Fact * Law = Decision
In the field of law, the essence of any case can be boiled down to the equation: application of the facts to the relevant law, resulting in a decision by the Court.
Taking into account the adversarial nature of the legal system in the United States, we see that the Court engages in a sort of dialectical synthesis: receiving the thesis from the plaintiff, countered by the antithesis from the defendant, and thereby, after considering the weight of the evidence and the credibility of the parties, arriving at a synthesis whereby the two conflicting positions are reconciled, through application to the law, into a final decision.
This textbook assessment of the legal system is an important framework for any lawyer to understand and take into consideration in his or her preparation of any case. You cannot ignore the facts or the law, since those are the two basic building blocks that go into any decision.
A realistic assessment of any particular court, however, must take into consideration any number of intangibles, which bring us more into the field of psychology and human interaction, and can be summed up in the axiom: know your audience.
And this is precisely where the retention of a good, experienced lawyer is a critical step for any case party: to have a respected and knowledgeable guide who knows: who is the judge, what is her/his personality, and what are her/his predilections? who is the opposing attorney, what are his/her strengths and weaknesses, and what strategies should be considered to approach the other side?
Those terms good and experienced are distinct and not necessarily interchangeable. For example, a highly experienced attorney may not be "good," if she does not know her audience. Or conversely, a good attorney with a low level of experience may only be "good"in certain situations, with certain judges or against certain opposing attorneys, let's say, but not with others.
Another issue that someone looking for a lawyer must consider is the type of personality they're looking for in a lawyer. I can think of one lawyer I know who is more of a mediator, while another lawyer I can think of is a bitter adversary. Depending on the type of case, and the other personalities involved in the case, one style may be effective, while another style is counter-productive. The best lawyers, of course, are adaptable -- à la social Darwinism -- to whatever the situation properly requires. But even then, the client should ideally find the best fit for their needs and expectations -- perhaps several attorneys would serve them well, but one is the best fit as compared to the others.
In my practice, I offer a free, one-hour consultation, during which time the potential client assesses me as a lawyer, while I likewise assess the client and her or his case. If I believe I can serve the client's interests, I will take the case (assuming the client chooses me). If, however, I believe the potential client's interests would be better served by a different attorney, I'll say so and offer names of other attorneys.
In this sense, I strongly believe that my integrity in doing the right thing will pay off both now and in the long term, for both the case party and myself as lawyer, since I am authentically analyzing the case -- not just in the basic 'facts times law' equation, but just as importantly, in a consideration of the intangible elements to the case.