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How to cut costs when you're hiring a special education attorney

Updated: Nov 29, 2023

Hiring an attorney can be expensive, but you don't want to skimp on good legal representation when you need it. Here are some tips on how to cut costs if you're hiring a special education attorney.

Ask for evaluations.

The first step in getting appropriate special education services is usually to ask for an evaluation. There are many types of evaluations that can be conducted, including cognitive testing, speech and language testing, social skills testing, and more. When you ask for an evaluation, the school will either agree to provide an evaluation and suggest some specific evaluation types, or they will refuse to evaluate. In either case, they need to give you a piece of paper explaining their decision/proposal.

If the school agrees to evaluate, make sure they're proposing to do all of the necessary evaluations. For example, if you tell the school you suspect your child has ADHD, they should be proposing an evaluation of their executive function skills. Some of the evaluations have ambiguous or unclear names. If you see any proposed evaluations that you don't understand, you can ask the school for clarification.

If the school refuses to evaluate, you may need to get an attorney involved to help you get an evaluation.

Request and sort through records.

School records are very important to any special education case. You have a legal right to request and receive records the school maintains on your student. The school should be keeping records on special education, behavior, attendance, and academic performance. These records can be quite lengthy and take a long time to sort through. If you have an attorney request and sort records, you could be looking at a costly bill for work you probably could have done yourself.

To start, you will need to request records. Take a minute to think through which records you will need. For any special education case you should request special education records. But whether you ask for other types of records depends on what's going on with your student. Are they being disciplined frequently for manifestations of their disability (such as a child with ADHD speaking out of turn)? Make sure to request behavior/discipline records. Are they refusing to attend school for a reason related to their disability (such as social anxiety)? Get attendance records as well. Are their grades low? Ask for report cards as well.

Once you've gotten a copy of the records, take the time to sort through them and highlight only the records the attorney will need. For example, if you asked for and received all of your student's attendance records, but their attendance only became a problem within the last year, you likely only need to send your attorney the records from the past year.

If you're not sure what types of records you will need, you can always ask the attorney you're working with for guidance. Most attorneys, including myself, offer a free or discounted hourly rate for consultation by phone before you need to decide if you will hire them. Consider using this consultation to ask what types of records the attorney would like to see as a part of this case. That way, you can be sure to ask for the right types of records.

Prepare for meetings and phone calls.

Meetings and phone calls with your attorney are an important opportunity to build a relationship, share important information, and ask questions. But keep in mind that when you are talking to an attorney about your case they are on the clock and will charge you for that time. Careful preparation will help you minimize costs in this area.

Make sure you know exactly what you and your attorney need to get out of this meeting. You might want to write out a list of questions ahead of time and email those to your attorney so they know what topics you want to discuss. You might also consider asking your attorney if they can send you a list of questions or topics they want to discuss so you can be more prepared for the conversation. You can also save time by coming to the meeting ready with all of the relevant documents. For example, if you have a copy of your student's most recent IEP in front of you, you can answer a lot of questions the attorney might ask you without having to dig through stacks of papers.

Handle the correspondence with the school yourself.

The special education process typically includes a large volume of emails and calls for issues like scheduling, document signatures, and discussing concerns. Sometimes it makes sense for attorneys to handle these communications, such as when there has been a breakdown of trust between you and the school. Keep in mind that the time an attorney spends reading and responding to emails for your case is billable. In many cases you can handle these communications yourself.

If you're not sure whether you should let your attorney handle communications, talk to them about your concerns. They should be able to work with you to determine who will be handling communication.

Research low-cost and free options.

Even with the cost-cutting measures suggested in this article, legal representation can still be prohibitively expensive. If that's the case for you, take some time to research free and low-cost options.

Free options usually include legal services organizations and nonprofits. These programs will usually have income requirements. If you meet those requirements, you may be able to get free legal representation. Keep in mind that these organizations are not obligated to represent you or your child, so they may refuse to take your case for reasons such as a conflict of interest or lack of capacity.

If you can't use free legal services organizations and nonprofits, you can try and get pro-bono or "low-bono" services. Pro-bono services are legal services provided by an attorney for free. "Low-bono" services are legal services provided by an attorney for a reduced hourly rate. Not all attorneys offer pro- or low-bono services. Those who don't may be able to help you find an attorney who will offer pro- or low-bono services.

The bottom line is that even though working with an attorney can be expensive, you have some control over the costs. If you are concerned about costs, talk to your attorney about it so that you can work together to figure out a plan that cut costs without sacrificing quality of representation.

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