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Roger N. Meyer "...of a different mind "
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How to Find and Use Professionals for Your Case

Shopping for and Working with a Special Education Lawyer or Advocate

Copyright 1999 and 2004 Roger N. Meyer


This article also appears at http://www.ldonline.org/ld_indepth/legal_legislative/find_attorney.html


(1.) For the purpose of this article, read "advocate" and "lawyer/attorney" as one and the same.  Meet the lawyer or advocate personally. Get a feel for how s/he works. Ask lots of questions about the nature of her/his practice. The following items give you an idea of what you should have on your shopping list of questions.

(2.) Insist that the professional accompany you personally to all hearings and meetings where a lawyer or advocate is requested. If they don't agree to that, move on. Substitute counsel or advocates don't work. Do not pay for services you do not receive. As a client, you have contract rights. If the lawyer is late or cancels appointments with insufficient warning, tell the lawyer you will bill him/her for your time. (In one case, a lawyer was to meet with a client a half-hour before meeting with the IEP team. By the time she arrived, 22 minutes late, the client was beside herself with anxiety and couldn't settle down in time for the hearing. The attorney hurriedly briefed the client, and then proceeded to represent the client in a haphazard, ramshackle way in the IEP meeting, and forced the meeting's premature end because she had to leave "early." In this case, the client refused to pay on the grounds of "No performance, no pay." The lawyer, knowing she had done just about everything wrong an attorney could do with a client, later left the agency. She was not paid for her "work" on this case.)

(3.) Do not let friendship, personal or professional unrelated contacts influence your
decision in choosing an attorney. Regardless of your personal or professional past with this person, if they aren't equipped to deal competently with your case, don't select them.

(4.) Whatever you do, don't panic and choose just any lawyer, no matter how short the deadline. Getting an attorney or advocate well in advance of an appearance, meeting, hearing or other formality will save you much grief. A professional-client relationship should "click" from the beginning. To choose a professional in haste without the opportunity for each person to check out the other is a trainwreck in the making. Just as there are exceptions to every rule, there are deadline extensions to every date and time. Substantive due process is your friend, and it's because of this principle that dates and times are never cast in stone. If you need more time, notify the responsible parties, and take it.

(5.) If you are incompetently represented by a lawyer or advocate you get from referrals, or free, or from a clinic, the same four warnings above apply. Professionals shouldn't have to learn the law on your time, but many do. If they know nothing about your child or his/her disability, and if you have time to educate them and they are willing to learn, that is OK. If you have neither the time nor expertise to do that, you may not be ready for anyone to represent or assist you. If the lawyer or advocate knows nothing about the relevant law or administrative practices in special education, you've chosen the wrong person. Persisting with a bad choice once you know you've made one is your problem, not that of the advocate or attorney.

(6.) You may want to report the attorney or advocate. Do that only after you have finished your case, not during the case. Doing so will distract you, and color your relationship with any good professional you find after you have fired the first one. Whatever you do, don't dwell on the other professional's limitations in your contact with the new person. Keep your mind clear and your mouth shut. This is important in maintaining a professional working relationship. In the instance of an incompetent attorney or advocate, DO report their bad service or unprofessional conduct to referral agencies, non-profits, and other service providers who recommended or referred them. If you don't share your concerns in a responsible and measured way, such organizations will have no way of assessing their attorneys' or advocates' value to clients. Such information puts the agencies on notice and may place the attorney or advocate on their "watch list." If the organizations persist in using paid or volunteer staff in the face of consumer complaints, such behavior demonstrates managerial or program incompetence. Such agencies or sources should be avoided. Within the limits of the law of libel and slander, you are free to publicize such information. If you do so, before you write or utter a word, consult an attorney experienced with this area of the law.

(7.) During the running of your case, keep your perspective. This is known as 'having a life." Some parents are so consumed with their case they totally lose their sense of what is going on about them. Your other responsibilities -- to work, a marital or other partner, your friends - your family and children, and the community -- are going to be the only things keeping you from being overwhelmed by your case. When you "vent," spread it around so the same persons do not become distanced by what seems like a blow by blow description similar to the stories of teenagers about their social problems. In the end, remember WHY you are venting. It is to solicit emotional support, not attend a pity party. The sooner you are up on your feet and running again, the better everyone feels.



Copyright Issues


This article is copyright, all rights reserved by the author, Roger N. Meyer.  It may be reproduced in single copy once for personal use, and in no more than ten copies total for educational purposes.  Fair Use is authorized for all purposes and under conditions established by US Statute and the International Copyright Convention, to which the United States is a signatory nation.  No person shall publish, distribute, copy, or by other means make this material available to others for purposes of personal gain or professional self-aggrandizement.  Individuals wishing permission to exercise other than fair use or limited distribution as outlined above must contact the author, in writing, and receive explicit written permission from the author prior to engaging in further use of this material.


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