There are so many things to consider when hiring a criminal defense attorney, but in my opinion, and in the opinion of many other attorneys, the very best attorneys are the ones who care the most. It's as simple as that. But you're screaming, "What about their school and experience...?!" Yes, they are all factors but I don't think they matter as much as one would think. Let's look at each of those factors and then compare and contrast them with simply being a caring attorney.
Graduating from a top law school merely helps in landing a high-paying job at huge firms. That is because firms can make people assume they have hired the best of the best and thus their gigantic fees are worth every penny. The truth is all attorneys MUST pass the same exact bar exam or their diplomas are worthless for practicing law. Anyone who is an attorney in California is just as qualified to represent you. If graduating from top law schools meant success, there wouldn't be 10-20% bar exam failure rates from such law schools. Check the recent pass rates and you'll see graduation from a top law school doesn't guarantee anything. It simply guarantees higher fees charged because they also need to payoff very huge school loans. I have seen many defense attorneys who graduated from no-name schools running circles around those who came from top tier law schools. That's because the underdog works much harder and doesn't have an inflated ego. Legal success does not favor the arrogant, only the most-prepared.
Experience is important but it's misleading. One has to learn how different entities work. For example, many big firms limit how much their associates handle within each case. Attorneys in big firms usually do not handle the whole case; they do only parts of it. They say this specialization helps perfect the overall representation. It sounds great but let's see an example of it in real life--how can a mechanic who only specializes in transmissions be any good if he has no idea how the engine works? The mechanic who can see the whole concept of what it takes to make a vehicle move is the one who can then perfect parts of it. Going back to our discussion of attorneys who work in a firm, how can they be expected to help create the best overall defense for you in anticipation of a trial when all he does is work on getting plea deals or simply writing motions but never seeing the inside of a court? The big firms are the only ones benefiting from this "specialization." They get to overcharge clients for making them think they are getting more. They also limit the experience/learning of each attorney so the attorney won't be able to leave to open their own law practice. How does any part of this help the client?
In terms of criminal defense, being a former cop or DA is not as important as you would think. Most people buy into the defense attorneys who claim to have been former prosecutors or cops. Clients assume such attorneys must know the inside games or have friends who may do them favors. This couldn't be further from the truth.
If there is an assumption that such an attorney can pull favors because they were once a cop or a DA, that's illegal and unethical. Because attorneys work very hard to get their law license, they wouldn't jeopardize it by doing such things. However, you are free to let your imagination run wild when someone advertises themselves as a former cop or former DA. But let's entertain the idea that you have simply assumed that such a former cop or DA could call in favors on your behalf. If that was so, such an attorney could not pull favors indefinitely. They would also owe favors in return. Now, unless you'r related to, sleeping with, or otherwise know this attorney, how sure are you that your case is not the one where he/she will take a fall? There is no such thing as a free lunch.
The field of law is nothing like the movies or TV shows. Everyone knows almost everything from the opposing side. There are no surprises. You cannot call a surprise witness or drag in surprise evidence at the last-minute in court. All sides must disclose everything ahead of time. All sides are entitled to thorough analysis of all facts and evidence. So, it doesn't matter where you obtained your experience. If you were never a cop, you still have the subpoena powers to get police training manuals. policies, procedures, any and all transcripts, notes and reports. Thus, you get to see the inner workings of the police force and district attorneys regardless of never having worked for them.
If one's experience or education are not good factors in determining the skills of an attorney, how could caring be a good factor? It's simple. When you care, you don't have an inflated ego. It's not about the attorney. It's not about charging big fees to buy luxury cars to impress people. It's about doing the very best for the client who has his/her back to the wall and you're their only hope. When you care, you will do everthing to make sure you are more prepared than the other side. When you care about your clients, you will think twice about your client and their family before stopping for the day to have fun or do other activities. When you care, you will see the human being behind the name on your case file and you'll re-check things for the 100th time to make sure it's right. When you care enough, you don't have to be the smartest, a graduate from an elite school or have experience in places where they give out big titles. You just have to care enough to be that much more prepared than the other side. That's why most attorneys know it's the only sign of a great attorney.
Now, it's your job to be able to read whether the attorney really cares or whether it's a sales pitch. Luckily, this is obvious. Trust your instincts and you'll know. Look at their prior experiences. Did they work in selfish fields or did they work in industries which helped better the lives of others? Are they part of the community? Did they truly deliver on their promises to stay in contact and be there for their clients? Did they personally answer the calls or did clients have to wait days after many messages to get a callback? Did they truly listen or were they trying to pacify you? Did they spend more time boasting about themselves or their material possessions than listening to your situation--this one is a dead giveaway. Believe it or not, you already know how to choose an attorney, It's a matter of whether you're willing to listen to yourself.
My posts/blogs are to be taken for academic purposes only and NOT LEGAL ADVICE. Nothing on my blogs should lead you to believe there is an attorney-client relationship, nor that I am giving legal advice. Please call my office at (714) 321-9999 for a free consultation to discuss your specific matter where I could then give proper legal advice.