Carmen D. Caruso

Trial & Appellate Lawyer

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 over 30 years of experience trying civil and criminal cases, bench and jury trials, state and federal cases, evidentiary hearings at the preliminary injunction stage and arbitration hearings.

Clients retain Carmen and other lawyers refer cases to him because they appreciate his determined advocacy, 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.

Establishing an Independent Law Firm

Carmen established his own firm to create a law firm with “best practices” and the single purpose of winning cases, to avoid conflicts of interest, and in fulfillment of his entrepreneurial spirit. He works closely with a growing team of talented and enthusiastic young lawyers who are on their way to becoming great trial lawyers and savvy counselors. The firm invests in state of the art litigation software to compete effectively in any size case.

Franchise & Dealership Experience

Carmen is most widely known for his success in franchise and dealership cases mainly as as a protector of franchisees and dealers.  In his early years, he defended McDonald’s Corporation and Godfather’s Pizza in high stakes, system wide impact cases in Illinois, California, Texas, New York, New Jersey, and Missouri. Later he served as trial counsel and outside general counsel for Petland, an Ohio-based “Top 200” retailing franchisor, successfully defending the company in federal court against serious fraud claims, advising management on a wide array of franchising, corporate, intellectual property, real estate and employment law concerns and overseeing its national and international growth.

From these experiences, Carmen is intimately familiar with franchisor litigation and business strategy, and savvy franchisors that appreciate his candid and objective advice continue to call on Carmen and his team seeking to stay on track for growth and profit and enjoy good relations with their franchisees.

On the franchisee and dealer side, Carmen has been widely recognized for nearly 20 years as one of very best trial lawyers on their side of the fence. He has represented clients in over 100 branded systems in all industries, ranging from quick service restaurants, gas stations and c-stores to hotels and automobile dealerships, health care providers, sophisticated manufacturing franchises, and everything between. His clients include individual and multi-unit owners, area developers, and independent franchisee associations at the national brand and start-up level. Carmen’s franchisee/dealer clients know that he can level the playing field against much larger law firms that franchisors often turn to, and they are not disappointed.

Education as a Trial Lawyer

There is no better way to learn trial practice than starting early and being mentored by great trial lawyers. Carmen had these advantages. He became a partner, and practiced through 1997 with a premier Chicago litigation firm (Foran & Schultz) led by the former United States Attorneys that prosecuted the internationally known Chicago Seven Conspiracy Trial. Significant companies such as McDonald’s Corporation and Waste Management brought very difficult cases to Carmen’s first litigation firm. Carmen gained “big case” and trial experience in diverse cases including federal court jury trials, a state court murder trial, and a complex, month-long arbitration, and he successfully completed the Master Advocate’s Program of the National Institute of Trial Advocacy (NITA).

Larger Firm Experience

From 2002 through 2008, 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 serves as an Arbitrator for the American Arbitration Association on its complex case, commercial arbitration, employment, and franchise arbitration panels. He has rendered Awards in over twenty cases ranging from single day to two-week hearings. Without question, Carmen has found that sitting in the Arbitrator’s chair, listening to the evidence, ruling on objections and having to decide the case has made him an even more effective Advocate for his clients than he was before.

Mediator & Ombudsman

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

Expert Witness

With increasing frequency, Carmen is asked to serve as an expert witness on franchise law and litigation subjects. As with being an Arbitrator, sitting in the expert witness’s chair enhances his skills as an Advocate for his clients in presenting or challenging the opinions of other expert witnesses.

Pro Bono

Carmen serves in many pro bono positions including:

*Serves on the Franchise Advisory Board established by the Illinois Attorney General advising on the implementation and enforcement of the Illinois Franchise Disclosure Act.

*Serves as Co-Chair of the Civil Rights Litigation Committee of the American Bar Association (Section of Litigation) and his firm has devoted uncompensated time on civil rights cases pending in federal court.

*A frequent writer and Continuing Legal Education (CLE) speaker on various franchise law and trial practice topics for the American Bar Association and the American Association for Justice.

*Frequently speaks at meetings of franchisee associations including (in recent years) the Coalition of Franchisee Associations (CFA) and the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) on topics related to fairness in franchising and proposed franchise industry legislation.

*A Trustee of the Union League Club of Chicago Boys & Girls Clubs and is chairing a committee working towards the expansion of Boys & Girls Club programming in the Englewood Community of the South Side of Chicago.

*A member of the Board of Advisors of Catholic Charities of Chicago.

*An alumni officer and member of the Fathers Club at Mount Carmel High School in Chicago.

Professional Recognition

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

  • Selected by his peers for several years in a row to be included in The Best Lawyers in America for his franchise and dealership litigation practice in Illinois and across the United States.
  • London-based Chambers and Partners annual Chambers USA America’s Leading Lawyers for Business named Carmen for Franchising: Mainly Franchisee nationwide since 2016.
  • Named an Illinois Leading Lawyer by the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin in each year since from 2006 based on the recognition of his peers, and selected to serve on the Advisory Board of the Illinois Leading Lawyers Network in each year.
  • Named an Illinois Super Lawyer by Illinois Super Lawyers magazine and Law & Politics for franchise and dealership and business litigation each year from 2005 to present.
  • 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; and named to the Legal Eagle Hall of Fame in 2015.
  • Received an AV rating by Martindale-Hubbell, the highest rating available for both legal ability and ethics, each year for over 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.

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.

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


  • Loyola University of Chicago School of Law (J.D. 1983)
  • Master Advocates program of the National Institute for Trial Advocacy (NITA) (1996)
  • Marquette University (B.A. Psychology, cum laude, 1980); Member, Alpha Sigma Nu (National Jesuit Honor Society)
  • Brother Rice High School (Chicago)

Bar Associations

  • American Bar Association (Section of Litigation; Forum on Franchising; Forum on Communications Law; Section on Dispute Resolution)
  • Federal Bar Association (Sustaining Member)
  • Illinois State Bar Association (President’s Club Member)
  • American Association for Justice


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
77 West Washington, Suite 1900 | Chicago IL 60602
Direct: 312-626-1171

We stand out from the crowd based on our
dedication to our clients and our ability to get
our cases to trial and to win.

Carmen D. Caruso
I look forward to discussing your case, call me today.
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