Can a plaintiff attack a defendant's property before the plaintiff wins a judgment - or even serves the lawsuit on the defendant?

Possibly. Depending on the specific case and the practices of the defendant’s state courts, a party suing may be able to attach your real estate, bank accounts or personal property before proving their case at trial. This may be accomplished by filing a court approved lien, a lis pendens (against real estate) or an attachment of bank accounts and personal property. The court may also issue a freeze order or injunction restraining the defendant or other third parties from transferring or dissipating assets pending the trial. Pre-judgment attachments are most common in divorce cases. They are far less common with routine civil cases.