Growing up in Syracuse, New York, it was certain where Matthew Hayes could be found every Thursday night. Glued to the TV, he would devour every writ, deposition, cross-examination and objection his heroes of “Law and Order” rendered. Enthralled by the polished attorneys battling it out in the fictional courtrooms, Hayes imagined himself at the center this high drama, equipped with the same mastery of the law and razor-sharp rhetoric, scrupulously maintaining the delicate balance of the scales of justice.
“I think I fell in love with the drama,” he says, “the prosecutor, the defense, the legal theories, interaction with the judge and since then I wanted to be a lawyer. I stayed on that track, though it took a little longer than I expected with family and other commitments, but I stayed the course.”
After graduating with his degree in history and anthropology at Brigham Young University, Hayes took some time off from his education to work full time in support of his new wife and his two children. Two years later, he was back at it with his acceptance at the Tulsa University College of Law. Utilizing his endless energy and determination, Hayes successfully balanced law school and his growing family.
“People often ask me if it wasn’t doubly hard going to law school while having a young family to care for and support,” says Hayes. “To my way of thinking, it could be just as challenging to go to law school as a bachelor not having the grounding that a family provides. I think it might actually be harder to focus. Law school is definitely challenging. You have to either be extremely bright, have someone helping you or be a grinder.
“I fall into the last category,” he adds with a smile. “I figured it out. I didn’t have an attorney to help me sort things out, I just put my head down and worked very hard. You might say I learned the hard way. However, it makes the work much easier when you’re sure of your goal and passionate about achieving it. And, to be honest, I think it means more.”
Today, Hayes is one of the most respected criminal defense attorneys in the state. Ironically, this is one role of our legal system omitted from his favorite television show’s famous opening about the criminal justice system and its players.
“I started out as a prosecutor, which is where I wanted to begin,” he continues, “and ended up becoming a triple defense attorney just by nature of a career shift. This led to private and civil practice following an opportunity presenting itself.”
OTHER SIDE OF THE AISLE
Following law school, Hayes accepted a clerkship with Pima County while preparing for the bar exam.
“Most people in that position will get a job offer after passing the bar. I accepted it because it was what I wanted, and I hit the ground running,” he says. “The advantages to working in a smaller county is that there isn’t as much red tape and you certainly get a lot of trial experience and quickly learn the rules of criminal procedure. You might fall on your face a little bit, but you get very comfortable in the courtroom.”
Hayes cut his teeth as a prosecutor and then a little over a year later, he moved to private practice.
“I never intended on remaining a prosecutor for a lifetime,” he says, “I had growing responsibilities at home and other doors opened to me and quite honestly a career in the public field is not necessarily conducive to a balanced family life. So, I thought I would explore other options. It also gave me a broader range of experience, which hopefully, led to where I am today.”
Joining Jones, Skelton & Hochuli as an associate in 2008, Hayes focused his practice on automobile liability, aviation law, criminal defense, general civil litigation and insurance defense. This affiliation also provided opportunities to conduct bench and jury trials and numerous hearing in state courts throughout Arizona. His caseload also included a range of misdemeanor and felony cases including serious drug offenses, DUI cases, DMV issues and setting aside criminal convictions.
“At the time it also provided a better longevity plan for myself and my family,” says Hayes. “That led to bigger firms and bigger opportunities. Now I’m in the courtroom handling criminal cases from the other side.”
For the next five or six years Hayes represented a variety of clients all the while expanding his experience and expertise. Then the time came when he knew it was time to make the next move. With 10 years of experience in criminal and civil law, I knew it was time to explore what I could do on my own.”
And so, in 2014, firm of Matt Hayes came to be.
“By working for myself I basically create and control the entire situation. It’s a lot of work, I work more than I’ve ever done, but I’m not working for anyone else, just myself and my clients. It allows me to create client relationships and not be spoon-fed off anyone else’s work.”
It’s a choice that has proven quite successful for Hayes, who admits that his favorite part of his work is being in the courtroom.
“What I realized early on is that I love being in the courtroom,” he says. “I don’t necessarily like being the type of attorney who sits back and writes all day because even though you’re learning the law which is really important, it’s just not where I want to be. I enjoy getting results.”
The results he’s looking for these days are a striking contrast to his days as a prosecutor. Hayes acknowledges that even his perception of the accused has radically changed.
“As a prosecutor I didn’t have any empathy,” he says. “I’ve always said that it would fix our criminal justice system overnight if a prosecutor had to serve as a public defender for a year. I’m certainly not trying to step on victims of crime or discount their pain, it’s a very sensitive topic because they are the ones harmed. My point is, have you ever sat down with a mom to tell her that her 20-something son who has never done anything wrong is now going to prison for 10 years because of one mistake.
“That’s not to say he didn’t do anything wrong and should be punished, but if a prosecutor had that experience and had sat down with that young man and his mother and saw the upheaval in their lives, maybe that would affect how you chose to prosecute another case in the future. If it’s only punishment that you’re seeking, then you’re never going to satisfy issues that we deal with.
“I love prosecutors, I think 99 percent are good, hardworking people who come to work and do their best,” he continues, “but there’s always that 1 percent that only want to win trials, maybe boost their career, and never really consider other options.
According to Hayes, when he was a prosecutor, he was so young that he had a completely different mentality. “I was inexperienced and just wanted to go to trial and put these people in jail.”
Hayes has come a long way from those early days. Today, his philosophy is a bit different. “Treat people with respect, and you win every time. I do the best I can for my clients, and at the very least ensure that they get a fair shake.”
His home life has changed a bit as well. Now the father of five, aft er 20 years of marriage Hayes and his wife, Jessica, loved spending time with their lively bunch. They have three sons – Conner, 20, Mason, 17, Walker, 11 – and two daughters – Reagan,10, and Kennedy, 5.
“It’s been a real blessing working for myself,” says Hayes. “I can devote the time I need to my clients but also have the flexibility to enjoy my family. Right now, I feel I’m in a great situation and life is good.”