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In the instance that you haven't before now, chances are that sometime in your own lifetime you'll need to retain the services of an attorney at law. Thanks to my discussion with Tampa Attorney Christina Mesa, below is a group of responses to very common as well as fundamental questions.

1. QUESTION: How do I know if I will need a lawyer?
ANSWER: If you have been recently served with a Summons and comparable documents (Complaint, Petition, Motion), you should endeavor to find legal guidance without delay. Papers filed in court that begin a lawsuit call for responses that involve particular deadlines; missing those deadlines could damage your defense, reduce or avoid your recovery. Some issues by statute involve a "pre-suit" period of time that allow you to think about the legal issues and probable resolution before a lawsuit is filed. Similarly, seeking legal counsel immediately is advised.

2. QUESTION: Do I need to hire an attorney or lawyer in the county where the issue occurs?
ANSWER: No. Many lawyers practice in other counties and other states, depending on their licensure for the latter. Having knowledge in the county in which the matter is being litigated is important as that lawyer will have a comfort level with the local courthouse personnel, lawyers (likely opposing counsel) and judges. One consideration in retaining a lawyer outside the area in which the matter occurs is cost of journey time. Some lawyers don't charge for travel, others offer a decreased rate or preserve a billable rate for all work carried out. Discuss that question with each lawyer consulted.

3. QUESTION: Precisely what is mediation?
ANSWER: Mediation is a course of action whereby the parties to the issue present at an agreed site with their counsel (if retained) and a decided on mediator to try and resolve all or some of the issues involved. Mediators are to be unrelated to all participants and the litigation at issue, are to stay impartial in between the parties and their counsel, and maintain the confidential nature of the conference to encourage settlement and resolution. Usually the parties share the charge of the mediation equally but other arrangements can be made if all parties are in agreement ahead of the conference. Mediation is usually required in just about every case filed in court and before a trial is held.

4. QUESTION: What kind of law firm do I need?
ANSWER: Again, like other businesses, lawyers may specialize in a certain or more than one area. Similarly, law offices may specialize, offer general legal needs or offer you services in several unique areas of law. Trial attorneys deal with cases involving lawsuits; family law attorneys handle divorce, child custody/visitation, child support, alimony and associated matters; general practitioners handle nearly all matters. Some areas of law are very technical, like bankruptcy or taxation; others are delineated by statute, like worker's compensation. Any lawyer can talk about your specific issue, determine if he or she is qualified to handle such matters or inform you of the necessity to seek advice from another in a specialized area.

5. QUESTION: How may I be sure my attorney is handling my problems?
ANSWER: Every good lawyer keeps track of his time (fees) and expenses (costs). Your retainer arrangement should include a confirmation of how the attorney bills his clients - once a month, quarterly, etc. You may even keep track of your case in some jurisidictions that provide on-line access to case dockets. If the county has that set up, you are wise to routinely review the docket and see what events have taken place by your lawyer and the other party/counsel. It's also advisable to feel at ease contacting your lawyer at intervals to ascertain the status of the issue, knowing you will likely be charged for these communications.

6. QUESTION: Just how do I select an attorney?
ANSWER: Legal issues are as vast as those in other industries, such as medicine, construction, finance, etc. and may be just as perplexing. To protect your rights and remedies, the ideal practice is to research your area of need and research what law firms are out there to work with you. A referral from someone you know and regard can add a personal element to the plan to hire an lawyer but really should not be the exclusive reason counsel is chosen. Research the attorney's background of training, expertise 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 contemplated with the same level of thought and consideration as that directed at the choice of a physician, accountant, financial advisor or therapist.

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