1. QUESTION: How do I select an attorney?
ANSWER: Legal issues are as vast as those in other industries, such as medicine, construction, finance, etc. and can be just as complicated. To protect your legal rights and remedies, the best practice is to research your area of need and research what lawyers are available to assist you. A referral from someone you know and respect can add a personal element to the decision to hire an attorney but should not be the sole reason counsel is selected. Look into the attorney's background of education, experience and area(s) of practice. Asking questions should be encouraged in this process. Self-help can be empowering but can also limit or negate your recovery. Hiring a lawyer should be contemplated with the same degree of thought and consideration as that given to the choice of a doctor, accountant, financial consultant or therapist.
2. QUESTION: How do I know if I need a lawyer?
ANSWER: If you have been served with a Summons and related documents (Complaint, Petition, Motion), you should endeavor to seek legal advice right away. Papers filed in court that begin a lawsuit require responses that involve specific deadlines; missing those deadlines could compromise your defense, limit or avoid your recovery. Some matters by statute involve a "pre-suit" period that allow you to consider the legal issues and potential resolution before a lawsuit is filed. Similarly, seeking legal counsel as soon as possible is recommended.
3. QUESTION: What is mediation?
ANSWER: Mediation is a process whereby the parties to the matter present at an agreed location with their counsel (if retained) and a selected mediator to try and resolve all or some of the issues involved. Mediators are to be unrelated to all parties and the litigation at issue, are to remain impartial between the parties and their counsel, and maintain the confidential nature of the conference to encourage settlement and resolution. Usually the parties share the cost 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 every case filed in court and before a trial is held.
4. QUESTION: What kind if lawyer do I need?
ANSWER: Again, like other industries, lawyers may specialize in a certain or more than one area. Similarly, law firms may specialize, provide general legal needs or offer services in a few specific areas of law. Trial lawyers handle cases involving lawsuits; family law attorneys handle divorce, child custody/visitation, child support, alimony and related matters; general practitioners handle most matters. Some areas of law are very technical, like bankruptcy or taxation; others are delineated by statute, such as worker's compensation. Any lawyer should be able to discuss your particular issue, determine if he/she is qualified to handle such matters or advise you of the need to consult with another in a specialized area.
5. QUESTION: Do I have to hire an attorney in the county where the problem occurs?
ANSWER: No. Most lawyers practice in other counties and other states, depending on their licensure for the latter. Having experience in the county wherein the matter is being litigated is important as that lawyer will have a comfort level with the local courthouse personnel, attorneys (likely opposing counsel) and judges. One consideration in retaining an attorney outside the area wherein the matter occurs is cost of travel time. Some lawyers do not charge for travel, others offer a reduced rate or maintain a billable rate for all work performed. Clarify that question with each attorney consulted.
6. QUESTION: How can I be sure my attorney is handling my problems?
ANSWER: Every good lawyer keeps track if his time (fees) and expenses (costs). Your retainer arrangement should include a confirmation of how the attorney bills his clients - monthly, quarterly, etc. You may also keep track of your case in some jurisidictions that offer on-line access to case dockets. If the county has that set up, you are wise to periodically review the docket and see what events have transpired by your counsel and the other party/counsel. You should also feel comfortable contacting your attorney at intervals to ascertain the status of the matter, understanding you will likely be charged for these communications.