My child is autistic and is not receiving services she should. I have been successful as her advocate for many years. I am not being taken seriously anymore, now I need a bit more guidance; a strong name or firm at the end of my letters or letterhead to prevail. I know how to prepare documents, request for files, and so on. I just need someone to review my case and attend my mediation. Can a flat rate fee be applied to a situation like this? If i explain to an attorney or advocate my budget, can he/she explain what services can be offered? Can an advocate be just as good as an attorney dealing with due process?
Needless to say, I have the education to advocate for my child, I know the law and I know my rights.. I have the brains now all I need now is the muscle to get things going.
Education Law Attorney
As noted by other responders, an experienced special education attorney will be invaluable in preparing for a due process hearing. Given that you question the adequacy of the services that have already been provided there is a possibility that you will want to pursue compensatory education and/or file a compliance complaint. An experienced attorney will be capable of marshaling experts in preparation for the hearing and exploring other options that might not be readily apparent to a parent advocate.
As I advise most of those posting on this site, take advantage of a free consultation. Wrightslaw.com has a "Yellow Pages For Kids" that lists advocates and attorneys in your location. Many attorneys offer free initial consultations not only to be nice but also to determine whether there truly is a matter that requires an attorney's presence.
While I am an attorney and I practice in the area of special education the answers that I provide in this forum should not (should never) be construed as "legal advice." If you wish to receive "legal advice" I suggest that you contact me at The Law Office of Janina Botchis. Contact information is provided in my profile.
Education Law Attorney
When I had an issue with my child, I retained an attorney even though I knew enough to represent myself. That said, if the issues are IEP related, then I generally reccommend an advocate. However, in my experience Advocates who are not themselves special education professionals with a degree, will not be treated seriously in Southern NJ. If you are already at an empasse, then you need an attorney.
Attorneys are generally not allowed to be present at a NJ mediation which will be conducted by a mediator from the NJ Office of Special Education. If the parties agree, then they will each bring their own attorney.
As for my fee structure, I generally use a modified contingent fee plus costs as incurred where the initial retainer is essentially treated like an insurance deductable (if we win and I can recover all attorney fees, then the retainer is returned to the client). If that is acceptable, then call me. The nature of these cases are that school districts which have not given you what you want previously, will not take you seriously until you file for Due Process. Although you can represent yourself there, most (if not all) who do so, lose.
Criminal Defense Attorney
An advocate can be as good as an attorney but rarely as good as an experienced special education attorney. It is hard to beat experience when it comes to due process hearings.
I am an attorney and have a daughter in special education. It's much harder to advocate for her than any client. I just had an eligibility meeting for her today and I'm still worn out emotionally!