10 Tips for Starting a Special Education Law Practice, Part V

Published on May 12, 2009 by Jennifer Laviano

The stakes are incredibly high when one is representing the interests of children with special education needs.  While I think it is a good idea to weigh the “pros and cons” of entering any field of practice, or any profession for that matter, my personal belief is that this particular calling requires more consideration, research and training than one gets in law school.  This is especially true, since most law schools do not even offer a course on special education law.

If you are considering becoming a parents’ attorney under the IDEA, here are the most important things I would recommend you do:

Tip #5:  Find Parent Networking Groups

You have heard of “PTA” meetings, but have you heard of “SEPTA” meetings?  SEPTA is a Special Education PTA, (see http://www.ctpta.org/membership/septa/) and they exist in many school districts nationally.  If your State has existing SEPTA groups, contact them, and ask if you can come and talk to their members about their concerns.

There is nothing more powerful in the special education advocacy movement than the solidarity of parents of children with disabilities.

If you are interested in representing children with special needs, you would do well to familiarize yourself with their worries, concerns, and daily struggles.  If you do not happen to have personal experience in this regard, then go to as many parent disability advocacy groups as you can find in your State.

You will learn more from listening to parents who are facing obstacles in getting a Free and Appropriate Public Education from their school district than from any other source, including me.

In addition to SEPTAs, there are literally hundreds of disability specific organizations in each State that work with families.  Contact them and learn what they are about.  You will then be able to consider whether they are reliable resources for you and your clients, and they can consider whether you might be someone they want to put on their referral list.

Once you start connecting with these groups, I am sure you will become even more inspired to represent children with disabilities.  In addition, you will gather a vast list of resources for your future clients to tap into when they are looking for support.

If it were not for the networking and organization of parents of children special education needs, we would not even have an IDEA.

There is no better place to learn about special education advocacy than from the people who have to do it, informally, every day.

One Response to 10 Tips for Starting a Special Education Law Practice, Part V

  1. Tyler St Cyr, CAGS
    March 2nd, 2011 | 11:06 am

    Hi Jennifer,
    Fantastic series. As a former school psychologist turned law student, I can attest that you have a pretty good understanding of the “nooks and crannies” of school decision making processes. I would also add, parent groups can be great sources to identify individuals who sway opinions from behind the scenes, within a district. Sometimes, just narrowing in on a “behind the scenes staff member” changes the path of a district’s resistance. It is hard to pinpoint these people, but a good start is using seniority as an indicator. Also, individuals that hold dual roles, or have dual specialties/certifications tend to fit this mold as well. An example of this is the special education teacher/case manager who previously was the guidance counselor, or served as an interim special education director within the district. Bottom line, look for people with deep roots. Parent groups can also be sources of identifying school staff where there is always a steady flow of parents who have had problems with one individual. Lastly, once you have an idea of who this person is, don’t assume that their peers necessarily support them. I have found that these individuals tend to affect staff the same way as they affect parents.