The courts of law dealt with winners and losers, focusing on damages. If a party was damaged, they were owed monetary compensation. Determining if and to what extent damages existed could be decided by a jury of peers.
Taking a breach of contract as an example, in a court of law, the remedy would be money. For example, say a person sold a television for $5,000.00 and the buyer found out the television did not work. They could sue the seller for the cost of a television, to put them back in the position they were in before buying from the seller.
The courts of equity deal more with justice and fairness. Weighing the situation, the courts of equity focus on “extraordinary” remedies, those results which are different from legal remedies. These are remedies such as contract reformation, injunctions, specific performance, and more. These all are orders of the court which command a party to do or to not do something.
Take the breach of contract case again, only this time instead of finding out the television did not work the seller did not deliver the television. The buyer could approach the court of equity and ask for the television to be delivered, in other words specific performance of the contract.
The basic distinction between the types of remedies exists today. While the same judge, the same court, can hear the cases, there are a variety of differences in existence. Under the legal remedies, the question is always one of money and a jury can be requested as a matter of right. For an equitable remedy, there are certain requirements which must be met. For example, the legal remedy must not be sufficient and it can be difficult to have a jury hear the case depending on the situation.
When you are looking to get into a lawsuit, determine what type of remedy you want. It will allow you or your lawyer to position the case to match with the differences between law and equity.