Where did they attend law school?
Surprisingly, the State of California allows future lawyers to sit for the Bar Exam even if they didn't go to an American Bar Association accredited school like Stanford, University of California, etc. Tens of fly by night "law schools" have popped up throughout the state that allow "instruction" by correspondence or online classes amounting to little more than a 4 year bar preparation course. Many of their students never pass the Bar Exam and some can take multiple attempts over years to do so.
While the American Bar Association has only accredited 21 law schools in the State of California, over 45 law schools have come into existence with names like Lady Liberty School of Law and California Desert Trial Academy School of Law. You can find out whether your attorney went to a ABA accredited law school here: http://www.calbar.ca.gov/Admissions
How long has the attorney been practicing?
They say that to become an expert at anything, you need to put in about 10,000 hours. However, in this day of commercialism and web advertising, it takes ten seconds to write "expert" or "specialist." How long your attorney has been practicing can help you gauge whether or not they're the right attorney for you.
Has your attorney actually been to trial on a DUI case before? If so, how many times and were they successful?
This is perhaps the best indicator of the experience, quality and knowledge of your attorney. Unbelievably, many attorneys claim they are "specialists" or "experts" or "experienced" even though they have never tried a DUI case. While everyone knows the benefit of successfully settling DUI cases, the rash of "dump truck" lawyers who refuse to stand up and fight when their client's deserve their best is devastating. Devastating to their past clients, their new clients and their future clients. The defendant's only advantage in negotiations with the prosecution is the ability to take the case to trial successfully. If your attorney constantly threatens, but never actually puts their proverbial "money where their mouth is," they quickly become no threat to the prosecution because the DA's know they will always just "give up" when push comes to shove in a courtroom.
Do speaking engagements mean your attorney is more qualified?
Maybe. Generally, speaking to National Organizations of lawyers and scientists is probably a good indication that your attorney is respected in those areas. However, many of the organizations are small and speaking to the same organization over and over is simply indicative that you or your friends run the seminars.
Many seminars pay for their speaker's attendance so if you're running the seminar or your friends are, it's a good way to give a break to people you like. However, being involved in local, state and national organizations that focus on DUI defense and the science involved is generally a good indicator that your attorney is serious about learning, teaching and aggressively defending your rights in your DUI case.
Does writing books or chapters in books make you a better lawyer?
No. The old adage about "Those who can do, those who can't teach" sometimes applies. Most books are self-published with little or no income generated. Anyone can write a book and have it published with a promise to buy so many copies. The real test is how many people bought your book or use it. The answer is often times NONE! Often times, writing articles and chapters is simply putting together other people's work in a new format and adding it to your friend's publication to pad your resume. While there are 3 books in California that are regularly sold and used by attorneys in defending your case, there are hundreds that are self-published across the United States with little or no usefulness beyond being able to say "I wrote a chapter or an article."
Can anyone claim to be a really, really good DUI lawyer?
Yes. As long as you are actually a lawyer. Unfortunately, lawyers have learned to be wordsmiths. Sometimes they use those talents to give you a lingering belief that they are more qualified than they actually are. Terms like "trial tested" and "extensive experience" and "aggressive representation" are used often but mean little. How can attorney do that? Well, by claiming they have extensive experience, they are only saying in their opinion they have it. There is no qualification like so many trials, hearings or years. If you say you are trial tested it doesn't need to be in DUI cases and it doesn't mean you won. It doesn't even denote a number. It could be trial tested in one trial that was for possession of methamphetamine that you lost.
Does the attorney you are talking to even practice in the county of your arrest?
Amazingly, with the internet marketing approach to client retention, lawyers will advertise all over the state even though they haven't walked into a courtroom in the county where your case is...EVER. Some firms employ high pressure sales teams and marketing strategists to answer your calls and sell their services only to farm out your case to the lowest paid, most inexperienced attorney in the county. While you may pay them thousands of dollars, the attorney who is actually appearing may see as little as $50.00 per hour to plead you guilty.