The "practice of law" is loosely defined as ministering to the legal needs of another person by the application of legal principles and knowledge by a person trained in the law. By this definition however, a paralegal or even a secretary who has knowledge of the laws, who has been "trained" by the sheer fact of having been employed for a period of time in a law firm, is considered engaged in the practice of law. When finding a lawyer therefore, look for a "qualified" lawyer. Meaning, be sure that your lawyer has successfully completed his law course, has successfully passed the bar examinations and is licensed to practice in the very jurisdiction where a particular legal relief is asked for. When facing a legal dispute, the last thing you need is a bogus lawyer. It is perfectly ethical to ask for a lawyer license before you even begin to share your innermost secrets with them. Normally though, they would hang their certifications on the wall.
Every qualified lawyer has his own expertise. He may be an expert in any one of the following categories of law: international law, labor law, civil law, taxation law, litigation, or criminal law. These are the major categories. Thus, you may hear of a litigation lawyer or an immigration lawyer. Note however, that lawyers' specializations are "acquired" through experience, not simply because they think they are great at it.
This is one aspect of lawyering where a young, inexperienced lawyer can actually get ahead of an experienced one. Young lawyers are usually vibrant, supportive and sympathetic. They tend to treat their clients like their babies. They take care of every little detail, even the unimportant ones. But this exactly is how paying clients want to be treated. Clients tend to feel that they are getting their money's worth with the kind of attention they are getting.
The personal qualities to look for in a lawyer depend greatly on the kind of client you are. If you are the no-nonsense type, you may prefer to hire an older, retirable lawyer. These types of lawyer are less interested in what you have to say. Sometimes, they are not even interested in what they have to say. Lawyering has become a routine for them, much like brushing their teeth in the morning. But their experience is impeccable. Their strategies are tried and tested so your chance at winning your case is considerably high if you get them.
The credibility of a lawyer may be seen in several contexts. It can mean lack of a bad reputation. It can be built on charisma coupled with referrals from past satisfied clients. It can be destroyed by the lawyer himself, as when he gives a legal advice and overturns his own legal opinion without cushioning the effects. To be sure, no lawyer can ever get clients if he is not believable and trustworthy.
So you now have a qualified, expert and credible lawyer having the personal qualities you look for. The next thing to consider is whether that lawyer is available to attend to your problem. More often than not, your lawyer will say that he is willing, able and happy to assist you. Behold, he said the same thing to several others this morning, and last week, and the week before that. The point is, a lawyer can only do so much. He can't be attending hearings all at the same time. He would probably resort to cancelling or rescheduling hearings and important meetings to make ends meet. If your chosen lawyer has a law firm, there will certainly be other lawyers who can attend to you in case he is not available. You will find this acceptable but not until your case has been reassigned from one hand to another.
Having a "professional" lawyer is so much different from a having a lawyer who managed to "appear" professional. They say that lawyering is 80% representation. The representation begins when you first meet your client. A lawyer would normally give you the "lawyer look"--- wears a suit, clean-cut, drives a black luxury car, and brings a suit case. This, however, is not what defines professionalism. Professionalism means that your lawyer does attend to your needs, makes his research, beats the deadlines, and returns your phone calls. So do not be fooled by the lawyer-look alone. It would be great if your lawyer can pull it off with the lawyer look and the genuine professionalism though.