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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.

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Attorney answers 3


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.


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.

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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.