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10 Criteria For Choosing a Special Education Attorney

10 Criteria For Choosing a Special Education Attorney

What are the criteria for selecting a special education attorney?

  1. Does the attorney only advocate for parents and children?
    Special education attorneys who represent school districts or SELPA’s may have both present and future conflicts of interest when representing a child and his or her parents.  The Counsel of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, a nation-wide professional organization, only allows attorneys and advocates who represent parents and children to become members.
  2. Does the attorney understand your child’s needs?
    It is often important for your attorney to understand your child in addition to understanding the legal issues.  When an attorney understands your child, then the possible options and solutions that the attorney proposes will match with your child’s needs.
  3. Does the attorney specialize in special education matters? 
    It is critical for your attorney to have extensive experience in special education law.  This area of the law is specialized and an excellent lawyer should be completely versed in the federal and state laws regarding children who are eligible for special education as well as your child’s rights.
  4. Can you afford the attorney?
    Can you afford to use the attorney over a significant period of time?
    School districts are notorious for stripping away excellent IEP services and placement after your special education attorney is no longer in the picture.  Make sure you understand how the attorney expects to be compensated: contingency, modified contingency, hourly, flat rate, or free.  School districts rarely pay all of parents’ legal fees.
  5. Are you paying for support personnel?
    If you are likely to be billed for using or interfacing with your attorney’s support personnel, then you must understand each support person’s role and you must understand how your attorney or law firm will bill you.
  6. How long will it take to get your child to matriculate successfully at school? 
    It is important to understand and be able to estimate what the probabilities are of a speedy resolution or if you will face a prolonged and continuous conflict with your school district.  An experienced attorney or law firm will have its history to rely on when estimating what you will be facing in terms of time and money.
  7. Does the attorney have experience with numerous school districts?
    An attorney who has experience in numerous school districts will very likely have experience with the opposing counsel or the law firm that the school district uses to oppose parents.  This experience is useful because it allows your attorney to understand with a greater probability what to anticipate from your school district.
  8. Do you like the attorney?
    The attorney or law firm you choose to represent you will have a personality and approach that it is often unique.  A good match between parent and attorney makes for a confident team approach, with attorney and parents working towards common goals.  When parents feel that an attorney is not supporting them, then the attorney becomes part of the problem instead of part of the solution.
  9. Is your attorney able to litigate and represent you at all levels?
    Most cases never go to trial.  Why is it important for your attorney to be able to go to trial at any level to represent you?  Your attorney’s demonstrated ability to operate at any trial level generally makes school districts more willing to negotiate because the school district understands that your attorney is willing and competent to move forward with litigation if the school district does not make a good faith offer to you.  Your attorney or law firm should have actual experience, not just certification, at the administrative level, the Federal District Court level, and the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals level.
  10. Does your attorney have a plan or legal strategy to achieve what you really want for your child?
    Receiving 25 hours of compensatory services for past wrongs may be a victory, but it may not be a satisfactory outcome if your child’s placement, goals and services are inappropriate.  Select an attorney who understands what you are attempting to achieve in the long run for your child.  Your attorney should see his/her job as creating a successful ongoing and appropriate program for your child.

Parents assemble resources for their children.  These resources include physicians, dentists, caregivers, teachers, and sometimes attorneys.  There are important criteria for each resource for your child.  Take your time, research, interview, and select with care your special education attorney.

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