Regardless of the area of law, all attorneys must meet with a prospective client in what is commonly referred to as “the initial legal consultation.” This critical meeting is the first meeting that is held between you, the potential new client, and the potential attorney. In this episode, we dive into what how best to fully prepare for your first meeting with a special education attorney, what to look and listen for, and how to properly and ethically establish the formal attorney-client relationship for the betterment of advancing your child's right an appropriate education.
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. Hi everyone. Jeff forte from let's talk sped law. I want to talk with you today about what a parent client should expect at their first legal consultation with a special education attorney. Okay. We're going to unbundle the confusion, the mystique and the scariness of the initial attorney client meeting that many parents for the very first time understandably are meeting with an attorney for the first point in their life. Um, actually, you know, you may have sold a house or, um, you know, gotten a divorce perhaps, but to actually have an authentic attorney, client initial meeting is something that is, uh, very important. And it's often referred to as the initial legal client consultation. And it puts a lot of pressure on the parent because you're actually considering retaining a lawyer to represent your child. So it's not just, you know, a particular lawyer for any particular case. It's one of the most intimate relationships that you are professionally developing with someone to advance your child's education. Now, this meeting is incredibly critical because it's the first meeting that's being held between you, the potential new client and the attorney, the potential new attorney. And, you know, as a practical matter, I use the term potential because during this initial meeting, you're in essence, both checking each other out, right? You're mutually gathering information and advice on each other that can help you advance your child's education. So the process of this initial legal consultation, it helps both you as the potential client and the potential lawyer decide whether or not you want to legally and ethically enter into an attorney client relationship and move forward. Now, regardless of how formal or informal the initial legal consultation may be, it is critically important that both you, the potential parent client and your potential lawyer come fully prepared for this meeting in order to make the best use of your time, as well as the, if there is a fee involved in the initial legal consultation, your money. All right. So the purpose of this podcast is really what I feel as a special education lawyer that represents a number of parents in my own private practice are the recommendations that every parent should have whenever they are meeting with a special education attorney. And these are the recommendations that you should be doing before the consultation, during the consultation and after the consultation. All right. And I'm confident that any experience special education lawyer will embed these recommendations into their initial intake process. Okay. So number one, number one, fill out and return your client questionnaire form and documents in a timely manner. Okay? Fill out and fill out your client questionnaire form and return your documents in a timely manner. This is huge. Okay. Most special education lawyers will take the time to thoroughly prepare for an initial legal consultation by reviewing the perspective clients, intake, questionnaire form, and all the documents that the attorney is requesting you to forward to the attorney in advance of your first meeting. This will help your lawyer to evaluate your child's potential claims, determine any statute of limitations issues and to conduct a preliminary case, evaluation of potential claims and remedies for you. Your time will be most productive. If you fill out this questionnaire on time, you fully send your child's records, IDPs evaluations, test scores, grades in a timely manner before the initial legal consultation. Okay. It speaks volumes. If the attorney has not reviewed this in advance of the consultation, likewise, it speaks volumes. If the parent has not provided it in advance of the consultation, right? You want to really have an informed discussion. So get the intake and the documents in a timely manner. Number two, do look at the information that is provided on your perspective. Attorney's website. The information on the attorney's website should be able to answer some of your basic[inaudible] parental questions that often arise and are commonly found during an initial legal consultation. Now obviously is information should not be construed as legal advice, and it doesn't account for all the technicalities that may be involved in your child's particular situation, but it should, however, give you the basic vocabulary, the basic vernacular that is used in special education law, it also provide you a good flavor of who you're going to be meeting with. What's their experience, what's their bio. Um, they have recent results posted on their website, right? What results have they achieved? Do they have a blog, right? You're going to want to see all this information to make sure that you're informed and interested in meeting with the attorney. Just as much as the attorney may be interested in meeting with you. The other thing is, if you can glean information from their website before the meeting, while all that information is free and you don't have to pay for that. So it's not like you then have to discuss it during the initial concept, the patient number three, have a written list of questions that you can refer to. Okay. Just as you would be going into an IEP meeting for your child, and you would want to write down questions. So you don't forget them. You should also write down a list of questions that you want. I would like to ask your potential attorney during the initial legal consultation. Likewise, if your loved ones or spouse or fellow relatives also have questions, you should write those down as well. Because trust me, you're going to want to be concentrating on the wealth of information that you are receiving during the initial legal consultation. And you do not want to forget that questions that you want to ask. So write down your questions in advance. Number four, bring or forward all documents that are relative and relevant to your child's education. Oftentimes times a child's education records that you think maybe nothing or not important could mean everything to best advocating for your child. Bring copies of your child's name, evaluations assessments, program reports, and the like, right. And bring them, or forward them in advance of the initial appointment. Super critical here that the lawyer gets those because that can help explain any causes of action, potential claims, or special defenses that you may be getting during the active representation of your case. Okay. Number five, be ready to take some notes. Okay. It can, it's going to be difficult to remember. Okay. Everything that you and your potential attorney talk about weeks later, you may not remember. Okay. So that's why I always encourage, I even bring a pad for clients to write down things, write down important notes during the discussion, and perhaps even have your potential attorney write a summary of the proposed legal strategy that would be implemented. Should you go to the next step, which is retainer. Okay. Number six, respectfully speaking, adult questions, right? Require adult attendance. So while it is very important for a special education attorney to get to know your family and to get to know your child, right? Special education attorneys are not clinicians. Well, some of them may be, but we're not clinicians. Okay. So given that your child's education as a joint parental decision, it is very important and critical that both parents, both parents who have decision-making authority attend the initial legal consultation. Now for parents that are separated or divorced, you may want to take a look at an article that I wrote, um, entitled divorce and special education, a primer for family law attorneys and divorced parents of a child with a disability, because you may not have educational decision-making authority. If you do not have legal guardianship over your child, that said, typically speaking, I recommend that you confer with your trusted, loved ones and that you and your spouse attend the initial legal consultation. Now right now, because of the COVID pandemic, most consultations obviously are done to the extent everyone is comfortable, uh, by virtual video appointments. All right, what number seven, number seven, the initial legal consultation is more or less about an hour. Okay. I say it's more or less about an hour because it can technically vary. It could be more, it could be less, it could be a lot more, it could be a lot less, right? It really depends on the complexity of your situation and how much information you were able to have organized and provided to the attorney before the initial legal consultation. Either way, though, you, as the parent, as the potential client should leave the initial legal consultation with a proposed strategy in mind that has been offered by the lawyer. So it's to your advantage to come fully prepared, take notes, have questions in advance, provide all the documentation in advance, right? Family members should attend. Children should not attend. Okay. These are all important things. Number eight. So what actually happens at the initial attorney client legal consultation, right? What happens? Right? Many of the parents that come to see me at my practice have never really even met with a lawyer, you know, maybe a real estate lawyer or something like that, but they've never really met with a lawyer. So how do you know what's going to actually happen? Well, the attorney that you're meeting with should take the time to fully understand your child situation and should have developed in advance of the legal consultation, any legal claims that you may be entitled to, and then determine with you, what is the next realistic legal strategy and remedy that may help to resolve your child's education claims to the fullest extent, allowable by law. Okay. You and your attorney should patiently and thoroughly take the time to answer your questions and to separate out legal myths from facts and ease your worries about the unknown. Okay. You know, part of being a lawyer, there's a saying that attorneys at law, or also counselors at law, and when you're meeting with an attorney, you're meeting with an attorney to provide counsel legal advice, legal consultation, and legal strategy. So often times attorneys are more of a listener than a speaker during an initial legal consultation, but make no mistake, clients should be given straight talk, right straight talk with compassion, and you should be expected to be able to lead the initial consultation with the legal realities of your case so that a strategy can be implemented. Okay. And you and your lawyer should face these realities, the factual realities head on it. You know, in my practice, I often ask potential clients, regardless of what the facts are law are, what is the end result that you were wishing to seek for your child? Right? And sometimes the solution could be around the law rather than through the law to achieve the right result without the need for litigation fights or an emotional toll on your family. It really depends on the facts of your case, but you should be thinking about whether the appropriate avenues are through the IEP process, through mediation or through due process litigation. Now, practically speaking, right. It should be conversational. You are a collaborative, equal member of the attorney, client relationship. Okay. So your, your input does matter number nine to retain or not to retain. Okay. So during the meeting with your initial, during the unit legal consultation with your potential lawyer, it doesn't mean that you have to retain the lawyer. Okay. Often times a special education attorney can meet with a parent and provide them with appropriate counsel for them to implement along the way you might not need to actually they enter into the attorney client relationship. Okay. But during the initial legal consultation, if you are needing to hire a lawyer, then obviously the parameters and the discussion, as far as what steps the attorney is presenting to propose should be memorialized in a legal written retainer. Okay. And you should expect that a experienced special education lawyer would present you with a retainer. If they believe you have a case at the initial legal consultation, which then brings me to my last point, number 10. Well, you know, how much is the retainer going to be? Okay, now this really, I just ethically cannot answer for you. I know that this is a national podcast and attorney rates can vary from town to town and state to state and County to County. But whatever the cost of the retainer is, you're going to want to have a conversation with your attorney. That's based on several factors. Okay. Costs of retainers are dependent on several factors and that is the anticipated legal scope of engagement. Okay. Are you being, are you retaining the lawyer behind the scenes for legal consultation purposes? Are you retaining a lawyer to attend IEP meetings? Are you retaining the lawyer to fire from due process? Are you retaining the lawyer for an appeal or for mediation or to develop a settlement? Right? What is the Intesa? What is the anticipated level of scope of engagement? Number two is the forecasted amount of time that it's going to need for the attorney to investigate and research your claims, as well as the complexity of your case. For example, if your child is fairly young and does not have a lot of school records or does not have a lot of evaluations, then obviously there's not going to be a lot of costs in reviewing existing records. However, there may be additional costs with researching who should be the evaluators and what evaluators should be evaluating your child in the future. Okay. Now what happens then when you've come to a financial agreement? Okay, well, oftentimes that money will be put into what's called a trust account. And trust account is kind of like an escrow account, right? It's an account that indicates that the money that you were providing your attorney is being held in trust on deposit so that when your attorney starts to incur an hourly rate or kind of a time on desk expense in representing your child, investigating the case, prosecuting the case, right. That time has a fee associated with it. And intermittently you will then receive a bill with a certain amount of time that the lawyer has invested in your child's case. At which time, then the lawyer will move that amount of time based on the, that amount of money. Based on the time they've incurred on your child's case, from the trust account over into that attorney's operating account, at which time it is then declared as income for the attorney. There are attorneys that accept hybrid payments, monthly fees, fat, a flat fees, capped fees, contingent cases. You're going to want to have a conversation about that, okay. Right from the get go. So you can not worry about the cost portion and continue to think about how you can best maximize your child's education. Okay. Now the retainer amount should not be confused with the total cost of achieving the resolution of your child's case. Right? It is very likely that the initial retainer amount will only cover a certain aspect or a certain phase of your child's case, but may not cover the entire phases of the case. So you're going to want to talk with your attorney about that as well. Okay. Regardless of the retainer, regardless of the amount though, any unused money that is not earned by your attorney could either be refunded back to you at the conclusion of the attorney client relationship or practically speaking could be applied towards future legal representations. Okay. So I hope that this quick, quick podcast kind of gives you some of the insight into what a proper parent client first legal consultation should look like, what you should expect, what you should be expecting of yourselves. And most importantly, what you should be expecting of your lawyer. Thanks so much for listening. And by the way, if you have questions, feel free to drop me an email at Jeff at Les talks, bed law.com. You can also like us on Facebook at legend talks, bed law. Thanks. And thanks for listening. And we'll have another episode coming up soon. Thank you.