When to Engage a Special Education Lawyer

Peter S. Farrell

Special Education laws are complex and challenging to implement for families and school districts alike. Navigating your way through what has become an adversarial process in many cases requires an honest discussion about retaining a lawyer who understands and can identify with your unique situation.

As a father of children with special needs, I have made special education law my passion. I understand families and can empathize with their frustration. I have sat in that seat. I have attended endless meetings to discuss Individualized Education Plans (“IEP”) for my children – and I have been told no. In my experience, accomplishing the desired outcome to meet your child’s specific needs requires striking a balance between thoughtful advocacy, coalition building, keeping an open mind and focusing on the outcome and goal as opposed to the process. It is very difficult to be objective when playing the dual role of parent and advocate for your child. Engaging an attorney who is well versed and experienced in this area is critically important to enable you to focus your attention where it belongs – on your child and his or her education.

Engagement of a special education attorney in the early stages of IEP development and implementation adds value to your child’s cause. Attorneys have the distinction, legal education and licensure to render legal advice and enter an appearance on your behalf. In some situations, I have served as a much needed buffer between weary parents and the school district. Indeed, they should not be contacting you directly if you are represented by an attorney. In other situations, I have seen things happen more quickly simply because an attorney is involved. For those families who are starting down a once reluctant but now necessary path, many are so engrossed in the process that it is difficult to see the forest through the trees.

Make no mistake, the IEP is a legal document. It will serve as the special education road map throughout your child’s formal education. Getting it right the first time is the primary goal so that down the road, the IEP is somewhat self-executing and drafted in such a way that it is able to be tweaked along the way with age-appropriate measurable and subjective goals to ensure your child is making sufficient progress accessing the curriculum.