A lot of my potential clients really don't need a special education attorney and I'm not reluctant to tell them. Does that make me a bad business person? I don't think so. Clients who aren't ready for legal representation are more likely to be unhappy with the experience.
So what are indicators you aren't
ready to hire an education attorney? (1) You've haven't considered working with an advocate.
If you need help navigating the special education process, you should first consider hiring an educational advocate
. Not only are advocates usually less expensive than attorneys, working with an advocate can provide you with the support you need while maintaining a more collaborative approach with the school district. Advocates spend more time at IEP meetings and with school officials than attorneys, and often have a better sense of the underlying institutional dynamics within your district. Some advocates specialize in particular types of disabilities. If you've tried working with an advocate before and you weren't happy with the quality of representation, consider working with a more effective and experienced advocate instead of immediately thinking you need an attorney. (2) You want to scare the school :
If your reason for hiring an attorney is simply to scare the school district, you will probably be disappointed. Special education law is about advocating for your child's needs. If you and the school district disagree about your child's needs, there are mechanisms in place (settlement, mediation, due process hearings) for dispute resolution
. A special education attorney can help you with this. If you don't have a dispute about your child's needs or don't want a resolution, you should not hire a special education attorney. (3) You don't know what your child needs.
You shouldn't hire an attorney to assess your child's needs. Most attorneys are not educators or learning specialists. They cannot evaluate your child nor can they recommend educational supports, services, or placement. Even if they could, no hearing officer and judge would give the attorney's educational recommendations any weight because attorneys are considered inherently biased. A qualified special education attorney can refer you to professionals who can help assess your child's learning profile and help you understand, from a legal perspective, how to find credible, effective experts. An attorney can also help you request additional testing from the school district. But here's the truth - a good educational advocate can often help you navigate the assessment process, and can do so at a fraction of the cost. (4) You're the only one who knows what your child needs:
Remember how your attorney is considered inherently biased and therefore can't make educational recommendations? As the parent you're considered even more biased than the attorney! If you believe your child needs a specific support, program or service, you need to prove why with expert advice and/or peer reviewed research. (5) You don't know what you want.
Maybe the school district has proposed an in-district program and the independent evaluator has recommended an out-of-district placement. You are unsure which placement is appropriate so you contact an attorney. This is an important decision, but not one an attorney should make for you. Remember, your attorney is not an expert in determining your child's needs. That said, an attorney can be extremely helpful in explaining the legal implications of each option, which will help you make an informed decision.
Once you are ready to hire a special education attorney, it's important to choose the right one. Find my advice on that process here
Still not sure what to do? Feel free to contact
The Law Office of Lillian E. Wong for initial consultation.
Attorney Lillian Wong is pleased to announce that she has accepted seat on the advisory board of Autism Asperger's Digest.AADigest
debuted in 1999 as the first national magazine published for the autism community. Its purpose is to provide practical, actionable information to help parents and professionals improve the quality of life and quality of care for individuals on the autism spectrum. Temple Grandin, Ph.D is one of the magazine's regular contributors.The AADigest Advisory Board is comprised of professionals, parent-
professionals, parents and individuals with ASD. Attorney Wong is honored to be the only special education attorney on the board.
If you have a child with Autism, Aspergers, or PDD-NOS or any other Autism Spectrum Disorder and have questions about special education law and IEP rights, contact
the North Shore Law Office of Lillian E. Wong today.
Special education law is always changing. That's why the best special education lawyers
and advocates never stop learning.In order to better advocate for her clients, Attorney Wong attends conferences and connects with other special education experts. Here is a sampling of presentations Ms. Wong has recently attended:
If you have questions about your child's IEP or 504 plan, contact
the Boston area law office of Lillian E. Wong today.
The Massachusetts Bureau of Special Education Appeals has released its statistics for its fiscal 2011 year. From July 1, 2010 until June 31, 2011 the BSEA received 8,348 rejected IEPs,
an increase of 473 over the past year.
The statistics reveal that the majority of rejected IEPs resulted in a resolution long before a hearing
decision was issued, and if the dispute reached the hearing stage the school district was likely to prevail. 809 cases voluntarily participated in mediation
and 86% ended in a legally binding agreement. 544 parties requested hearings, but the vast majority of disputes were resolved before a decision was issued. Only 35 hearing decisions were issued and the school district prevailed outright in 63% of the time, the parents prevailed in 20% of the decisions, and 17% of the time mixed relief was granted.
School districts were represented by counsel 100% of the time
. Of the 22 cases where the school districts fully prevailed, parents were represented by an attorney in 9 cases (40% of the time). Of the 7 cases where parents fully prevailed, parents were represented by counsel in 5 cases (71% of the time). These statistics highlight the importance working with a special education lawyer
when pursuing a due process claim.
Read the entire report here
If you are considering filing a due process request with the Massachusetts Board of Special Education Appeals, contact
the North Shore special education Law Office of Lillian E. Wong today.
On September 24, 2011, Attorney Wong was honored to accept an award from her alma mater, Berwick Academy, an independent day school in South Berwick, Maine.
Attorney Gregory Michael's presentation the Young Alumni Award for Distinguished Achievement highlighted Ms. Wong's work as a special education attorney and advocate in Massachusetts.
By the time you decide to hire a special education attorney, the stakes are high. You are frustrated with the school and worried about your child. Not only can retaining the wrong lawyer waste your time and money, it can permanently damage your child's education. So how do you choose the right law firm? Start by assessing these nine requirements. If you haven't already, read Part 1
and Part 2
of this three-part series first.7. Prioritize Professionalism
. Make sure the lawyer establishes professional boundaries. Without boundaries, the attorney-client relationship can erode, leading to poor communication, billing-controversies, and mutual-frustration. So how can you assess professionalism in your initial interactions with the lawyer? Read over the agreement of representation. Does it clearly define the responsibilities and rights of both the attorney and the parent? Are you informed of the payment structure and frequency of billing? Think about your initial conversations with the lawyer. Did the attorney inquire about the best way to communicate with you? Did the attorney inform you about the best way to communicate with him? Did the attorney set expectations about the frequency of your communication? Without communication and expectation setting, the attorney-client relationship will fail.8. Discuss the Forest and the Trees
. The special education journey is a long one. You need to find a lawyer that will address your immediate concerns (the "trees") while simultaneously helping you achieve your long-term goals for your child (the "forest"). A good special education lawyer will inquire about your short-term and long-term concerns help you formulate a step-by-step plan that addresses both.9. Contract with a Child-Centric Firm.
The best special education lawyers became education attorneys, not for the money or the prestige, but to help children. Look for an attorney who redirects conversations to your child's needs and shows sensitivity to your parental concerns. Special education law shouldn't be about money, revenge, and "winning;" it's about helping your child get the education he or she needs and deserves.If you are looking for a special education advocate in Massachusetts, contact Boston area attorney Lillian E. Wong
By the time you decide to hire a special education attorney, the stakes are high. You are frustrated with the school and worried about your child. Not only can retaining the wrong lawyer waste your time and money, it can permanently damage your child's education. So how do you choose the right law firm? Read Part 1 of the answer here
.4. Locate a Listener
The attorney's job is to represent you and your child. This is impossible to do if the lawyer doesn't understand your situation and your goals. How do you make sure the lawyer is listening to you? The attorney should ask relevant questions, take notes, and ask for clarification when he or she doesn't understand.5. Assess Communication Skills
. When you hire a lawyer, you are finding someone to speak (and write) on your behalf. Look for an attorney who comes across as both knowledgeable and understandable. The best attorneys know how to make the most complex laws and confusing facts accessible to the lay-person.6. Reward a Realist.
Special education law is far from perfect. Beware of attorneys that make unrealistic promises - reimbursement of fees, guaranteed private school placements, and elimination of future special education conflicts. An effective special education attorney understands the law and its limits and sets realistic expectations from the start.If you are in Massachusetts, contact the Boston area Law Office of Lillian E. Wong today.
By the time you decide to hire a special education attorney, the stakes are high. You are frustrated with the school and worried about your child. Not only can retaining the wrong lawyer waste your time and money, it can permanently damage your child's education. So how do you choose the right law firm?1. Find a Specialist.
Special education law is complex
and not part of the traditional law school curriculum. Just because an attorney passed the state bar doesn't mean that he or she is qualified to represent your child! The more specialized the law practice, the more likely the attorney is to understand the intricacies of special education law.2. Ask about Experience.
Just because a lawyer specializes in special education law doesn't mean he or she has experience. The ideal lawyer has participated in IEP / 504 Meetings, Manifestation Determinations, Informal and Formal Settlement Negotiations (including settlement conferences at the BSEA) and Due Process Hearings
(including expedited hearings
). Make sure the lawyer has drafted their own settlement agreements and understands the dangers
of simply signing a settlement agreement drafted by the school. Here in Massachusetts, most special education disputes end in settlement
, so you may be surprised to find that an attorney who has practiced for five or even ten years has never brought a case to hearing before the Board of Special Education Appeals. Even if your case never results in a hearing, it is important to hire an attorney who understands the process from start to finish.3. Inquire about Relationships. A good special education attorney understands the role of all the key players in the special education process and has a relationship with these individuals and institutions.
He or she can recommend educational advocates
, and other experts. Your lawyer should be familiar with the reputation of the schools' lawyers
and special education directors and be regarded by them as a knowledgeable and reasonable advocate.
If you are looking for a special education advocate in Massachusetts, contact
Boston area attorney Lillian E. Wong today.
School may be out, but that doesn't mean parents stop thinking about getting the best education for their children.One great way to utilize the summer break is to schedule an IEP Check-Up. A special education attorney can review your child's current IEP, evaluations, and other documentation and help you form a plan to address your concerns. She can also point out potential problems you may have overlooked. The special education process can be frustratingly slow. Why not begin addressing your concerns now? You'll be closer to a solution come September.Contact the Boston area Law Office of Lillian E. Wong today.
Settlement of special education disputes can be a good thing. Most of my hearing requests are resolved this way. But there are dangers. I receive many calls from parents who are asked to waive their child's stay-put, transportation and transition rights in settlement agreements. I have even heard of parents being asked to waive their child's right to a Free Appropriate Public Education! What's worse, hearing officers and courts are upholding these agreements. Your child's rights under IDEA are there for a reason - your child needs them. If you chose to proceed to a hearing in lieu of a settlement, a hearing officer would never order you to
forgo these rights. It is a wise investment to have an experienced special education attorney review your settlement contract and make sure you are not waiving these and other critical rights.
If you are looking for a special education lawyer in Massachusetts, contact
Boston area attorney Lillian E. Wong today.