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How to Find an Illinois Divorce, Custody or Paternity Lawyer

The Gitlin Law Firm, P.C., Woodstock, Illinois    © 2013
www.gitlinlawfirm.com



Q:Where should I receive recommendations for a divorce lawyer or paternity lawyer?  I'm looking for one of the best divorce lawyers in the area but don't know where to turn. 

A:When asked for a referral in another area of law, I usually tell a client that the best resource is a lawyer who is local to the area who knows the other lawyers who concentrate their practice in the area of family law. Those lawyers will generally have a handle on the lawyers who are well respected by judges and who provide quality services for their clients.  This is usually your best resource to find a good divorce lawyer or custody lawyer. 

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Q:I have heard about collaborative divorce.  Should I consider collaborative divorce? 

A:For more information about collaborative divorce, see the Gitlin Law Firm's Q&A regarding collaborative law.  To determine whether collaborative divorce is appropriate for you a good resource is "The Collaborative Way to Divorce:  The Revolutionary Method that Results in Less Stress, Lower Costs and Happier Kids -- Without Going to Court."  The key thing to understand in collaborative divorce is that both lawyers must be trained collaborative professionals.  Otherwise, your divorce will be a traditional adversarial divorce.  It may be handled somewhat collaboratively -- but this would be done without the features of collaborative representation. 

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Q:What about organizations that provide referrals – do they do a good job?

A:The common referral sources are bar associations such as the McHenry County Bar Association. The McHenry County Bar Association has instituted a program of referrals. The policy of the McHenry County Bar Association is to refer cases at random to lawyers of the Bar Association based upon the area of practice in which the lawyer states he or she practices. While you may find an excellent lawyer from such a resource, there is little to ensure that the lawyer you will be referred to is well respected by his peers or is a capable lawyer.  Another bar associates which keeps a list of lawyers who handle cases by a given practice area is the Kane County Bar Association.

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Q:I heard about an organization called the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers – is this a good source for referrals?

A:Yes. It is an excellent resource for referrals.  In Illinois there are over 110 practicing fellows with Attorney Stephanie Kasten becoming a Fellow in 2013.  The Complete Idiot's Guide to Surviving Divorce (Second Edition) states:

As far as we're concerned, a better organization to tap is the American Academy of Matrimonial Attorneys, headquartered in Chicago. Each state has a chapter. Admission to the Academy is highly selective. Members must be in practice for a certain number of years; they must have worked largely if not solely in the field of matrimonial law; and they must pass a test. A member of this group will certainly be well qualified, but may also be very expensive.

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Q:I read about an organization called "Leading Lawyer Network."  What is this and is this a good place to find a divorce lawyer?*

A:The organization that created the Leading Lawyer Network is Law Bulletin Publishing Company.  They have been the resources most lawyers use in order to have a current list of other lawyers name, address, phone numbers, etc.  This company mailed a solicitation to every lawyer in the state asking, "If a family member or friend needs legal help and you can't take the case, which lawyers would you recommend within your area of law or geographic region?"  There is a further screening process discussed in their web site?  Click here to review this screening process.  Because of the selection process, I often use the Leading Lawyer Network to find lawyers considered to be best in their field in Illinois.  To see Gunnar Gitlin's listing in their web site, click here.   However, with any list of lawyers I believe it is best to use multiple sources and to interview the lawyer to determine if there is a meeting of the minds as to how your case would be managed.  Also note that the Supreme Court of Illinois does not recognize certifications of specialties in the practice of law and that any certificate, award or recognition is not a requirement to practice law in Illinois.

Leading Lawyers Network

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Q:I also read about "Super Lawyers."  How does this compare to Leading Lawyer Network for finding family law attorney in Illinois?*

A:"Super Lawyers"* is quite similar to Leading Lawyers Network.  The Super Lawyers web site provides the following background:   "The objective of the Super Lawyers selection process is to create a credible, comprehensive and diverse listing of outstanding attorneys that can be used as a resource to assist attorneys and consumers in the search for legal counsel. In December 2006, Key Professional Media, Inc., retained Global Strategy Group (GSG), one of the nation's leading market research and consulting firms, to provide an independent assessment of the Super Lawyers selection process. The GSG report concluded that the process is scientific and objective and went on to state:  "The broad range of sources used to obtain a large and representative nominee pool, the comprehensive data search on each candidate, the protocols used to evaluate nominees, the expert panel system, and the meticulous checks and balances built into the process … leave little to chance or idiosyncratic influence."  The Super Lawyers web site currently lists approximately 145 Illinois family law attorneys.  To see Gunnar Gitlin's listing in their web site, click here.  There are less than 60 lawyers in Illinois who are Fellows of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and listed with the Leading Lawyer Network and Super Lawyers.  One means of reviewing a family lawyer is comparing these various sources.  

Super Lawyers!

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Q:Are there another lists of lawyers available that you use when making referrals?*

A:I often use as a resource for referrals "Best Lawyers in America."  It contains perhaps the most exclusive list of lawyers throughout the nation.  For example, in the area of family law outside of Chicago and Lake Forest there are only 5 other Illinois lawyers listed in the 2013 edition of Best Lawyers in America.  And most of these lawyers are from relatively expensive Chicago based firms.

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Q:Other than Leading Lawyers and Super Lawyers, are there any other directories in which lawyers are reviewed by their peers?*

A:Yes.  An excellent resource to find a lawyer is through Martindale-Hubble.  The Martindale-Hubble web site explanation of their peer review states that there are three provides the following explanation as to their rating system: 

"Legal Ability Ratings are:
C - Good to High
B - High to Very High
A - Very High to Preeminent

"General Ethical Standards Rating:
The General Ethical Standards Rating denotes adherence to professional standards of conduct and ethics, reliability, diligence and other criteria relevant to the discharge of professional responsibilities.
The General Recommendation Rating is:
V - Very High"

I often find that Martindale-Hubbell is not as useful in finding a divorce lawyer as compared to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, Leading Lawyers and Super Lawyers.  This is because you cannot as readily search for lawyers by area of law, ratings and county.  Nevertheless, Martindale-Hubbell is oldest service which provides peer reviews of lawyers throughout the United States.  It is also an excellent means of double checking the rating of a lawyer that you have been referred to.

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Q:Is there a resource in McHenry County and Lake County for inexpensive divorce lawyers – assuming that I cannot afford to pay for a lawyer?

A:Yes.   There is a resource for legal aid program in McHenry County and Lake County divorces:  Prairie State Legal Services. The phone number for Prairie State Legal Services is 1-800-942-3940.  For information on services provided in McHenry County and Lake County, Illinois, click here.  The McHenry County Satellite Office is at 400 Russel Court, Suite 1, Woodstock, IL 60098, (815) 206-5828.  There is also a self-help center at the McHenry County Government Center law library, Room B-340, Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  The website address is http://mchenry.illinoislegalaid.org.  Keep in mind the adage that the lawyer who represents himself as a lawyer has a fool for a lawyer. 

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Q:What are the sources you use when referring a client to a lawyer in a community where you do not know a divorce lawyer?

A:My primary resource for making a referral to a family lawyer is the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. Their web site is www.aaml.org and you can readily use their lawyer locater to find a lawyer in a given location.

Another resource is the Martindale-Hubbell law directory. This law directory rates lawyers as A, B, C or unrated. A downside to the directory is that the listing of lawyers is often based in part on years of practice rather than upon the lawyer's expertise in a given area of law. You can find this resource at www.martindale.com.  The Martindale-Hubbell web site provides ratings of lawyers on this web site.

As discussed above, for referrals to Illinois lawyers, I use the Leading Lawyer Network and the SuperLawyers web sites.

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Q:Are the yellow pages a good way to find a lawyer?

A:No. The yellow pages are not a good way to find a lawyer. Often, lawyers who handle the largest volume of cases place the biggest advertisements in the yellow pages. The fact that such lawyers may have a substantial advertising budget says little about the lawyer's quality. There are much better resources available for referrals.

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Q:I have heard that certain Illinois lawyers state that they concentrate or limit their practice in divorce law. What does this mean?

A:Under Illinois law, a lawyer is prohibited for claiming an expertise in a given area of law. On the other hand, if the lawyer handles exclusively divorce cases or family law cases, the lawyer may state that he limits his practice to divorce or family law. If a lawyer does not exclusively handle one area of law, the lawyer can still state that he concentrates his practice in a given area. 

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Q:Is a consultation fee required by most divorce lawyers in McHenry County?

A:Most divorce lawyers require a consultation fee, although there are several who will conduct initial appointments without a charge. Some lawyers who do not charge a consultation fee will limit a consultation to no more than one hour in length. There are many cases where the consultation may take longer than one hour. It is appropriate to determine whether the length of the initial consultation will be limited.

Some family lawyers will provide a written memorandum of the conference. Because the initial conference is often comprehensive and it is difficult to process all of the information provided by the lawyer, the written memorandum is a worthwhile tool in evaluating whether the lawyer understands your problems and if you and the lawyer are “on the same page.”

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Q:What should I expect at the initial interview?

A:The purpose of the initial interview should be to first determine if you are able to establish a rapport with the lawyer. Another purpose is to determine if you and your lawyer are able to develop a comprehensive game-plan about how your case should be handled. In divorce cases, the lawyer should be able to provide you with a game plan in areas such as child custody, child support, maintenance (alimony), property division and attorney's fees. At the conclusion of the interview, you should understand the basic law which applies. Additionally, you should understand that your lawyer has a strategy to help you move forward with proceedings as quickly and as cost-effectively as possible.

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Q:What are the average hourly rates charged by divorce lawyers in McHenry County?

A:The lesser expensive, capable divorce lawyers in McHenry County charge rates in the range of $200 per hour.  But, generally, the best lawyers in McHenry County charge rates of $225 per hour or more. The real question is not the rates charged by the lawyer but whether the lawyer will be able to focus on resolution of your case as quickly as is reasonably possible.

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Q:What about going to court? Should the lawyer that I interview with be the lawyer who would handle contested court proceedings?

A:Some divorce lawyers will not handle contested evidentiary hearings or trials. One concern is whether the lawyer with whom you interview will be the same lawyer who would try your case. It is true that if you interview with one lawyer, another lawyer may be quite capable of trying your case or representing you at contested hearings. However, it is not efficient for one lawyer to exclusively handle court proceedings while another lawyer would handle non-court matters. The concern is that often something can get “lost in the translation” and attorney's fees may be higher in the long run if you hire such a law firm.

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Q:I have heard about men's rights or father's rights firms? Since I am a father who is seeking custody, should I hire a “men's rights” lawyer?

A:There are capable “father's rights” lawyers. However, I have found that good “father's rights” lawyers use this title only as a marketing tool to get business. I believe that there should not be such things as “men's rights” lawyers or “women's rights” lawyers. Instead, a good family lawyer will be equally capable of handling a worthy custody case – whether he or she represents the man or woman.

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Q:A firm I am looking at touts itself as being "aggressive."  Should I hire this firm? 

A:The firm to hire is a personal choice.  Some people going through a divorce mistake "aggression" with competence.  Often I have seen that clients tire after hiring an "aggressive" family lawyer -- because it is often the lack of a working relationship between counsel that can impede resolution in a case and can drive up the cost of divorce.   A good question to ask your prospective lawyer is whether they agree with the American Bar Association Family Law Section's Civility Standards.  It is urged that these standards should be followed by all family lawyers in Illinois. 

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The Gitlin Law Firm, P.C. provides the above information as a service to potential and current clients. A person's accessing the information contained in this web site, is not considered as retaining The Gitlin Law Firm for any case nor is it considered as providing legal advice. The Gitlin Law Firm cannot guarantee the outcome of any case.  * AV is a registered certification mark of Reed Elsevier Properties Inc., used in accordance with the Martindale-Hubbell certification procedures, standards and policies.

 

* The Supreme Court of Illinois does not recognize certifications of specialties in the practice of law and that any certificate, award or recognition is not a requirement to practice law in Illinois.

The Gitlin Law Firm, P.C.
Practice Limited to Family Law
663 East Calhoun Street
Woodstock, IL 60098
815/338-9401

www.gitlinlawfirm.com

Gitlin Law Firm, P.C.

Updated:  April 23, 2013


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