Carmen D. Caruso

Principal Attorney

Carmen D. Caruso

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The first thing that clients notice is Carmen Caruso’s passion for the law and his dedication to advancing their causes in the most effective and efficient manner.

Carmen thrives in trial practice having more than 30 years of experience where he has tried substantial cases, including civil and criminal cases, bench and jury trials, state and federal cases, evidentiary hearings at the preliminary injunction stage and arbitration hearings.

Carmen gained trial experience early in his career.  He spent twelve years with a premier Chicago litigation firm (Foran & Schultz) that was led by the former United States Attorney in Chicago who prosecuted the Chicago Seven Conspiracy Trial.  Significant corporate clients such as McDonald’s Corporation that used many different law firms brought their most challenging cases to Carmen’s first litigation firm. Carmen gained big case experience along with substantial trial experience in criminal cases, including a murder trial.

Later, Carmen was a litigation partner at a 75 lawyer Chicago firm (Schwartz Cooper Chartered) where he established and served as Chair of the Firm’s Franchise & Distribution Practice Group and elevated his franchise & dealership litigation practice to a national level. 

Carmen established his own firm due to conflicts of interest that would prevent him from representing clients in cases against the larger companies that larger law firms tend to represent.

Carmen is widely known for his success in franchise and dealership cases, and his tenacious approach of trial preparation from the outset of a case. 

Clients retain Carmen and other lawyers refer cases to his firm because they appreciate his single-minded focus on what is best for the client, his ability to “see around the corner” and his creative thinking to win cases and solve client concerns.

Lawyer for Lawyers & Other Professionals

Carmen has been called upon to defend lawyers accused of legal malpractice or ethical violations, and he has not hesitated to bring legal malpractice claims, when warranted, against law firms that have harmed their clients.  

Additionally, other professionals including expert witnesses, business consultants and mental health professionals have sought Carmen’s advice and counsel in dealing with difficult problems.


Carmen Caruso also serves as an Arbitrator for the American Arbitration Association on its complex case, commercial arbitration, and franchise arbitration panels.   He has rendered Awards in more than a dozen cases ranging from single day to full week hearings.  Without question, Carmen has found that sitting in the Arbitrator’s chair, listening to the evidence, ruling on objections and having to make the decisions has made him an even more effective Advocate for his clients than he was before.

Expert Witness

With increasing frequency, Carmen has been asked to serve as an expert witness on subjects related to franchise law, and on the standard of care applicable to lawyers engaged in the practice of franchise law or in litigation in which franchise laws were implicated, or should have been recognized by the attorneys handling the case.  As with being an Arbitrator, sitting in the expert witness’s chair has enhanced his skills as an Advocate for his clients in presenting or challenging the opinions of other expert witnesses

Setting the Bar Very High

In 2013, Carmen was honored to become a 15 year recipient of the highest A/V rating in both legal ability and ethics by the Martindale-Hubbell Legal Directory and has been included in its Bar Registry of Preeminent Lawyers, for many years. He is consistently honored by his peers with recognitions including Best Law Firm, Best Lawyers, Leading Lawyers (including membership on its Advisory Board), and Super Lawyers.  These rankings are earned, not purchased. 

In the field of franchise law, Carmen has also been honored many times as Franchise Times Legal Eagle, and in 2015, Carmen was inducted into the Franchise Times Legal Eagles Hall of Fame.

Carmen contributes to the American Bar Association as a frequent author and Continuing Legal Education presenter in the area of trial practice, evidence issues, and substantive questions arising in franchise & dealership litigation.

Family & Community

Born and raised in Chicago, Carmen has been married to Ellyn Caruso since 1983, the principal of Caruso Communications LLC/Caruso PR.  They have three grown sons and reside in the Beverly neighborhood of Chicago.

Carmen serves as a Trustee for the Union League Boys & Girls Clubs in Chicago.  He also serves on the advisory board of Catholic Charities of Chicago and previously served as an officer of the Mount Carmel High School Fathers Club when his sons attended that school.

Carmen D. Caruso has received widespread professional recognition for many years, including:

  • Selected by his peers to be included in the 2015 edition of The Best Lawyers in America for his franchise and dealership litigation practice in Illinois and across the United States.
  • Named in 2010 by the Office of the Illinois Attorney General to its Franchise Advisory Board, which advises the Illinois Attorney General in its implementation and enforcement of the Illinois Franchise Disclosure Act.
  • Named an Illinois Leading Lawyer by the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin publication in each year from 2006-2015 based on the recognition of his peers, and selected to serve on the Advisory Board of the Illinois Leading Lawyers Network in each of these years.
  • Named an Illinois Super Lawyer by Illinois Super Lawyers magazine and Law & Politics for franchise and dealership and business litigation each year from 2005-2015.
  • Consistently named a Legal Eagle by Franchise Times, a Crain’s publication focused on the franchise industry, in 2001 and 2002 and then consecutively from 2005 to present.
  • Received an AV rating by Martindale-Hubble, the highest rating available for both legal ability and ethics, each year for more than twenty years, and named a member of the prestigious Bar Register of Pre-Eminent Lawyers.
  • Recognized in “Who’s Who Legal Illinois,” published by the International Bar Association.
  • Served, since 2008, as editor of the Illinois chapter of the Franchise Desk Book of state and federal franchise laws published by the American Bar Association Forum on Franchising.

As a natural outgrowth of Carmen’s successful practice, he continues to use his strengths and expand his role as an advocate to clients as an Arbitrator, Mediator and Expert Witness.


Carmen continues to expand his role as an advocate for his clients. He has accepted invitations to serve as an arbitrator, first as a party-appointed member of a three- arbitrator panel in a Colorado arbitration hearing that lasted nearly a week. Carmen has also become a member of the American Arbitration Association’s Complex Dispute, Commercial Arbitration, and Franchise Dispute panels. Since 2012 Carmen has presided over a dozen hearing in which awards have been rendered.

Mediator & Ombudsman

Carmen has also been called upon by a leading international franchisor to mediate a dispute it was having with one of its franchisees, and in 2013, Carmen served on a panel discussion “Effective Mediation of Franchise Disputes” which was presented to the American Bar Association (Forum on Franchising) in conjunction with the Chicago Bar Association.

Expert Witness

With increasing frequency, Carmen has been asked to serve as an expert witness on subjects related to franchise law, and on the standard of care applicable to lawyers engaged in the practice of franchise law or in litigation in which franchise laws were implicated, or should have been recognized by the attorneys handling the case.

There are certain moments that test a lawyer’s mettle.

For Carmen D. Caruso, one such moment came as he filed a serious lawsuit on behalf of an independent franchisee association to stop the franchisor from imposing coerced concept change on its franchisees, Carmen’s client issued a press release which questioned the personal motives of the franchisor’s largest shareholder, a very well-known investor. The attorneys for the franchisor responded by threatening a defamation lawsuit against Carmen’s client, and against Carmen, who was quoted in the press release.

Then came the phone call. The defense attorney that was making defamation threats wanted Carmen and his partners to know that if he dismissed his client’s lawsuit the franchisor would not sue for defamation. Being sued for defamation would not have been fun. But, Carmen and his client stood firm, refused to dismiss the suit, and refused to pay a dime to settle the defamation threat. No defamation claim was ever filed. The defendant and its big firm attorneys were exposed as making empty threats.

Litigating serious cases is not for the feint-hearted.

Bar Admissions

U.S. Supreme Court

Illinois Supreme Court

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and for the Tenth Circuit

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois (including Trial Bar) and multiple other federal districts.

U.S. Court of Military Appeals

Bar Associations

American Bar Association (Section of Litigation; Forum on Franchising; Forum on Communications Law)

Illinois State Bar Association

American Association for Justice

Loyola University of Chicago School of Law (J.D. 1983)

Carmen also completed the Master Advocates program of the National Institute for Trial Advocacy (NITA)

Marquette University (B.A. Psychology, cum laude, 1980); Member, Alpha Sigma Nu (National Jesuit Honor Society)

Brother Rice High School (Chicago)

Carmen Caruso has been interviewed, or his cases have been profiled by publications including the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Reader, Crain's Chicago Business, WBBM-TV Chicago, AP, Forbes, Franchise Times and more.

For media inquiries about Carmen’s cases, or about legal topics of interest, please contact:

Michael Nothnagel
Senior Account Executive
Caruso Communications LLC/CarusoPR