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 #2: Join Parent Attorney Organizations
Many, if not most, of the attorneys who decide to practice special education law are either solo practitioners or work in very small firms. As a result, those of us who represent children with special education needs can often end up feeling rather isolated from other attorneys who might understand our frustrations and answer our questions. And the standard “Education Law” groups in most states are usually comprised of attorneys who represent school districts.
I highly recommend you join the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates: www.COPAA.org
Okay, full disclosure, I am on the Board of Directors of COPAA. Fuller disclosure, I am co-chair of the Membership Committee. But leaving aside the disclaimers, I was a Connecticut special education attorney for nearly a decade before tapping into this incredible resource, and I wonder how I ever lived without it. COPAA is the leading national voice in special education advocacy. Once you are a member, you have access to their listserv. In fact, there is a separate listserv for Parents’ Attorneys. And in my view, the annual COPAA conference is the closest thing you can come to a “crash course” on special education . I know of no other national Parents’ Attorney organization, and thankfully this is a great one.
Join disability rights or special education advocacy organizations in your State.
Ascertain whether there are parents’ attorneys groups in your State. If so, reach out to them and become involved in their meetings or discussions. If you are interested in representing children with a particular type of disability, research resources for parents within that population of disability, just as you would if you were a parent of a child with that disability. Once you have identified organizations of importance within that community, contact them and offer to meet with them to discuss how their constituents might benefit from your services.
Be aware, there are some States where a solid parents’ attorney networking organization does not exist. These are the states where families are in most need of help, so if your State falls into that category, start one.