Special education attorneys are not as numerous as personal injury attorneys or family lawyers. And it's unlikely that attorneys working in more standard areas of law—such as wills and estates, criminal law, family matters, or corporation law—will know anything about special education law. Even many Social Security disability attorneys don't have experience in special education matters.
You may be tempted to hire the attorney who did your will, your sister-in-law who just graduated from law school, or the attorney whose ad in the phone book promises the lowest rates. But special education law is highly specialized. Hiring an attorney who does not know the law or have experience in special education will significantly increase your chance of failure and can ultimately cost you more rather than less. When you pay an attorney, you are paying for all the time spent on your case, including time spent on research. You don't want to pay an attorney for on-the-job training, nor do you want to hire an attorney who won't be able to master the subject matter and legal issues quickly enough to serve you and your child well.
Help your special education student get his educational needs met.
To find the "right" education lawyer, you'll need to compile a list of potential candidates. Here's how:
Once you have a list of recommended attorneys, you can either narrow it down to one or two individuals who were enthusiastically recommended or make initial contact with everyone on your list.
Try to have a brief phone conversation or ask for a short meeting. Some attorneys will briefly chat with you over the phone to determine the nature of your case and whether or not you need an attorney. Other attorneys may have you speak with an assistant, complete a form describing your case, or make an appointment to come in and talk about the case. Some attorneys will not talk to you without at least a minor retainer or fee; others will not charge for the first discussion. Before making an appointment, find out the following information:
Make an appointment with the candidates who seem like the best prospects. Naturally, if there is a fee for the initial intake, you may only want to see one or two attorneys. Be sure to ask what records the attorney needs to evaluate your case.
When you meet with an attorney, you should ask about your specific case, of course. You should also ask about the attorney's:
Does the attorney clearly answer your questions about fees, experience, and your specific legal issues? Does the attorney objectively assess your chances in due process? If the lawyer makes you uncomfortable, think carefully about whether the lawyer's expertise and success rate are worth putting up with a difficult style.
Will the attorney provide the type of help you want? Is the attorney willing to advise you now, but hold off on full participation unless and until you need it? If the attorney wants to take over the case but you only want a consultant, you have the wrong attorney.
Will the attorney be accessible? This is important: The most common complaint about lawyers is that they don't return phone calls, respond to faxes or email, or make themselves available when a client calls. Discuss the attorney's response time. While no attorney should be expected to respond instantly, you shouldn't have to wait more than a day or two, except in rare circumstances.
A good attorney will evaluate your evidence before giving you any advice. After reviewing your case materials, a good special education attorney should be able to: