgment is a judgment against you, it will have all the bad effects of a judgment after trial on your credit report, although sometimes the agreements call for their eradication upon payment. This might provide some protection of the credit report.

Continuance: An order by the court putting something off until a later date. Cases on the call docket are typically continued until a specific date about a month away.

Continuance date: The date to which cases on the call docket will normally be continued. The continuance date is usually written on a blackboard in the county courts I used to frequent so everyone can see it, but sometimes you must ask the judge or a clerk for the continuance date.

Continue: Put off until another date. As in “we will continue the motion hearing from today until next week.”

Cost-benefit: See cost-benefit analysis. The weighing and comparison of costs and advantages. What it costs for what you get.

Cost-benefit analysis: This is an accounting term, not a legal one, referring to a process of adding up what something costs and comparing the costs to what you might gain from a certain outcome. Note that, in a lawsuit, risk of losing must be taken into account. So if you have a 50% chance of winning $100, the benefit is considered to be $50.  If it would cost $50 or more to win the case, the cost benefit analysis should show that pursuing the case is not profitable. That does not necessarily mean that the company will not pursue it, though, as it might have other costs or benefits to consider, or it might not act in an economically rational way.

Costs: In American law, the loser usually pays the “court costs” of the winner in a lawsuit. It isn’t as bad as it might sound, though, since “costs” typically does not include attorney’s fees. Without attorney’s fees, costs are usually negligible, since they only include the filing fee, certain copying costs, and certain discovery costs, including deposition transcripts.

Counterclaim: Legal claims brought by a defendant to a lawsuit against the plaintiff who started the suit by suing the defendant.

Court of Appeals:  the court that reviews decisions made by the trial court judge. Typically an “appellate panel,” the group of judges who will decide your case, is made up of three judges who specialize in appeals.

The Court of Appeals is, as they say, a “court of error,” not of “justice,” which means that an appeal will focus on specific rulings of the trial court that you claim were mistakes. You must “preserve” any issue for review (by objecting or, when an objection was sustained against you, by making an offer of proof).

The Court of Appeals’ role is to determine whether the law was followed regarding those specific rulings, and the court will generally not consider an issue that was not presented to the trial court judge. Whether the outcome of the case in general was fair or compassionate will usually not concern the Court of Appeals unless it is extreme. The court of appeals rarely “reverses” (overrules) the trial court and will generally respect and follow any determination as to facts made by the trial court. In other words, you want to win at trial if at all possible.

Cross-examine: The questioning of a hostile witness. Typically you will be allowed to ask leading questions (questions that suggest the answer and usually can be answered with a yes or no) of a hostile witness (“Isn’t it true that…”).