I have been a court-appointed Dependency attorney on many occasions during my 30-year legal career. I have also been a purely private Dependency attorney at times as well, as I am now. There are a variety of problems one encounters on Dependency parent representation with either type of parents' attorney. I have seen them all.
The Tendencies of Court-Appointed Attorneys
Court-appointed attorneys tend to have contracts to handle a certain number of cases. They are paid either "per case" -- making a certain fixed amount for each case -- or they are hired "per caseload", meaning that they will handle some number in the aggregate (e.g. "250 cases") at any given time. In either instance, there is a built-in tendency -- or temptation -- to resolve cases as quickly as possible. Unfortunately this means a pre-disposition to handle cases without the time and expense of trial whenever possible. It is not that such attorneys will never take cases to trial, it is merely that they have a built-in predilection in cases resolving without trial if they can.
Bear in mind that the judges or judicial officers have this same, built-in predilection to resolve cases short of trial as well. Yet this can work to a parent's favor. If the parent's attorney has some well-built, credible defense to make showing shortcomings of the petitioner's case (i.e. Social Services as represented by County Counsel), judges might recognize it and try to convince the County to settle early!
Yet this is seldom the case. Often cases will go to a contested hearing only when a parent simply will not back down and they "want their day in court." Court-appointed attorneys are obliged to put on such a trial for their obstinant clients, but many do so only in form. They have no real strategy. They are only trying to appease their clients, before losing and muttering "I told you so." Now, this is not all of the court-appointed attorneys, but it is certainly some of them.
The Tendencies of Private Dependency Attorneys
The private dependency attorney -- paid for by the parents, friends or relatives of the parents -- have a different but equally problematic tendency. Such an attorney will make the most money the more time is spent on a case. Three pretrial settlement conferences taking several days? Sure, more money. An all-day mediation which results in nothing? Great, more money. A week-long trial -- even where the questions posed by parent's counsel all amount to, "Really?" Oh yes, more money. When the parent represented by their private attorney loses, a parent might at least feel like they "went down swinging." But it should not have been that way either.
A Balanced Approach
A good parent's Dependency attorney is both 1) ready willing and able to put on a substantial, substantive trial, or 2) ready to resolve cases with a good settlement when and if good reasons appear after hard work finding those criteria. It is only when both of these possibilities are each present that you have the best Dependency parents counsel. That is my goal.