By Jedidiah McKeehan

If you have had any interaction with the legal system, there are two terms that you will hear quite often, “trial” and “hearing.”  What do these two terms really mean?  Do they mean the same thing?  Yes and no.  Although some attorneys will use the terms interchangeably, they do have practical differences.

When people hear the term, “trial,” they usually associate it with 12 jurors sitting in jury box deciding the outcome of a case, and they would be correct.  A “jury trial,” is one type of trial.  Trials can also occur in front of just a judge, when the judge is the final decision maker of how a case will be decided.  A trial will almost always have witnesses testify as to the facts of the case.

Trials do not have to be very long, they can last an hour or less if there is only one or two witnesses.  There is usually some finality to a trial.  At the end of a trial, there will be a ruling or judgment made by the judge or the jury.

A hearing, on the other hand, is often you used as a catch all term to describe any all matter that comes before a judge.  Hearings can have testimony from witnesses, or they can be matters that have only arguments by the attorneys involved in a case.

Hearings are often thought of as shorter matters than trials, but some hearings can last multiple hours, or in rare instances, all day.  The confusion with these terms likely comes from the fact that attorneys will often call legal proceedings in small claims or juvenile court “hearings,” when for all practical purposes, what is actually occurring is a trial.

So that matter in small claims court where your attorney got you a judgment for $5,000.00, was it a hearing or a trial? If there was witnesses, and the judge made a final decision on which party won and which party lost the case, then it was a trial, even though your attorney might call it a hearing.

Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties.  He works in many areas, including criminal, personal injury, landlord-tenant, probate, and estate planning. Visit for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.