Do you need to hire a special education lawyer for your child, but you don’t know where to start? Join me as we briefly discuss and learn the importance of hiring the right special education attorney for you and your child with a disability. Hiring the right special education lawyer is a critical decision. In this podcast, we briefly walk you through what you should look for.
-Jeff Forte, Esq.
Welcome to the podcast. Let's talk sped law, a podcast dedicated to discussing special education rights of children with disabilities. I'm your host and special education attorney, Jeff forte. Now let's talk sped law.Speaker 2:
Hi everyone. Attorney Jeff forte from let's talk sped law and today's episode we're going to talk about hiring the right special education attorney for your child with a disability. Okay. If you're like many parents and you've come to the decision in your child's education that you were thinking of hiring a special education lawyer, then you're in luck across the country. There are a lot of established and professional special education lawyers. Many of us in fact know each other through an organization called Copa , which stands for council of parents, advocates and attorneys. So right out of the gate, one of your very first resources should be finding an attorney that is a member of Copa and then contacting them within your local, state and town. Okay. You'll find that parent special education attorneys are a tight knit collaborative group of legal professionals that have a profound desire to help families of children with disabilities. Many of us in fact are also parents of a child that has a disability ourselves. For example, in my family, my youngest child has dyslexia and is on an IEP. It is one of the most important decisions that you and your family can make to obtain and find the right special education lawyer for you and your child. Many of us have different styles, approaches, and connections, so finding the right fit for you that suits your child's needs coupled with the experience and credibility level of the right attorney is a critical step in order to advance your child's case. Now, in this episode, I'm going to more fully go into the questions that you should be asking of a potential special education lawyer. But first, let's briefly understand what is the special education process. Okay, so briefly speaking, the special education process with any local school district should typically, and I use the word typically in quotes, should typically follow these four steps. Step one, the parent or a teacher notices that there's a deficit or or challenge in your child's learning process and refers your child to initial eligibility for special education. Now this step is a very important one because the parent and or the teachers are acknowledging that there may be a deficit and therefore you're going to hold an initial eligibility school meeting to sign off and consent on evaluations, which happens to be the second step. So step two is where your child is then comprehensively and the word comprehensively is in quotes, comprehensively evaluated by a team of clinical professionals and educators within your local school district to address each of your child's deficits and delays. So what would the evaluations that you would want for your child to address those delays? Well, some of those evaluations include among other things, academic, cognitive, psychological, behavioral, social and emotional assessments as well as other possible assessments that may address reading and literacy deficits, speech and language, psychiatric, occupational or physical therapy assessments as deemed necessary. Step three. Once all those evaluations have been completed, your child is then identified and diagnosed with a disability that impacts your child's access to his or her education. Under step three it's what we like to recall the child find section of the individuals with disabilities education act. The fact of finding a child eligible is where the law is met and satisfied and then lastly, step four based on the impressions of the evaluations, either a five Oh four plan or an IEP, which stands for individualized education program is then developed for your child and specific and measurable goals and objectives are created to address your child's challenges. Okay, sounds pretty simple, right? Not too complex. The entire special education process is designed to be collaborative and non-adversarial in nature, meaning that you and your local school district are supposed to be working together as one team to mutually develop an appropriate education plan and related services better, uniquely designed to make your child have meaningful progress year over year. The process is designed so that you and your local school team do not need to have lawyers involved or of course need judges and so forth. Well, unfortunately it's not always that straight forward and perhaps that's right . The reason why you may very well be listening to this podcast. Unfortunately, the reality is that the special education process does not always go smoothly despite even the very best intentions of some of the members of your school's team. There are flaws in its design and oftentimes the special education process can become adversarial in nature. It may become adversarial when you are asking for items such as an independent educational evaluation, otherwise known as an I. E. if you're requesting an increase in service hours or related services, or perhaps you're requesting a change in educational placement or you're requesting paraprofessional support for your child, or you're wanting Orton Gillingham or Wilson trained instruction for your child's literacy deficits, you may be asking for ABA services or even for summer school, which is called ESY or extended school year. Regardless of what you're asking, if your school district team denies your request, that is where potentially the conversation becomes adversarial. In other words, your school district team is saying no to something that you as a parent feel is critically and clinically important to have on your child's five Oh four or IEP. Even worse. You may not even get that far because your child may have been denied special education in the very first place in step one, which I was previously mentioning, so sometimes, but not always. Some school districts may even take advantage of the fact that you as a lay parent do not know the rights of your child under the individuals with disabilities education act. Clearly at this point, it is time for you to at the very least have a legal consultation with the right special education attorney. You should be hiring a special education attorney as soon as your local school district denies or decides to become adversarial with you and denies the services or the placement that you feel is most appropriate for your child. Now some of you may be asking yourself, well, can I just do this on my own without an advocate or why not just hire a special education advocate instead or do this on my own? Okay. Without an advocate or an attorney. Well, let me share with you an old saying about lawyers and it goes like this. The lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client. So you see, because you are the parent of your child, it's going to be nearly impossible for you not to be emotional or objective when it becomes to the determination as to what constitutes a legally appropriate education for your child. Do you need the right attorney on your side that's going to zealously represent you and all of your child's special education interest to the fullest extent possible under the IDE a , and this is where the right special education lawyer is important to have on your side. Now don't get me wrong, special education advocates serve an extremely meaningful and critical role for the services that they provide. In fact, did you know that there are more advocates for parents than there are lawyers? Okay. And as a special education attorney, I work with several well-respected, highly established professional special education advocates throughout the state of Connecticut and often provide parents with referrals to those advocates and vice versa. Now, if you decide that you want to retain a special education parent advocate, you're gonna want to research them. You're going to want to know what their experience level is, what their certifications are, and what their credentials are. For example, I mentioned Copa before, council of parents, advocates and attorneys. Did they complete the Copa advocate training program? Have they gone to a clinic and advocacy clinic? For example, with the William and Mary law school, have they attended an advocacy program for example, through rights law? All right. Have they shadowed special education lawyers before? Are they certified as a special education parent advocate? Certainly the right special education parent advocate can definitely help you prepare for an IEP meeting and attend the meeting with you in order to assist you with communicating your child's needs. However, this is typically where an advocates services end. Anything more than helping you prepare or attend an IEP meeting can legally and ethically be considered the unauthorized practice of law. So if you are working with a non attorney advocate and they're not licensed or admitted in your state as a lawyer and that advocate starts to provide you with legal advice or assist you with preparing for mediation, for filing or preparing for due process or reviewing a settlement agreement or for that matter doing anything otherwise that would be considered a legal action. That advocate may be committing the unauthorized practice of law. The good news is that all experienced advocates know this and would refer you to the right special education attorney at the appropriate time. Okay. Now, special education attorneys don't have the limitations that advocates have. Okay. Even though advocates do extraordinary great work and um, they're very experienced, oftentimes what can happen is districts can discard their efforts and thus all the hard earned investment that you have put into the work may be for nothing. That is why I always recommend for parents to, at the minimum have an initial legal consultation with a special education lawyer. First, in order to determine what is the strategic legal plan of action on how best to move forward either with an attorney or with an advocate who the right attorneys would refer you to in the first place. Now, many advocates are excellent, okay? They're certified and trained or experienced or they have substantial knowledge from being in the field of special education. For years. Special education attorneys though, however, are legally trained and we understand special ed legal procedure rules of evidence. We have knowledge about school district lawyers and state mediators and hearing officers and federal judges. Special education lawyers know how to conduct direct and cross examinations of witnesses. Write legal briefs based on case law. We know who, where and how to obtain critical expert evaluations and how to quickly and legally analyze FERPA . Document IEP , [inaudible] evaluations, and legal discovery. Perhaps most importantly though, okay, the right special education attorney knows how to preserve the record at an IEP meeting for due process purposes or for appeal to a federal court. Now attorney's fees and special education due process cases are also often recoverable while advocate fees are not. Thus, if you've succeeded at due process, you may very well be entitled to receiving some or all of your investment in your special education attorney. A comprehensive legal consultation with the right special education lawyer will know. We'll on that . We'll , we'll definitely fully inform you about the strengths of your case. Now there's a lot of different costs and fees that are associated with a special education attorney. Okay. There's various sliding scales. There's various hourly rates, there's flat fees, there's fixed fees. Some attorneys charge for initial consultations while others do not. Um, there is a mediation cost. There is a due process cost, okay. But regardless of the special education attorneys, hourly rates or flat fee charges or various rates for mediation and due process, right? Being mindful that like anything, price is what you pay and value is what you get. And that's by Warren buffet. Okay. So you really want to figure out who is the right attorney for your child. So how do you find the right special education lawyer for you and your child? Well, first and foremost, personally go out and meet with special education attorneys. Okay. I mentioned Copa as a site that you should look up. They have a very good directory of the most reputable special education lawyers. All right. You're going to want to ask questions and understand, right, that when you are meeting with the special education attorney, it is important to realize that it is a two way street. Just like you are interviewing the attorney, the attorney should also be interviewing you. And what I mean by this is that the right special education attorney should be evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of your child's case from the moment you first call. All right . What is the end result that you were seeking for your child? What is your style like compared to the style of the attorney you are seeking? What does the lawyer's website say about him or her? Does the lawyer even have a website? Has the attorney, has the attorney , um , currently presented or recently presented or published on recent developments within special education? Does the lawyer serve on any nonprofit community boards or nonprofit boards? And what community involvement does the lawyer have within your local disability community? Other questions that you may want to ask of your uh , lawyer is, has the attorney handled special education cases within your local school district? Does the attorney have previous experience in handling the type of disability that your child has? What software and systems technology wise does the attorney have in place to ensure that your child's confidential medical, psychological, and educational records remain confidential, encrypted and HIPAA compliant? Will the attorney you are interviewing with be handling your child's case all the way through or will parts of your child's case be freelance to another attorney or law firm associate? And if so, who, where and why? And are you going to be meeting with that lawyer? What is the client availability look like for the lawyer that you're seeking? Who answers their office phone? Does the attorney or the law office staff immediately return your calls and provide you with straightforward answers? Does the attorney have a law office? I know many great lawyers that don't have law offices, but they do virtual law offices and that's great, right? Whatever works for each of us. But where will you be meeting with your attorney when you need to meet with them? Okay. What technology does the lawyer use for the benefit of client communication and the exchange of information and will the attorney be providing you with a past or recent client reference with permission from a former client? Does the attorney keep you fully informed on billing? Does the attorney have any online reviews? Most importantly, I think one of the most important things that you should be asking or finding out and researching. Okay. Is what type of professional relationships and reputation does the attorney have within your local school district? And more importantly with the lawyer or law firm that represents your local school district. Will the attorney's approach damage or mend you and your child's relationship with your local school district? And what type of lawyer are you seeking? Are you seeking a lawyer that has a litigious and aggressive approach right out of the gate that intends to draw blood first? Or are you seeking an attorney that is legally strategic but not immediately combatant with your schools, with your child's school team? What experts does the attorney use and what results have those experts achieved for other children? Lastly, special education attorneys are people too. We have families, we have private lives, we have children that have disabilities as well, most of us. And does the attorney have anything either personally or professionally that may prevent or mitigate his or her fullest legal attention to your child's special education case. So in summary, I strongly advise any and all parents of a child with a disability to have a comprehensive initial legal consultation with the right Connecticut special education lawyer. First, the consultation should be scheduled the minute you believe your child's school district is becoming adversarial with you or you believe your child is being denied the right to receive a free, appropriate public education that is legally required and entitled to receive pursuant to the individuals with disabilities education act. So I hope that this episodeSpeaker 1:
was helpful for you. Stay tuned for more information and additional podcasts and as always, thank you for listening to, let's talk Spanish .