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What is the difference between a lawyer who specializes in education law vs. one with expertise in special education law?

Denver, CO |

I’m in search of a lawyer to represent a student in a lawsuit against a university. The student has a documented ADHD disability and receives the minimum of required accommodations. The student’s ADHD is a factor, but is just one of many issues of importance in this case. There are several other issues related to behavior exhibited by university faculty and staff that are unrelated to the student’s ADHD disability. I need to know if there is a difference between lawyers who specialize in special education and lawyers who are experts in education law. If so, what are the major differences? Lastly, recommendations for any lawyers in the Denver, CO area with experience representing students (with or without a disability) at the university level would be appreciated.

Attorney Answers 3

Posted

Many education attorneys also handle special education issues. I started my career with the Legal Center for People with Disabilities in Salt Lake City. There are two offices here in CO - one in Denver on Sherman and one in Grand Junction - that offer free special education legal advice and support. So, I would seek out their advice first, because they have a unit that solely works on special education and IEPs for students. As I indicated, almost any education attorney should know special education law.

The information provided in this answer does not create an attorney-client relationship and is not considered to be legal advice.

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Posted

My California law firm represents California students in disputes with their universities and colleges, usually pertaining to behavioral or academic misconduct. This is a highly underserved niche of legal needs, undoubtedly because the client population is mostly not economically independent and capable of funding legal services. My response here is based on my years of experience in this practice area in California.

Based on the facts that you have posted here, you don't need an education law attorney, nor likely even an administrative law attorney as you would if you were defending against school administrative (disciplinary) charges of academic or other misconduct. You need a discrimination law attorney, likely one with deep experience in disability-based discrimination, although the unspecified "other issues related to behavior exhibited by university faculty and staff that are unrelated to the student’s ADHD disability" make specific and comprehensive identification of the appropriate legal practice area difficult. Ideally you can find an attorney who has experience litigating against your individual school, an enormous advantage to you, and one who is an alum of your school, also a significant advantage.

Here is how to find local litigators who have experience litigating against universities and your university in particular: go to Google Scholar and use your university's name as your search term. The cases that pop up are appellate cases, but each appellate opinion will ordinarily identify the counsel in the trial below. Where it doesn't, use the case name at the trial below (identifiable from the text of appellate case) for a regular Google search.

Reach out to attorneys who have sued your school before. They know the players, the school's rules and policies, written and unwritten. They know where the pressure points are. They know the potential for settlement. These attorneys are the ones most likely to be willing to accept your case and to agree to the best terms for you.

Good luck to you.

No legal advice here. READ THIS BEFORE you contact me! My responses to questions on Avvo are never intended as legal advice and must not be relied upon as if they were legal advice. I give legal advice ONLY in the course of a formal attorney-client relationship. Exchange of information through Avvo's Questions forum does not establish an attorney-client relationship with me. That relationship is established only by joint execution of a written agreement for legal services. My law firm does not provide free consultations. Please do not call or write to me with a “few questions” that require me to analyze the specific facts of your history and your license application and prescribe for you how to get a State license. Send me an email to schedule a paid Consultation for that kind of information, direction, and assistance. My law firm presently accepts cases involving State and federal licenses and permits; discipline against State and federal licenses; and disciplinary and academic challenges to universities, colleges, boarding schools, and private schools. We take cases of wrongful termination or employment discrimination only if the claims involve peace officers, universities or colleges.

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Posted

Different attorneys hold themselves out in different ways. The majority of special education cases are high school and lower. For a college/university case, I would most likely consult with an attorney that practices in education in general, but it can't hurt to consult with a few attorneys. Most attorney's will evaluate your case for no charge. Good luck.

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