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A FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH

Alisha Wood Partners With Cole Casey To Fight For Clients Who Have Everything To Lose… But Come Out Winning

“When, as a child and young adult, you hear things like ‘you’ll never make anything of yourself;’ you basically have two choices. You can live your life believing it, or you can say ‘I’ll show you how wrong you are,’” says Alisha Wood, managing partner at San Diego’s premier DUI Defense firm newly named Casey & Wood, LLP. And rest assured, Alisha isn’t just parroting some motivational speaker she heard once upon a time. On the contrary, she speaks from personal experience. “I’m fortunate that I chose the latter option,” she says.

PERSONAL BATTLES

“I grew up in a very small town in Arkansas. College was not something that was encouraged or really planned for most kids. I was the first in my family to attend and graduate from a 4-year University,” Wood says. While attending college, Wood had the added pressure of being a full time mother. “When I was a freshman, I had a baby. I was a single parent going to school full time. I worked three jobs and raised my daughter on my own. At that time, I had never met a lawyer and had no idea that law would be my ultimate path. During my junior year, I took a couple of legal classes and found my calling. I added a Legal Studies minor and found my voice. It took me 5 years to graduate, but I did so, with a degree in Biology,” she recalls.
“However, law school was put on the back burner. It had to be. I got a job at one of the big corporations in Arkansas. It was a terrible experience. In those days, and in that area, there were basically two ways to advance. Either be a man, which I wasn’t, or sleep your way up. Neither of those options were of any interest to me, so after a couple of years of answering to those who abused their authority, I decided it was time to go to law school. Frankly, I wanted to become an attorney so that I could hold those types of organizations and people accountable for the way they abuse people,” she says candidly.

“I applied to law schools in California and New York. I was accepted at all of them. But once I came out to California, I never looked back. My daughter and I relocated to Southern California and began the next chapter of our story,” she says.
Wood was extremely active in law school. She was on the honors boards for moot court and trial advocacy and involved in student government. She also had the opportunity to work for the District Attorney’s Office in Orange County and the Legal Aid Society in Orange County.

FIGHTING FOR HER CHANCE

“I initially thought I wanted to be a prosecutor. However, although I learned a lot and was able to be in court everyday with the D.A’s office, and I recognize that we obviously need rules and laws to follow, there were a lot of misdemeanors that I felt really had no business in the courts at all. I saw cases prosecuted more because of politics, conviction statistics, and in an overwhelming number of cases, just so that new deputy DA’s could get trial experience. All of that was being done at the expense of the defendant, who became nothing more than a pawn in the DA’s game. To me, that is an abuse of power. I didn’t see the best legal system in the world being carried out the way I thought it should. Just because someone is accused of a crime doesn’t make them a criminal, and they should be afforded the presumption of innocence. The Constitution demands that.” Wood says.

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In contrast, she loved the opportunity to really help people who needed her help through her volunteer work with the Legal Aid Society. She decided that a career in criminal defense would enable her to “work every day for those who need a voice in the very biased and very terrifying world that makes up our criminal justice system.”
Wood began researching criminal defense firms as she prepared for the bar. Specifically she started looking into Cole Casey’s DUI practice in San Diego. “I had heard of Cole Casey. He was well known even in Orange County. I knew the work he did and how important it was. I know how devastating a DUI can be to someone, and it was inspiring to hear about how hard he would work to truly help his clients. Before even meeting him, I knew he was the male version of the kind of lawyer I wanted to be in the future. A mutual friend sent my resume to his office, and I was thrilled when I got the call to come to San Diego and interview. But I was up against other candidates, all of whom were far more experienced. Ultimately, I was told I just didn’t have enough experience yet,” she explains.
But Wood wouldn’t take no for an answer. She fought for the chance to prove herself by offering to work in Casey’s firm, for intern pay for a period of 90 days and if she proved herself, she would be considered for a full time associate position. Casey conceded, and within six weeks Wood had earned her stripes and was given a full time position. “My daughter and I literally packed up a suitcase and moved to San Diego,” recalls Wood.
“Alisha’s strength in facing fears earned my respect. Here was this single mom, figuring out how to survive with no help from anyone. She didn’t go to a fancy prep school. She didn’t get through college or law school with mommy and daddy funding it. She earned everything she had. She was given nothing nor was anything handed to her, and the odds were very much against her. And, she was an attractive woman who could have easily relied on her looks to get her through life, but she wanted no part of that either. She went out and took it,” Casey says. “She’s got some battle scars. You can’t win battles without fighting them and you will get scarred along the way. Either they beat you or you beat them. Alisha knocked them out cold, and I’ll take a chance on anyone like that,” he adds.

FIGHTING FOR CLIENTS

Although Wood’s grit earned her initial respect, Casey had spent years building an award winning firm, truly the gold standard in San Diego for DUI defense firms, and he wouldn’t have offered her or anyone else a position so quickly based solely on her past accomplishments. “She demonstrated dedication to the craft immediately. She put clients’ needs first from the beginning. A lot of lawyers don’t take the time to ask themselves why a client hired them. Our clients come to us because they have a lot at stake. This includes doctors, lawyers, pilots, military officers and scores of other professions who risk not only losing their drivers licenses, but their professional licenses if convicted of a DUI. Their entire career and livelihood hangs in the balance of their case being handled perfectly. They hire us for that specific reason and I have always made it my mission to live up to that,” Casey says. “Alisha recognized and embraced that mission from day one.”
20To that end, she has followed in the footsteps of her mentor by immersing herself in DUI education, just as Casey did for the first 10 years of his practice. She attended every conference, read every treatise, and, with her background in biology, learning the forensic science applied in DUI cases came easily. Within a very brief period of time, she was selected to be California’s only delegate to the National College of DUI Defense, a role that Casey himself filled for six years. She was also named one of San Diego’s Top Young Attorneys in 2013, by the San Diego Daily Transcript. She is a member of the National College of DUI Defense, The California DUI Lawyers Association, the San Diego Criminal Bar Association, the San Diego Bar Association and Lawyers Club of San Diego.
She also shares the same passion for hard work, and fighting for the underdog that Cole has become so well known for.
“Our clients are not criminals. Most have never been in trouble before and come to us scared to death of what might happen to them. Being able to assure them, with confidence, that things will be ok, and knowing we can deliver on that promise, is incredibly rewarding,” she says.

Wood says, “For example, it is assumed that a driver will automatically lose their license when charged with a DUI. Not true. DUI cases have two components—the DMV hearings and the court proceedings. And we prepare for the DMV hearing as hard as we do for the criminal case, and in fact in many cases use what we learned at the DMV hearing to assist in the court case. We have a great record at the DMV, and when we lose, we have a great record on appeal as well, and have collected thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees when the DMV oversteps their authority, which they routinely do. They suspend licenses when they shouldn’t, and we sue them… and we win.”

STRENGTHENING THE FIRM

“There are plenty of good lawyers out there, but it takes much more than that to be a good partner,” says Casey, who admits that he wasn’t looking for a partner, until Wood came along. “Obviously I want someone who is highly skilled as an attorney. That’s a given. But if I’m going to share my name with someone, I must see day in and day out their loyalty, their integrity, and their commitment to the clients and the firm. Both our clients and our staff have extraordinary respect for Alisha, and that is a hard combination to find.”
Indeed Casey credits Wood with strengthening the firm by encouraging a high level of selectivity when it comes to taking on cases. “I’m not ashamed to admit it. Some years ago, we had more cases than we could handle, and a very average staff in support. Our cases were taking too long in the court system, we had too many staff members not doing enough work, and my stress level was through the roof. But, over the last few years, Alisha and I made it our mission to reduce the case load, and to ensure that we are sticking to a quality over quantity approach. We made some radical personnel changes, again preferring quality over quantity.

A few years ago, we had 14 employees, now we have 7, and they are the 7 best we could find. Our case load is a third of what is used to be. Now, we don’t take every case, because not all clients need us and we tell prospective clients that from the beginning. We get involved when the defendant is facing severe and dire consequences, and the attorney/client relationship begins with a very honest assessment of what the client may be facing, and the scope of how we can help them. We live by the credo of ‘under promise and over deliver.’”
Continuing Casey says, “If they don’t need our type of representation, we tell them exactly that. If a prospective client has no real consequences, and the evidence is all there and is solid against them, they simply don’t need us. In those instances, we recommend that they save their money and utilize the Public Defenders office, who are damn good lawyers that care about their clients, and are committed to their craft. The client is much better off there, than with some bargain basement attorney.”
21Suffice to say that Casey & Wood LLP is not a typical DUI defense firm. “When a client hires us, they are hiring both partners and at least one associate. There will be a minimum of three attorneys working on their case, in addition to one of our case managers, both of whom have master’s degrees in criminal justice,” Wood says. “We hear so many complaints from defendants who already have lawyers, about the lack of communication between lawyer and client. The client can’t get a return call. Whoever they do talk to knows nothing about their case. We hear this over and over and over, and see the client’s frustration. When you call our office, someone is going to answer. You will speak to someone very familiar with your case, someone who knows you personally and actually cares about your wellbeing. This is true every time you call, or email, or text….whatever,” states Casey.
“Look, the last place any of our clients thought they would be is in the back of a cop car in handcuffs, then in jail, then, in a criminal defense lawyer’s office. I can’t even imagine how scary that is for someone who has never been in any trouble before. The least we can do is be there for them, and let them know that their lawyers and support staff are actually working for them, and actually want to be proud of the result obtained for them. We have assembled a staff that lives this mission every day.”

Casey and Wood are supported by associate attorneys Lauren Angelos and Matt Springmeyer. Angelos attended law school at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, where she received Pro Bono Honors for exceeding 400+ hours. She was consistently on the Honor Roll and received a CALI Excellence award in Corporate and White Collar Crime. She has also worked with the Public Defender’s Office and the Officer of the Alternate Public Defender, working in the Central Misdemeanor Unit, Adult Felony Division, and Juvenile Delinquency. Angelos continues her pro bono work with the California Innocence Project.
Springmeyer, who was admitted to the bar last summer, joined Casey & Wood LLP as a post-bar clerk, after graduating from California Western School of Law with Magna Cum Laude honors. He appeared on the Dean’s Honor List every trimester and received Pro Bono and Public Service honors for his extensive hours dedicated to helping others. Springmeyer was also the Executive Notes and Comments Editor for the California Western International Law Journal, as well as a member of the California Western Law Review. 22He worked as a federal judicial extern for the Honorable Magistrate Judge Ruben B. Brooks, Southern District of California and has worked for the San Diego County Public Defender in the Multiple Conflicts Office. He too worked with the Legal Aid Society of San Diego—where he worked in their Pro Bono Clinics, and the United States Attorney’s Officer for the Southern District of California where he worked in the Narcotics Enforcement Section.

23Both associate attorneys share Casey and Wood’s passion for client service and fairness. “I do not view our clients as simply clients,” Springmeyer says. “I know they are each individuals, so I try to help them achieve their particular goals without losing focus on obtaining the best possible outcome in their case. I have learned from Cole and Alisha the goal of mastering one’s craft, which has motivated me to make it my goal to master DUI law.”
Angelos has a similar perspective. “I pride myself on my relationships with others. Giving everyone respect puts me in a situation where I am listened to and respected in turn. It’s an amazing opportunity to learn from both Cole and Alisha during these first few years of my career. Watching their styles of negotiation, their motion and trial techniques and interactions with clients allows me to develop in a way I couldn’t on my own,” she says.

WIN-WIN FOR ALL

The promotion of Wood to partner has clearly resulted in a winning situation for all involved, according to Casey. “Alisha has scrapped for every bit of success she has. A well-known Superior Court judge recently stopped me in the hallway of the courthouse, complimenting me on Alisha’s courtroom acumen. He said the best word he could find to describe her was ‘unflappable,’ and that is spot on. I didn’t give her a partnership, she earned it. Making her a partner was a no brainer.”
For her part, Wood says her tireless motivation has always and continues to come from her daughter who is now nearly 16 years old. “She essentially went to law school with me. She has kept me on track and is the biggest reason I have accomplished all that I have so far,” she says.
Casey seconds that emotion. “At the end of the day, you want the best for your family and your kids. You want to give them a good life, and do work that makes them proud of you. What Alisha has done for her daughter is what I’ve tried to do for my wife and my sons,” he says.

“So, while I’m going to be in the game for a while longer, when I do decide that I am done, I’m leaving this firm and those that need us in very good hands with Alisha. In the meantime, all of us are going to continue to provide excellent service and deliver excellent results. I’m benefitting, she’s benefitting, our families are benefitting, our staff is benefitting, and most importantly, our clients are benefitting.”
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 Contact:
Casey & Wood LLP
www.duisandiego.com
info@duisandiego.com
(619) 237-0384
2550 5th Avenue, Suite 815
San Diego, CA 92103

Jennifer Hadley

Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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