In the event that you haven't previously, probably sometime in your own life you'll need to hire legal counsel. Thanks to my consultation with Tampa Lawyer Christina Mesa, here is a number of answers to popular and worthwhile questions.
1. QUESTION: Do I have 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, depending on their licensure for the latter. Having knowledge in the county in which the matter is being litigated is crucial as that attorney will have a level of comfort with the local courthouse personnel, lawyers (likely opposing lawyer) and judges. One consideration in retaining legal counsel outside the area in which the matter occurs is cost of travel time. Some attorneys do not charge for travel, others offer a reduced rate or maintain a billable rate for all work carried out. Discuss that question with each attorney consulted.
2. QUESTION: How will I be sure my lawyer is resolving my problems?
ANSWER: Every good lawyer monitors his time (fees) and expenditures (costs). Your retainer agreement should include a affirmation of how the attorney bills his clients - up front, quarterly, etc. You may even track your case in some jurisidictions that offer on-line access to case dockets. If the county has that available, you're wise to routinely review the docket and see what activities have occurred by your lawyer and the other party/counsel. In addition feel comfortable getting in contact with your lawyer at intervals to determine the status of the matter, understanding you'll likely be charged for these interactions.
3. QUESTION: Exactly how do I pick an attorney or lawyer?
ANSWER: Legal matters are as vast as those in other industries, such as medicine, construction, finance, etc. and usually are just as complicated. To protect your legal rights and remedies, the ideal practice is to investigate your area of need and research what law firms are available to help you. A referral from someone you know and admire can bring a personal element to the plan to hire an attorney but should not be the exclusive reason counsel is chosen. Look into the attorney's background of training, experience and area(s) of practice. Asking basic questions should be encouraged in this process. Self-help could be strengthening but may also limit or negate your recovery. Hiring a law firm should be considered with the same level of thought and consideration as that directed at the choice of a medical professional, accountant, financial advisor or therapist.
4. QUESTION: How do I know if I will need a lawyer?
ANSWER: If you have been served with a Summons and related documents (Complaint, Petition, Motion), you should really endeavor to find legal guidance without delay. Papers filed in court that commence a lawsuit call for responses that involve specific deadlines; skipping those deadlines could damage your defense, restrict or avoid your recovery. Some concerns by statute involve a "pre-suit" time period that allow you to think about the legal issues and potential resolution before a suit is filed. Similarly, seeking a lawyer immediately is recommended.
5. QUESTION: What exactly is mediation?
ANSWER: Mediation is a process whereby the parties to the issue present at an agreed place with their counsel (if retained) and a chosen mediator to try and solve all or some of the issues involved. Mediators are to be unrelated to all parties and the litigation at issue, are to stay impartial amongst the parties and their counsel, and continue maintaining the confidential nature of the conference to encourage settlement and resolution. Generally the parties share the fee of the mediation equally but other arrangements can be made if all parties are in agreement in advance of the conference. Mediation is generally required in just about every case filed in court and before a trial is held.
6. QUESTION: What kind of lawyer do I need?
ANSWER: Again, like other industries, lawyers may concentrate in a specific or more than one area. Similarly, law offices may specialize, offer general legal needs or provide services in a few specific areas of law. Trial attorneys deal with cases involving lawsuits; family law attorneys handle divorce cases, child custody/visitation, child support, alimony and associated matters; general practitioners handle most matters. Some areas of law are extremely technical, like bankruptcy or taxation; others are delineated by statute, as in worker's compensation. Any lawyer can go over your particular issue, determine if he/she is prepared to take care of such matters or inform you of the necessity to speak with another in a specialized area.
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