How to Find the Best Divorce Lawyer in Chicago Illinois? - Best Chicago, Illinois Divorce Attorney Cook County
It’s a trick question. You don’t need to find the best divorce lawyer in Chicago Illinois! There are many divorce attorneys in Chicago who would do an equally good job for you. It would be impossible to determine which one is the “best.”
The real question for you, the Chicago divorce consumer, is how to find one of those Chicago top divorce lawyers at the correct levels of representation and cost for the facts of your specific case – while avoiding all of the common, and sometimes dangerous, pitfalls of the Chicago divorce lawyer hiring decision.
If you know what those pitfalls are (I will tell you in this article) and if you have the correct attitude, namely that you want to make your Chicago divorce lawyer fit your case and not allow the attorney to force your case to fit his or her rigid practice profile, then you increase greatly your chances of nailing the Chicago divorce lawyer hiring decision. Getting you through that decision successfully is the purpose of this article.
First, let’s list the 4 things to avoid:
1. Avoid Do-It-Yourself Divorce:
It is possible, repeat POSSIBLE, to download free family law forms from Illinois’s judicial council or family court websites. Those free divorce forms will be blank, of course. You can then try to complete and file the forms at your local Cook County divorce court on your own without professional help. This is possible – but highly unlikely, very difficult, confusing, frustrating and extremely time-consuming.
DIY divorce would be effectively impossible, and not wise even to attempt, in any complex or contested family law case. It would be highly unlikely to be successful if you have minor children of the marriage or have any property or debts to be listed in the case or have custody, visitation or support agreements in your case. It would certainly be unwise in a case involving domestic violence. DIY would also be difficult if you have a job or if you place any kind of value on your own time. Family law documents and procedures are designed by lawyers to confuse you so that you hire – a lawyer.
Please excuse me if I don’t spend too much time on the DIY risk. My experience on the front lines of California divorce for the past 40+ years is that folks who begin the divorce process with the intent to try to get a free divorce are going to try Do-It-Yourself divorce no matter what. For some reason, probably economic, there is nothing I’ve been able to find to persuade them not to.
DIY in Family Law is always false economy. You WILL almost certainly screw it up, and screwed-up cases are much more difficult and expensive to correct and complete. Don’t play this game. The system is designed by lawyers to confuse you and force you to hire a divorce lawyer. There are now cost-effective options available – see below. Don’t go it alone in Divorce or Family Law.
2. Avoid Traditional Chicago Family Law Attorneys if Your Case is Likely to be Uncontested:
An uncontested divorce is simply one in which the parties will not be disputing any issues, including the divorce itself. The parties don’t have to be happy and they don’t have to like each other. They are either completely or mostly in agreement on all issues and are wise enough to recognize that traditional full-representation divorce lawyers (with huge retainers and billable hours) would be the only winners if they contested relatively unimportant issues in their divorce.
Traditional full representation by a local Chicago divorce lawyer is when that lawyer will represent you in all aspects of your divorce case. It is highly likely to be a good service, but it is expensive.
If you have a contested case, a complex case, a high-value case or a case that involves domestic violence or the threat of domestic violence, full representation by a Chicago divorce lawyer is NOT to be avoided. It is a necessity.
A contested case means that you and your spouse/partner are disputing ANY issue in the case. A complex case contains legal complexities such as tax issues, active business issues, a special needs child of the marriage or any one of many other complex legal situations. A high-value case means that your marital estate is very large. There is no specific dollar limit. Certainly, if you have a high 7-figure net marital estate or higher, that is a high-value case.
If you suspect that you have a contested, complex or high-value case, you do. Hire an experienced and expensive Chicago divorce lawyer for full traditional representation. Look for a certified Family Law specialist. You will not be sorry you did.
If you do NOT have a contested, complex, high-value or domestic violence case, you do NOT need traditional full representation by a Chicago divorce lawyer. In fact, under those circumstances, full legal representation by a Chicago divorce lawyer becomes a risk to your economic position. Avoid it.
Of course, if you call or email a traditional Chicago divorce lawyer, they will not tell you that you do not need their full representation service. In fact, they will try to scare the crap out of you by telling you that you absolutely need their service and that your case will get screwed up without it.
That could happen – even in a non-DIY case. I’ll tell you next how to avoid possibly 90+% of the potential risk of getting your case screwed up if you don’t go DIY and you DON’T hire a traditional Chicago divorce attorney on a full representation basis.
Your case could also possibly get screwed up if you DID hire a full representation Chicago divorce attorney. That’s also not likely, but it could happen.
However, what will DEFINITELY happen if you hire a traditional full representation Chicago divorce attorney to handle your uncontested divorce or family law case is that you will get screwed economically. Your case may be handled very well, but you will overbuy unnecessary services and you will overpay for them.
There’s no need for that to happen anymore. Your parents had few other options on their family law hiring decisions. Your grandparents had no other options. You have many valid options to make your Chicago uncontested divorce lawyer hiring decision based upon the nature and facts of your case, not upon the BMW payments of Chicago divorce lawyers. Read on.
3. Avoid Unqualified Unregulated Online Divorce Mills:
This is by far the biggest danger you face in your hiring decision in terms of damage to your future legal and economic safety. Non-lawyer online divorce is a huge industry. And it is extremely dangerous to your legal and economic future.
Online divorce mills offer slick websites, wicked-cool divorce software, fees lower than MOST lawyers, no legal advice, no legal knowledge, no professional licensing, no legal education, no code of ethics, no malpractice insurance, no knowledge of Cook County divorce procedures, no local knowledge about Cook County rules of court, local Cook County documents, local practices or the policies of individual local judges in the Chicago area and no professional interest in you or your case. And all within a completely unregulated Wild-West industry rampant with all kinds of incompetence, price fraud, and up-selling.
Online divorce mill fees average about $300, but what you get for that $300 fee is remarkably little – just a few prepared Illinois divorce forms. Any other services offered are all up-sold on the basis that once they’ve got you hooked, what are you going to do – walk away from money already spent? You are at their mercy and you are completely unprotected. And they know it!
See the Online Divorce Association of America’s website for a good overview of just some of the more common frauds and up-sells to be found in the online divorce industry.
If you hire an online divorce mill, you’ll always be dealing with low-level, untrained, disinterested, high turn-over staff, call center employees and folks in India, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Mexico or some other state. No one will conduct any type of analysis on your case to protect you and any minor children from future legal or financial damage. Client support will be terrible because it doesn’t have to be anything else. You will never be able to meet with anyone at an online divorce mill as it is very likely that none of them are located in Chicago or even in Illinois.
If you hire an online divorce mill thinking you will save yourself a few dollars and you and your family end up paying for their mistakes for years, that is NOT a cheap divorce!
4. Avoid Me-Too Lawyer Advertising Platforms:
Me-Too Lawyer Advertising Platforms are online lawyer directories like Avvo, FindLaw, LegalZoom, Justia, Google Screened, Google My Business and now even Yelp. This is the newest pitfall to avoid in your Chicago divorce lawyer hiring decision.
However, the potential harm here is not huge – nowhere near the damage done routinely by non-lawyer online divorce mills or indeed the damage likely to be done by you to your own case with DIY divorce.
If you hire a Chicago divorce attorney on a mass-lawyer finder platform, you’re going to overpay to some extent, depending on how much the lawyer is paying the lawyer finder platform, but not as badly as if you had hired a traditional full representation Chicago family law attorney directly.
Obviously, you don’t want to hire a traditional full representation Chicago divorce attorney you find on a mass-lawyer platform. That would compound your over-payment, but the important factor here is that you don’t want to hire a traditional full representation Chicago divorce attorney to handle your simple uncontested divorce, no matter where you find that lawyer!!
The risk with hiring a Chicago divorce attorney that you find ONLY on a mass-lawyer platform is that you’re hiring a mediocre Chicago divorce attorney – a drone who just stands in line with all other Chicago divorce lawyers and HOPES that s/he will get your business but does nothing to distinguish himself or herself from the Chicago lawyer-crowd. That lawyer does nothing to persuade you that s/he is the unique solution to your case. You don’t want that lawyer.
You want a Chicago divorce lawyer who is creative, bold, unique, stylish and business-savvy. In fact, why would you hire a Chicago divorce lawyer to look after your own legal and economic interests when s/he does not even look after his or her own business interests aggressively and decisively? You’re looking for a divorce lawyer who purposefully sets himself or herself apart from the Chicago lawyer-crowd and does NOT blend in by joining Avvo and doing nothing else.
Mass-lawyer finder platforms like Avvo are free to join, which is why every divorce lawyer in Cook County will have joined. So you should not disqualify a Chicago divorce lawyer just because s/he has an Avvo account.
However, you should not think that such a Chicago divorce lawyer is very smart or business-savvy either. The problem is that while these mass-lawyer platforms are free for the lawyer to join, the lawyer must then begin to pay constantly increasing fees on a bid-basis, always competing against other local Cook County divorce lawyers, to be seen on the top page of the platform’s website. If that lawyer doesn’t pay extra, s/he’ll be on page 3 or 5 of the mass-lawyer website in even a medium-sized town. If that lawyer doesn’t keep bidding up his or her fees, she’ll not get enough business to keep up.
It’s a winner-take-all system with the top very few lawyers in each town taking almost all the business – based on how much advertising fees they can pay – not based on how good they are or on how they have configured their offerings to suit your case. The barrier to that me-too lawyer getting your business is the amount of money s/he is prepared to pay to get it, not the quality and distinctiveness of his or her service offerings.
If that me-too divorce lawyer in Chicago pays more to the mass-lawyer finder company and keeps paying more, s/he’ll get a featured position on the platform’s website and will get more business, but his or her costs of doing business will constantly rise while his or her fees are relatively fixed by the flat demand for consumer law services such as divorce.
The Chicago divorce lawyer who plays the Avvo pay-to-play game will always need more and more lower profit cases just to keep up with business costs. You don’t want that business-foolishness in someone you will trust with your legal and economic future.
And yes, that lawyer is going to use the same brain to look after your case as s/he used to screw his or her own business into the ground.
How to Find the Best Chicago Divorce Lawyer – Best Chicago, Illinois Divorce Attorney Cook County
So above are 4 factors to avoid: DIY divorce, traditional full-service lawyer representation in simple uncontested cases, unlicensed and unregulated online divorce mills and boring me-too drone lawyers who are really bad at business.
So what do you actually look for in a Chicago divorce attorney?
Before I tell you, I want to set the stage by giving you two remarkable statistics that I did not believe when I first saw them. These are game-changers in the legal profession and you need to take full advantage of them in your Chicago divorce lawyer hiring decision:
- There is a glut of lawyers on the market and it’s serious. According to the ABA National Lawyer Population Survey, in 2017, the whole legal profession lost some 1400 jobs while almost 20,000 brand new lawyers have been added – just in 2017. And the ABA has just certified a huge new law school down in Texas. And this has been trending for years. And all of this surplus of supply while the demand for legal services has been flat or, as in the case of family law, diminishing because of DIY divorce and the overwhelming success of fraudulent and incompetent online divorce mills (both caused by the Internet).
- From 1988 to 2012, the average solo lawyer practitioner’s yearly income, after adjusting for inflation, dropped from $70,747 to $49,130. Read that last sentence again. The legal profession is in serious economic decline. More so in areas of consumer law, like uncontested divorce, where the Internet has reduced the knowledge gap between lawyers and consumers.
What to Look For:
Business-savvy lawyers who want to participate in the divorce industry are under considerable price and business-model pressure right now. Take advantage! You want to hire a Chicago divorce lawyer who has responded to this professional crisis in the following ways. You want as many of the following factors as you can find in one Chicago divorce attorney:
- Licensed local Chicago divorce attorney (not an unlicensed out-of-state online divorce mill);
- Offers unbundled services in uncontested cases – this means that you only pay for the legal services your case requires. You will generally do your own filing of docs at court and arrange for the service of filed docs on your spouse/partner. The divorce lawyer will review your docs before they are filed, identify problem issues in your case and suggest the best options based upon legal advice and local knowledge. If you call a lawyer and ask about unbundled services and you can tell they don’t know or don’t want you to know, just hang up. They don’t yet get it. Move on. Don’t educate them.
- Uses online divorce software that enables you to log into a client portal and enter all of the data in your case. This not only saves time and money, but it actually empowers you in your own case. You are the source of all data in your case. Also, there’s no 50-page hard copy one-size-fits-all questionnaire for you to complete in the lawyer’s waiting room.
- Uses other cloud-based software and apps – listen for buzz phrases like “client portal” and “virtual law practice.” Ask about e-filing and listen closely to determine if the lawyer even knows what it is.
- Doesn’t have a fancy office in a downtown high-rise or across from the courthouse. You don’t want to pay those rents. This is even more so during C-19. You’re looking for a lawyer in a strip mall or even one who works at home and has one or more shared office arrangements for client meetings. Don’t use a lawyer who has obviously big expenses – YOU pay them!
- Look for a competitive edge. Look for a lawyer who understands what is going on around him or her in his or her chosen profession. The practice of law is legal education, knowledge and experience attached to a business model. If you call a lawyer and ask about unbundled services or online divorce interviews and they act like law practice is a noble profession and not a competitive business, hang up. Don’t educate them. They don’t yet get it.
- Specialization – You don’t want to hire a lawyer who is a jack-of-all-trades on the basis that s/he might get hired for something. There are many different areas of law practice. They are very different from each other. Specialization is the name of the game today. Look at the lawyer’s website. It will tell you whether s/he is trying to get work in numerous areas of practice. It doesn’t matter if the lawyer handles maybe 2 areas of law, particularly if they are both areas of consumer law, such as divorce and bankruptcy. However, if you see that the primary practice area is DUI or personal injury or criminal law and family law appears to be an add-on, move on. Don’t explain. Just move on. They do not handle enough family law to be good. They use family law as an unwanted add-on. They will not be experienced enough and they will have to charge you a lot because you will be one of very few family law clients. Also, personal injury law paydays are huge and criminal law cases are critical to someone’s personal freedom. Where do you think your family law case will fit into that lawyer’s busy day?
- Look for a spark – You are looking for a lawyer who has positioned himself or herself in such a way as to convince you that s/he is the unique local divorce lawyer in Chicago that is best suited to resolving your case and your specific problems. This is hard to define, but you will understand if that lawyer makes this connection with you. If there is no such spark on the first exposure, there never will be. Move on.
- Look for Unique Action – Obviously, this does not involve standing in line with every other lawyer at Avvo or similar me-too lawyer platforms. Avvo owns all of that attorney’s blog posts and may control his or her entire marketing outreach. Avvo takes money from that lawyer in order to sign up more lawyers in Chicago lawyer-crowd. You’re looking for someone with style who stands out, not melds in. 1-800-DIVORCE is exclusive in Chicago. There is only one 1-800-DIVORCE lawyer in Chicago. Check here to see if Chicago has a 1-800-DIVORCE.