Everyone who is currently or was in the past licensed to practice law in Illinois does so through the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC). Sometimes I will look up the name of a lawyer for their contact information and see the name of a similar attorney from the early 1800’s. It’s kind of wild, but a great tool for knowing if any specific person is currently authorized to practice law or ever was in the past.
The ARDC released their annual report recently and it had a lot of interesting information. Currently there are over 95,000 people licensed to practice law and more than 66,500 of those are in Illinois, with almost 29,000 living/working outside of Illinois. It’s not uncommon for someone to get admitted here and then move out of state and either work remotely or get a license in their new state. They keep their Illinois license active for many reasons including convenience, referral fees and because they still do work here.
Approximately 60% of the licensed lawyers are male and 40% are female with .07% reporting as non-binary. I would expect that women will narrow the gap as time goes on. About 47% of all attorneys have been practicing for between 11-30 years so there are a lot of experienced lawyers out there. Just 10% have less than five years experience and 2% have more than 50 years experience. Generally speaking I tell people not to hire someone too young or too old that they aren’t doing law full time anymore. Just because you have an active law license doesn’t mean you are actively working.
Of the attorneys located in Illinois, 87% of them are in the Chicago area with over 47,000 of those in Cook County alone. So as you get downstate, sometimes it can be more challenging to find the right attorney. 27% of attorneys are solo practicioners meaning that there are no other attorneys in their firm. 26% of lawyers work in firms with over 100 lawyers and another 26% work in firms with 2-10 lawyers.
In 2021, there were 3,881 grievances against 2,979 lawyers representing 3.1% of all registered lawyers. The main allegations were neglect, failure to communicate, improper billing and incompetence. The two most common areas of complaint were criminal law and family law. Together they comprised over half the allegations.
The number one reason for discipline against attorneys was fraud. In my experience of reading these findings that usually means they stole or misappropriated funds. In 2021, 16 attorneys were disbarred which means they can never practice law again. That tells you that they did something serious. 12 others were given indefinite suspensions.
Of the 83 attorneys in total who were disciplined last year, 70% of those were solo practicioners. That can be a warning sign for you when it comes to hiring a lawyer. Sometimes these attorneys don’t have a good support staff or become bogged down by too many cases, but can’t afford to hire someone to help. Other times they take on cases they shouldn’t because they need the money. I’m not saying you should never hire a one lawyer firm, but you should think about if there aren’t better choices.
When an Illinois attorney steals from a client, the ARDC has a program in place to help you recover some of your lost funds. Last year they gave out over $715,000.00 from 58 claims against 31 different lawyers. I doubt that everyone was made whole, but every little bit helps. 22% of those payments came from real estate or loan modification cases.
The ARDC to their credit is also worried about substance abuse and mental illness. 183 attorneys were monitored for this issue with 40 of those referred for treatment help.
It’s great that this information is so public and transparent. If you want to read the full report go to their site.