KNOWLEDGE of the law
Contrary to popular belief, lawyers do not know all laws off the top of their head. However, your lawyers should participate in continuing legal education to seek out new law and procedure, refresh their memory and learn new strategies to resolving life most complicated issues. Most importantly, a lawyer who is afraid to admit when they don't know something -- is your worst nightmare. There's nothing wrong with pausing a meeting to look up existing law in an effort to steer you in the right direction.
A good lawyer knows how to delegate. S/he can't do everything by themselves and most importantly -- is probably not good at everything. Litigation attorneys spend a lot of time in court with other clients so you need to know that you will have access to legal assistance even when your primary attorney is unavailable. Look for a lawyer with a team of people to help -- a case manager, paralegal, admin and associate. This doesn't necessarily mean your legal fees will be higher. To the contrary, your attorney is probably much more efficient and can often have employees who bill at a lower rate complete many of the forms required in a law suit.
You need a lawyer who can roll up their sleeves and make things work. If your lawyer does not have a competitive nature, s/he is likely to crumble under pressure. Passion can't be learned -- it's innate. If you sense that the lawyer you are considering doesn't have it, skip him/her. Cases can last months, sometimes years. You need to be confident that your lawyer will not fizzle out or get bored -- but instead will keep gunning for you all the way to the finish line.
Really, there are lawyers who are truthful. A lawyer who does not have a reputation for being honest, will have trouble with garnering the trust that is necessary to negotiate a matter to resolution. Failing to take the high road on a regular basis certainly effects your credibility in the courtroom.
You want your lawyer to think outside the box - identifying problems in advance and thinking of creative solutions to conquer them. Strategizing a case well is not just essential for a positive outcome, it is a great way to keep the action as cost effective as possible and avoid common pitfalls before they give rise.
Law is very specialized these days, similar to other fields like medicine. A lawyer who spreads him/herself to thin, cannot possibly have the necessary experience to battle all of the legal nuances that come in a particular case. Your chosen lawyer should have several years of experience in the field you are hiring them for. Don't be afraid to ask the attorney you are interviewing how many cases they have brought to trial, references from previous clients, and a sampling of outcomes.
You better like your lawyer -- you will be spending quite a bit of time with her/him and will be sharing some of your most vulnerable thoughts. Why not look for a lawyer with a sense of humor, compassion, warmth and people skills. Not all lawyers are stuffy, condescending and rude. There's nothing worse than paying someone to be a jerk.
Lawyers spend a large part of their practice writing. I sometimes wonder if there's a subconscious competition to use the most verbose language possible. Maybe it's because they think they appear smarter? Who does it help when a lawyer uses vocabulary that no one can understand? (they often use it incorrectly too!) A good lawyer will write simply and to the point. Your judge is often reading your pleading the night before -- after cooking or taking care of their kids and a long work day. The last thing they want to do is read through a 10 page declaration that strays from the relevant facts.
Is your lawyer so busy that s/he will not have time for your case? Can s/he give your matter the attention it deserves? Your lawyer must have the time and resources to deal with emergencies or sudden issues that come up in your case. For example, in my area of practice (family law and divorce), issues sometimes come up that require immediate action such as domestic violence, child abduction or asset / money concealing. Your lawyer cannot be too busy to act immediately if necessary.
This one is tricky. You certainly don't want to hire the cheapest attorney on the block. There's something to be said about getting what you pay for. However, it isn't always necessary to hire the most expensive lawyer. In fact, just because they have a high billable hour doesn't make them good. Your attorney should have a strategy to keep the action as cost-effective as possible. S/he should have a practice management system that keeps costs down. For example, we use a system called "My Case" that allows our clients the ability to access their court dates, correspondence, court pleadings and other information about their case. This cuts down on expensive phone calls and emails just to determine the status of your case. The office should be comfortable but not fancy. You definitely do not want to be paying for your lawyer's luxuries.