If perhaps you haven't by now, chances are that sometime in a lifetime you will need to retain legal counsel. With the help of my interview with Tampa Attorney Christina Mesa, here's a number of answers to common and fundamental questions.
1. QUESTION: How can I be sure my attorney is working on my issues?
ANSWER: Every good lawyer accounts for his time (fees) and expenses (costs). Your retainer contract should include a affirmation of how the lawyer bills his clients - up front, quarterly, etc. You may also track your case in some jurisidictions that supply on-line accessibility to case dockets. If the county has that established, you are wise to often review the docket and see what activities have occurred by your attorney and the other party/counsel. Also feel at ease getting in contact with your attorney at intervals to learn the status of the issue, knowing you'll likely be charged for these interactions.
2. QUESTION: Do I need to hire an attorney or lawyer in the county where the case occurs?
ANSWER: No. Many lawyers or attorneys practice in other jurisdictions and other states, based on their licensure for the latter. Having knowledge in the county in which the matter is being litigated is essential as that lawyer will have a level of comfort with the neighborhood courthouse personnel, attorneys (likely opposing counsel) and judges. One thing to consider in hiring legal counsel outside the area wherein the matter occurs is cost of journey time. Some lawyers do not charge for travel, others give you a reduced rate or preserve a billable rate for all work performed. Discuss that question with each lawyer consulted.
3. QUESTION: How do I know if I will need a legal professional?
ANSWER: If you have recently been served with a Summons and associated documents (Complaint, Petition, Motion), you really should endeavor to seek legal advice now. Papers filed in court that commence a lawsuit require responses that involve exact deadlines; skipping those deadlines could damage your defense, reduce or avoid your recovery. Some matters by statute involve a "pre-suit" time period that allow you to consider the legal issues and probable resolution before a suit is filed. Similarly, seeking legal counsel at the earliest opportunity is recommended.
4. QUESTION: Exactly what is mediation?
ANSWER: Mediation is a course of action whereby the parties to the matter present at an agreed place with their counsel (if retained) and a selected mediator to try and resolve all or a number of the issues involved. Mediators are to be unrelated to all participants and the litigation at issue, are to stay impartial between the parties and their counsel, and maintain the confidential structure of the conference to recommend settlement and resolution. Usually the parties share the fee of the mediation evenly but other arrangements may be made if all parties are in agreement ahead of the conference. Mediation is generally required in just about every case filed in court and prior to a trial is held.
5. QUESTION: What type of lawyer do I need?
ANSWER: Again, like other industries, lawyers may specialise in a specific or more than one area. Similarly, law offices may specialize, provide general legal needs or provide services in a few specific areas of law. Trial attorneys deal with cases involving lawsuits; family law lawyers handle divorce, child custody/visitation, child support, alimony and related matters; general practitioners handle nearly all matters. Some areas of law are extremely complex, like bankruptcy or taxation; some are delineated by statute, like worker's compensation. Any lawyer should be able to go over your particular issue, determine if he/she is prepared to take care of such matters or advise you of the need to consult with another in a specialised area.
6. QUESTION: Exactly how do I select an attorney or lawyer?
ANSWER: Legal topics are as vast as those in other industries, such as medicine, construction, finance, etc. and usually are just as perplexing. To safeguard your legal rights and remedies, the best practice would be to study your area of need and research what lawyers are around to work with you. A recommendation from someone you know and admire can bring a personal element to the plan to hire an attorney but should not be the only reason counsel is picked. Research the lawyer's background of training, practical experience and area(s) of practice. Asking basic questions should be encouraged in this process. Self-help can be strengthening but can also restrict or negate your recovery. Hiring a legal professional should be considered with exactly the same degree of thought and consideration as that directed at the selection of a medical doctor, accountant, financial specialist or therapist.
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