How To Hire A Chicago Divorce Lawyer
Getting divorced is a horrendous process. There are so many things you need to get organized as you unwind your life from your partners. Usually the first of these steps is hiring a Chicago divorce lawyer. How do you know who to hire? What should you be considering? How important is it to hire a “good lawyer” versus just anyone with a law degree.
There is not a series of statistics that make a divorce lawyer in Chicago Illinois “good” or the “best.” We don’t tally our wins and losses like a baseball player. Lawyers rarely win or lose anyways as we usually negotiate to an acceptable settlement between the two parties. A quick settlement is a Chicago divorce lawyer’s greatest achievement yet a quick settlement will rarely show the Chicago divorce lawyer’s true talents and good judgment.
This article will walk you through the many considerations you need to make as you go through the process of hiring a Chicago divorce lawyer.
Because of the unquantifiable quality of a divorce lawyer’s talents, many people rely on personal recommendations to hire a lawyer. This is a fine way to hire a lawyer but there are several considerations to make when considering a referral.
Why are they referring this Chicago divorce lawyer? Is it because they’ve seen his or her work or is it because they are just in the Rotary club together? Knowing the lawyer is a person of good character is important but it doesn’t speak to the lawyers knowledge of the law, reputation with the judges and colleagues, ability to argue both orally and in written form.
The trouble with a referral to a divorce lawyer is that a divorce lawyer is more likely to be referred if the experience with that divorce lawyer was positive. If you had a positive experience during your divorce process, that means you had a very easy divorce. Even the slightest disagreement will cause a contentious atmosphere that imbues the divorce and the lawyer him or herself with the negative energy from the divorce.
I have had numerous people tell me anecdotes about how they did not like their Chicago divorce lawyer because of “he forced a deal” or “he didn’t win anything.” Then I hear that the lawyer got amazing (to me) results at a reasonable price. After I tell the former client what a great job their Chicago divorce lawyer did, they will tell me, “I don’t know. I just didn’t like him.” It’s very difficult to like someone you associate with one of the biggest traumas of your life, must less recommend him or her.
A referral from another attorney is usually the best option. The attorney will know if the divorce lawyer has a good reputation in Chicago or not and how strong the Chicago divorce lawyer’s knowledge base and litigation skills are. Still, at many firms, they simply send out a mass email that says, “does anyone know a divorce lawyer” and then whoever answers first sends out the referral.
This begs the question, why don’t big firms have divorce lawyers in Chicago on staff? They usually have every other kind of lawyer. The reason is that divorce is so unpleasant that firms do not want divorce tainting the other aspects of their practice. A client could be sending millions of dollars of legal work to a firm and then be offended that he was not awarded an extra afternoon with his kids and therefore pull the other legal work from the firm.
People often call bar associations for referrals of divorce attorneys. I’m not sure how these bar associations pick who to refer. I believe it is based on a pure lottery system of who wants to be on the referral list. Many bar associations do require a minimum number of years practicing to be eligible to be on the referral list, though.
Illinois Divorce law is deeply personal. A personal recommendation or referral is very powerful. It just can go in either direction, good or bad.
2. Online Reviews
Online reviews have changed the world. We used to never buy a mattress without personally laying on it but now if we see a thousand people gave it 5 stars, then maybe it’s worth it to order the mattress without laying on it. Meanwhile, mattress stores are closing all over America.
Online reviews for Chicago divorce lawyers have a similar effect. I have dozens of reviews on Yelp, the most in Chicago. I also have several reviews on Google. There are a smattering of reviews of my services on other sites as well.
Online reviews have several positives and negatives.
Anyone who is willing to review their divorce lawyer in public and in writing for the whole world to see on the internet has an extremely strong opinion. So, their experience will pour onto the page and be truly candid.
Yelp is the internet’s number one review site because their reviews are reliable. Over fifty people have reviewed my services on Yelp but only twenty or so are published. Yelp checks to be sure the reviewer is real and the review is real. I am glad for their services. I have one bad review on Yelp and I proudly own it. The person thought I charged too much ($ 5,000) for a year long case. I hope people see that and realize how incredibly affordable and efficient my team and I are…even in bad cases.
Unfortunately, there are many reasons why these reviews are unreliable.
Google reviews are non-verifiable. Literally anyone can review a Chicago divorce lawyer who has a Google My Business page. There is no dispute process. For example, I hired two paralegals who worked for a competitor. They are wonderful people who wanted to work at a more respectable firm, mine. My competitor promptly gave me three bad reviews under various aliases.
Facebook reviews are, in theory, verifiable. After all, they use people’s actual faces for their identities. But, in my case, my thinly populated Facebook page has one negative review from that same competitor (They even spelled “ATTOURNEY” wrong the same way as the fake Google review). This person conveniently has no face. Facebook is changing their review system to “recommend” or “do not recommend” to reflect their current system of either “liking” something or leaving it alone.
Avvo is another law website that provides reviews. I am really split on this because Avvo’s review system is two-tiered. It has reviews from other lawyers which I think are reliable and accurate. The client reviews are probably reliable and accurate but I can’t say for certain because those reviews don’t have verifiable names and faces. Avvo is trying to provide a valuable service with their reviews but they have no explicit system (at least that I can tell) that verifies the client reviews.
This leads me to the final observation about reviews. Sometimes too many reviews is suspicious. Who has 100 or even 50 reviews? No one. Chicago is the third largest metropolitan area in the United States and I have the most reviews on Yelp at 23 published reviews. Clients don’t like publicly reviewing their attorneys and yet some lawyers have hundreds of reviews. Are these reviews all real? I don’t know.
The truth is, no one reviews their divorce attorney because they don’t like to air their dirty laundry to the world. This is understandable and fair. Chicago Divorce lawyers keep their clients’ privacy for good reasons and clients seem to return the favor.
Many of my colleagues send out a form letter every time they receive a negative review. This letter threatens a defamation suit. Then the lawyers file the defamation suit and presume that the bad review caused over $ 50,000 of lost earnings. The lawyers know the law and the clients don’t. That’s why the client hired the lawyer in the first place. So, the bad reviews disappear.
So, my advice regarding Chicago Illinois divorce lawyer reviews is read them carefully. Do they mention the lawyer by name? Is it on a site that is verified (honestly, Yelp is the only one)? Is the person willing to post their face with their review? Does the person’s review sound intelligent or do they misspell words like attorney (see above).
3. Big Firms
This is America where bigger is better. Honestly, when it comes to law firms, bigger is better. Chicago is home to America’s largest divorce firm and, frankly, they do amazing work. Every person in the firm is vetted as an intelligent, competent and honest person. If money is no object, hire the biggest firm you can (with some exceptions).
The only thing critical I will say about the big divorce firms’ quality is that the lawyers they send to court are sometimes not well known to the judges. If you are representing multi-millionaires with their various assets and inexhaustible budgets, maybe you only have 3 or 5 clients per year. Maybe your clients don’t want any of their issues in court so it all gets settled in mediation and out-of-court arbitration. Even still, it doesn’t hurt to walk up to the judge and say “I am so-and-so with [Big Firm].”
The big problem with big firms is the cost. I don’t like to be critical of other professionals and I do believe in the old expression “You get what you pay for.” At the end of a divorce case there will often be a balance of attorneys’ fees owed by the parties. Now until the parties are divorced, the attorneys’ fees are just another marital debt so we compare our fees. The big firms’ fees are astronomical compared to mine. I’m sure they spent the time honestly preparing for the case but I’m not sure the value the big firm added was worth the expense.
When does overbilling happen in a big firm or any other kind of firm? My experience is that it’s almost always unnecessary to have two attorneys at a court appearance but it happens all the time on television so clients think it’s normal. If you have a second attorney at a hearing…what is the first attorney even doing there?
Most people relate to litigation best by recalling the OJ Simpson trial. Marcia Clarke and Christopher Darden. Unfortunately, Ms. Clarke and Mr. Darden were both disasters in the courtroom who played off their own bad instincts while the other supported them. Mr. Darden let OJ put on the isotoners. Ms. Clarke stacked the jury with women assuming they would think OJ was an abuser. My point is, two sets of bad decisions don’t even themselves out. They just make it worse.
Meanwhile who do you remember from the famous OJ Defense trial team. Everyone was famous in the law community. They were literally called “The Dream Team.” Today no one remembers anyone but Johnny Cochrane.
Sometimes a team is not greater than the sum of its parts. My experience with lawyers is that one good lawyer is worth more than two average lawyers. One focused average lawyer is worth more than two good lawyers who have too many cases.
So, please, buy into the person who will be representing you. Don’t buy into the brand. Lawyers are not making a product like Heinz makes ketchup. We are the product.
4. The Chicago Illinois Divorce Lawyer’s Website
Good divorce lawyers in Chicago have bad websites but almost no bad lawyers have good websites.
What makes a website good and what makes a website bad? You already know. You log on and the website either looks modern or it does not. If the website looks old, the owner is not updating it. What else does he or she neglect?
If a website has terrible pictures that were taken on an old Iphone with no filters that is a reflection on the firm as a whole.
Law firms are a business like any other business. They have gross income and gross expenditures. A webpage is a law firm’s face to the world. If a law firm can’t devote 1% of its gross income a year to refining and adding to their face to the world.
Chicago Divorce lawyer’s websites will often have a variety of awards the lawyers have earned. I’m not sure how all of these awards are decided but I have received several mailings in the past offering me an award if I just paid the $ 395 fee. But then again, even if a Chicago divorce lawyer paid for an award it would at least reflect some pride in his or her website.
Divorce lawyers in Chicago Illinois will list their publications on their websites. Lawyers are constantly writing articles about the law to better understand or develop a particular area of law. This is an excellent indicator of whether the chicago divorce lawyer is truly committed to their area of practice. I just wish these lawyers would re-publish the actual article on their website so we could see their work.
Very few divorce lawyers in Chicago Illinois will publish articles or content for the actual audience, potential clients. This is the number one way to inform potential clients about the issue they’re facing and that the lawyer is an expert in that particular issue. Articles show that a lawyer has a systematic way of constantly learning about the law. Almost every article I’ve ever written comes from a problem a current client has presented me with. I review the statutes and the case law and elaborate on how those laws would apply to the various possible facts.
Articles are an especially good indicator of attorney quality because they allow the reader to see a Chicago Illinois divorce lawyer’s skills beyond just legal knowledge. Articles also allow insight into a lawyer’s second most important asset: his or her communication skills. If you can understand a lawyer’s description of a legal issue and the possible legal solutions then a judge who is tired and hungry before lunch will probably also understand and agree with that lawyer’s arguments.
Sadly, most lawyers are not willing to do the work required to put out an article or two a week. Are they not encountering at least one interesting issue each week? I know I am. What’s more, when they do write the article, they often just outline the problem and then write, “to learn more contact an attorney now.” Lawyers are notoriously risk averse and don’t even want to propose possible solutions in writing.
Articles will also give insight into the Chicago divorce lawyer’s personality. Is the article purely about the problem and solutions or does the article provide a glimpse into the lawyer’s sense of compassion? Does the lawyer reference his or her experiences and opinions in the article? Any lawyer who is willing to put his or her personal experiences and opinions in writing is a person of passion and conviction.
5. The Chicago, Il Divorce Lawyer’s Resume
When you hire any other employee, you look at that person’s resume first to determine if they’ll be a good fit for the job.
Many people do the same when hiring lawyers. What school did the lawyer go to? How long have they been practicing? Where have they been practicing?
While lawyers don’t directly post their resumes on their websites you can piece together their resume through the “about me” sections of their websites and/or LinkedIn, Avvo or other websites that showcase professional skills.
The law school a divorce lawyer in Chicago Illinois attended is largely immaterial. Divorce law is not rocket science compared to say constitutional or federal administrative law. Hardly any Chicago divorce lawyers attended an elite law school. I attended the University of Illinois College of Law which at the time was ranked in the top 25 of over 200 law schools nationwide. I never run into any fellow alumni practicing family law. Many of the best attorneys I know attended law schools with poor rankings. Maybe they got a scholarship? Maybe they had a bad day when they took the LSAT? It doesn’t matter because it truly doesn’t matter if your Chicago divorce lawyer is an academic genius.
The length of practice can be a factor in choosing a Chicago divorce lawyer. After about ten years or so, every divorce lawyer in Chicago says, “I’ve been practicing law for X years so I know…” If the lawyer has truly been practicing divorce law primarily, that is a great feature. If the lawyer has been practicing other kids of law during their career, then many of those years will provide no advantage to the lawyer.
Time practicing law confers a familiarity with the law but more importantly a familiarity with the courts themselves: the procedures, the judges, the opposing counsels. This is where the added value occurs.
6. The Intake.
Before hiring any divorce lawyer, you should personally meet with the lawyer if possible.
Divorces take anywhere from 2 months to 2 years or longer. You are forging a relationship with your divorce lawyer in Chicago Illinois as you dissolve your relationship with your spouse. The intake is the first date.
Does the Chicago divorce lawyer even allow you to meet with him or her or do you have to meet first with an associate or a paralegal to gather information? It’s perfectly alright for a lower level employee to take information like your address and financial issues but you should be meeting the lawyer who will be helping you directly. In a bigger law firm that lawyer may be the associate. An associate may have the time and energy to help you in a way the name partner of the firm never could. Either way, you need to like and trust the lawyer who’ll be assigned to your case.
How does the Chicago divorce lawyer at the intake meeting present themselves in person? Do they inspire confidence? Do they seem professional? The lawyer will be making the same impression later on the judge and opposing counsel. The lawyer is presenting your case and he or she is part of the presentation.
How does the lawyer’s office look? Is the office old? Is the office a mess? Or is the office a reflection of the lawyer’s professionalism: clean, crisp and modern?
Meet your lawyer! You deserve to feel confident in your lawyer as you embark upon the frightening journey that is divorce.
Of course, this advice is only about how to choose your Chicago divorce lawyer. Your ongoing relationship with your divorce lawyer will also be difficult. He or she will bombard you with documents memorializing everything. I strongly recommend scheduling regular meetings with your lawyer to discuss your case. An in-person meeting will remove all ambiguity and keep you and your divorce lawyer on the same page during every chapter of your divorce.