Finding Legal Help
Why Hire an Attorney?
When your child is diagnosed with a speech disorder, your first concern is finding a speech-language pathologist (SLP) who can help your child. If your child will receive special education services through the school, you might also need to look for an attorney. An attorney can help guide you through the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process, attend the IEP meeting with you, and help you resolve any disputes. If you must file a complaint or request due process, an attorney can increase your chances of success.
It’s best to hire an attorney who specializes in special education. He will understand the complexities of special education law and how best to navigate the process.
Finding an Attorney
You could always consult the Yellow Pages, but there are other ways of finding a skillful special education attorney. Network with other parents of special education children and ask them for referrals. Ask your child’s speech therapist or pediatrician if they can refer you to an attorney. You could also contact your state’s Department of Education and your state’s special education advisory commission. Last but not least, talk to the school district. Each school district is required to keep a list of lawyers for parents.
Hiring an Attorney
Avoid settling for the first attorney you find. He might indeed be the best choice, but you won’t know that for sure until you research all of them. Call their offices and ask about their fees, their experience, and how they would review the case. Ask about fees for the initial review. Narrow down the list of candidates and meet with a few of them. Don’t be shy about asking questions. Question the attorney regarding his experience with the IEP process and with due process. Ask him if he plans to try to work with the school district. Before you hire an attorney, it is also a good idea to ask him how long he generally takes to respond to client phone calls. Avoid hiring an attorney with whom you feel uncomfortable.
Always ask for a breakdown of the attorney’s legal fees before hiring him. Typically, you’ll be quoted an hourly rate. Some attorneys might work on a flat rate instead. Before agreeing to a flat rate, remember that if it takes very little time and work to resolve the issue, you will end up paying more than you otherwise would have.
Ask for a written list of all other fees that the attorney might charge. Your attorney can charge you for legal research, photocopies, phone calls, court filing fees, postage, expert witness fees, investigative work, and work done by paralegals, among other things.
Legal Fee Reimbursement
It’s possible that you might be eligible for reimbursement of your legal fees should you win your mediation or due process case. However, this does not occur in all situations. The hearing officer can deny or reduce reimbursement if he decides that your attorney charged unreasonable fees or that you turned down a settlement offer that was comparable to any gains you won in court. Bear in mind that in rare cases, you might be held responsible for the legal fees of the school district. This only occurs if your due process complaint is considered to be frivolous or for an improper purpose.