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If perhaps you haven't by now, chances are that sometime in a lifetime you will need to retain the services of an attorney. With the help of my consultation with Tampa Lawyer Christina Mesa, here is a listing of responses to popular and worthwhile questions.

1. QUESTION: Do I have to hire an attorney at law in the county where the case occurs?
ANSWER: No. Many lawyers or attorneys practice in other counties and other states, depending on their licensure for the latter. Having knowledge in the county wherein the matter is being litigated is important as that lawyer will have a comfort level with the county courthouse personnel, attorneys (likely opposing lawyer) and judges. One matter in retaining legal counsel away from area wherein the matter takes place is cost of travel time. Some lawyers do not charge for travel, others offer a decreased rate or preserve a billable rate for all work carried out. Clarify that question with each attorney consulted.

2. QUESTION: How will I be certain my lawyer is handling my case?
ANSWER: Every good attorney accounts for his time (fees) and expenditures (costs). Your retainer agreement should include a statement of how the attorney bills his clients - once a month, quarterly, etc. You can also track your case in some jurisidictions that offer on-line access to case dockets. If the county has that set up, you're wise to periodically review the docket and see what activities have transpired by your lawyer and the other party/counsel. It's also advisable to feel at ease getting in contact with your lawyer at intervals to determine the status of the issue, knowing you'll likely be billed for these interactions.

3. QUESTION: Exactly how do I select an attorney at law?
ANSWER: Legal issues are as vast as those in other sectors, such as medicine, construction, finance, etc. and can be just as complicated. To safeguard your legal rights and remedies, the ideal practice is to investigate your area of need and research what legal professionals are accessible 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 really should not be the exclusive reason counsel is chosen. Research the attorney's background of schooling, practical experience and area(s) of practice. Asking important questions should be urged 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 given to the choice of a medical professional, accountant, financial specialist or therapist.

4. QUESTION: How do I determine if I will need a legal professional?
ANSWER: If you have recently been served with a Summons and similar documents (Complaint, Petition, Motion), you should endeavor to seek legal advice right away. Papers filed in court that begin a lawsuit call for responses that involve exact deadlines; skipping those deadlines could compromise your defense, restrict or avoid your recovery. Some issues by statute involve a "pre-suit" period that allow you to consider the legal issues and probable resolution before a suit is filed. Similarly, seeking a lawyer as soon as possible is advised.

5. QUESTION: What is mediation?
ANSWER: Mediation is a process whereby the parties to the issue present at an agreed area with their counsel (if retained) and a decided on mediator to try and solve all or some of the concerns involved. Mediators should 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 recommend settlement and resolution. Generally the parties share the cost of the mediation equally but other arrangements might be made if all parties are in agreement ahead of the conference. Mediation is typically required in every case filed in court and just before a trial is held.

6. QUESTION: What type of law firm 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 several specific areas of law. Trial lawyers deal with cases involving lawsuits; family law attorneys handle separation and divorce, child custody/visitation, child support, alimony and associated matters; general practitioners handle almost all matters. Some areas of law are very complex, like bankruptcy or taxation; others are delineated by statute, such as worker's compensation. Any lawyer can discuss your specific issue, determine if he or she is prepared to take care of such matters or advise you of the necessity to speak with another in a specialized area.

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