When you think of divorce, the first thing that comes to mind is probably turmoil and drama. However, a lot of people do not know that their divorce can be a more efficient and less painful process if they hire the right lawyer to handle it for them.
If you are considering divorce, it is important to have a good lawyer on your side. However, with so many lawyers to choose from, especially in a major city like Chicago, how do you find the best one or know which one is right for you? Here are some tips on how to choose the best divorce lawyer in Chicago.
Start With Reviews
When you are looking for any type of service, the best place to start is usually with reviews. Online reviews are a great place to begin because they offer an unbiased opinion from past clients who have gone through a similar experience.
Google is typically the best place to look for online reviews. Here are STG Divorce Law’s reviews on Google. Avvo.com is also a great source for attorney reviews. Facebook can have useful reviews well.
When looking at reviews for lawyers, a few five-star reviews don’t tell you much because you want a divorce attorney with experience. If the attorney or firm in question has over 100 reviews in the 4.5+ average star rating range, it is a great indication of a great divorce lawyer.
Make sure you read the full text of the review, don’t just look at star ratings. Remember, you’re looking for the best divorce lawyer in Chicago, but that also means finding the best divorce lawyer for you The reviews rarely say “great divorce lawyer!” or “really took a great deposition!”
The reviews focus on how clients were treated, as they should. Was the client happy with the lawyer’s level of communication? Did the lawyer understand the client’s problem? Were they responsive to requests and access to the client?
When it comes to divorce cases, you don’t just want a lawyer, you want a lawyer on your team.
Look for Experience
First, find out how long the lawyer has practiced family law and divorce and when the law firm was established.
Second, check the attorney’s online biographical information. Look for a lead attorney with at least five years’ experience, and preferably over 10. Illinois divorce law is complex, and experience is important. Experienced divorce lawyers understand the applicable law, and case law that interprets the law. They also have firsthand knowledge of the local attorneys and the judges. That experience translates to valuable insight for your case. For example, STG Divorce Law has been practicing since 1994 and we’ve helped thousands of families and individuals navigate divorce in Illinois successfully.
Concentration in Illinois Family Law and Divorce is a Plus
Choose a lawyer concentrating in Illinois divorce rather than a jack-of-all-trades. Divorce law is constantly changing and demanding. Lawyers need to be dedicated to family law to stay current. For example, in 2015, the Illinois General Assembly overhauled the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act in 2015, followed by major amendments over the next few years. Illinois child support law totally changed to a dual-income “income shares” model in 2017.
If your lawyer handles wills, some real estate, and personal injury, they aren’t able to keep up with developments in family law. That lawyer is also busy handling other kinds of cases. Also, their systems and staff aren’t able to focus and develop excellence in Illinois divorce law. Specialization, as with other areas of business and professional life, is the key.
A Swiss Army knife does ten different things, but each tool is not the best tool for the specific job.
Safety in Numbers and Team Approach
A sole practitioner or small firm – even if concentrating in divorce – will not have the support needed in terms of attorneys and staff to handle larger, more complex Illinois divorce cases. More importantly, if they are sick, or busy, they won’t be able to work on your case. When your lawyer is on vacation, is someone available to help when you call? Is an experienced divorce lawyer able to step in and take over with no disruption?
At our firm, we assign a team to every case – a lead attorney, a paralegal, and a second attorney when needed.
Our clients always know who to contact with questions. We have a dedicated Attorney Director who supervises all the attorneys, and an Operations Director managing the staff. We have systems in place to make sure your case is handled properly and efficiently. Our firm maintains all information in secure, cloud-based systems so our team can access case and client information, everywhere, any time.
Additional Considerations When Searching for a Top Divorce Lawyer
Law License and Disciplinary Background
All Illinois attorneys must have a law license in good standing. Also, lawyers must follow the Rules of Professional Conduct. The Rules deal with client confidentiality, attorney-client privilege, handling of client funds, standards for client service, and much more. Most lawyers have a license in good standing and a clean disciplinary record. If the lawyer has a poor disciplinary record steer clear. Why take a chance hiring someone with a poor record?
Illinois law licenses are issued by the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (“ARDC”), under the supervision of the Illinois Supreme Court. The ARDC also deals with citizen complaints about lawyers and attorney discipline. In Illinois, attorney license information and disciplinary records are available on the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission’s website.
Be sure to verify attorneys’ law license status by checking the records. By doing this, you will see whether they are licensed to practice law and have not been disciplined for ethical violations.
Ethics violation penalties include:
Censure: a public reprimand;
Suspension: the lawyer’s license to practice law is suspended for a period of time; and
Disbarment: the lawyer loses their license to practice law.
Doing some homework to investigate your choice of attorneys will help prevent problems down the road.
Referrals from family, friends, a lawyer you trust, and other professionals like divorce coaches, wealth planners, counselors, and accountants can be a great source of information about quality divorce lawyers. But be sure to cross-reference and research the recommendations using the other tools we discuss here. Also, consider the source and age of the information and the nature of the issue at hand. The lawyer who was doing a simple prenuptial agreement 15 years ago might not be the best choice for your complex divorce today.
American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers Fellowship
The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, (AAML) is the top family law attorney organization in the United States. Founded in Chicago in the 1960s, the AAML exists to improve professionalism and ethical conduct in family law practice. Attorneys who wish to join must meet a stringent set of qualifications. Among the requirements: attorneys must have a minimum of 10 years experience in family law and divorce, with 75% of their practice devoted to family law. Candidates submit an extensive application in order to apply for admission. Applicants must also pass two rigorous written exams on divorce and related topics, and participate in an interview.
Badges and Awards
Take badges and awards you see on an attorney’s website with a grain of salt. Some awards are not easily earned and have real meaning in terms of the quality of the attorney, while others do not. Buyer beware.
Divorce lawyers value SuperLawyers and Leading Lawyers awards. These designations are awarded to a very limited number of lawyers in a peer-selected process. SuperLawyers’ selection process is described here, and the Leading Lawyers’ process is explained here. These awards are annual and each of these companies renews their research each year. Attorneys aren’t guaranteed to receive the designation every year. More importantly, lawyers cannot “buy” the awards.
Unfortunately, many other attorneys’ “awards” are marketing gimmicks. Don’t be impressed by seeing 10 “great lawyer” badges on a website. Many of these organizations do a minimum of research (if any) and send “invitations” to lawyers all over the state telling them that for “only” $495 per year they can join to get a plaque and a badge for their website.
Willingness to Approach a Case With Multiple Strategies
What kind of lawyer are you looking for? Look for an attorney who seems well suited to the needs of your case. Choose the law firm that will adjust its approach to the nature of the divorce case.
Is the lawyer known for “WWIII” style litigation every time, or do they approach settlement early? Is the lawyer a trained mediator? Collaborative Practice lawyer? Training and background make a difference. Also, ask about the attorney’s recommended approach for your case. Take into consideration the facts of your case and the personalities involved. What is the best approach for you? A divorce lawyer who provides multiple options rather than a one-size-fits-all approach will help you get the case done sooner.
Does the lawyer write articles, author books, teach at a college or university, or lecture other attorneys on topics related to divorce? These are positive signs of professionalism and recognition of skill by the attorney’s peers.
The divorce law firm you choose should have broad experience in Illinois family law and divorce matters. Our firm’s lawyers come from a wide variety of backgrounds in law practice. We also concentrate on multiple areas within family law. We have lawyers with extensive experience in high net worth and complex divorce involving businesses; in child custody and visitation; trial and litigation, as well as mediation and Collaborative Practice.
STG Divorce Law also handles adoption, guardianship, cohabitation agreements, assisted reproduction, and LGBTQIA+ issues. Whatever the nature of the legal issue within Illinois family law, STG is able to help.
A Productive Consultation Can Make The Difference
In the consultation, your goal should be to evaluate the attorney and law firm to see whether they will be a good fit for your case.
Personality and communication in the consultation are a good indication of how the lawyer will handle the case.
Does the lawyer listen or does the lawyer do all the talking? Does the attorney tell you your goals in the consult, before they ask what you want? If the lawyer makes statements that are too good to be true, they probably are.
The best divorce lawyers avoid pie in the sky promises of results and happy talk. If a lawyer makes a promise like that in a consultation, ask them to put it in writing.