Selecting a Special Education Lawyer
If you have a child with a disability, you may find that you need a special education lawyer to get the services your child needs. While it is better to work with teachers, aides and your school district collaboratively, sometimes the relationship has deteriorated so far as to make that impossible. Other times, you simply may not see eye to eye on key points of your child's education. Here are some guidelines on determining whether you should hire a special education lawyer, and what to look for.
How a Special Education Lawyer Can Help
The first step in figuring out whether you should hire a lawyer to represent you and your child is to better understand what a lawyer will be doing for you. This can help you decide whether you want to tackle these issues yourself or leave it to a lawyer. Typically, tasks that a lawyer will perform include:
- Requesting an evaluation for special education services
- Preparing any documentation and materials for an evaluation or eligibility screening
- Requesting the child's school files and documentation
- Attending the evaluation or eligibility meeting
- Advocating, negotiating or discussing your child's rights with the school district
- Assessing and advising you on the strengths of your child's case
- Resolving any disputes between you and the school district, teachers, etc
- Attending any meetings on your behalf
- Researching issues particular to your child's care
- Reviewing any documents or agreements you are asked to sign
- Preparing for and attending any court proceedings on your behalf
- Representing you in court
While in many instances you can and should advocate for your child, depending on your circumstances, you may not simply be able to do all the above. In that case, here are some of the basic issues that should help you decide whether to hire a lawyer.
Deciding Whether You Should Hire a Special Education Lawyer
There are a variety of factors to consider when deciding whether to hire a lawyer to advocate for your child, but here are some of the most influential factors:
- Your Child's Needs: The paramount issue is always whether your child's needs are being met. If your child really needs services he or she is not getting, and you simply can't get it done yourself, then it's time to call a special education lawyer.
- Your Time and Energy: Being the parent of any child can be exhausting, and sometimes it's even harder on parents of a disabled child. Assess the amount of time and energy you have to advocate for your child. If you've got too much going on in your life, you often simply won't have the time and energy you need.
- The Complexity of the Issues: The relative complexity of the case can be reason enough to hire a lawyer. Even if you had the time, energy and resources, if the case is simply too complex for you to handle, consider hiring a lawyer.
- Cost: It's tough to admit that money matters when discussing the needs of a disabled child, but it is a realistic concern to consider. Lawyers aren't cheap, so assess whether you have the resources necessary to hire one. Also consider calling your local bar association and asking about any non-profit or community organizations that could help with your child's needs.
- Your Relationship with the School: Sometimes the relationship between a school and a parent can get so frayed, that the two parties can't effectively communicate or get anything done. Letting another party do the talking can get the process moving and get your child the services they really need.
Tips for Selecting a Special Education Lawyer that Matches Your Needs
Finally, if you are going to hire a special education lawyer, here are some general guidelines to consider when hiring them:
- Find an attorney with special education expertise
- Find an attorney who not only has expertise, but has actual experience in dealing with special education cases
- Select an attorney who seems to understand your child and your needs
- Make sure you understand how the attorney will charge you
- Understand the role the attorney takes, and the role his or her staff may take. People are often surprised to find out that much of their case is actually handled by a paralegal
- Find an attorney you can get along with
In addition to your local bar association, FindLaw can provide you with information on special education attorneys in your area.