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 #4: Talk to other parents’ attorneys or advocates in your state.
Depending on your personality, this advice might seem obvious or counter-intuitive. Perhaps you are thinking “well OF COURSE I will speak with others in my State who represent children with special needs.” Or, you might think “what, are you nuts, I am competing against these people, why would I want to reach out to them?”
If your inclination is to reach out to other practitioners in your state, you are precisely the type of person who will do well practicing special education law.
Special education law is unlike many other areas of practice. Those of us who focus exclusively in this field are few and far between; but most of us are passionate about it. Is it nice to make a good living, even a great living, doing something you care about? Absolutely! But wanting to “do well by doing good” does not foreclose forging a good relationship with special education colleagues.
Attorneys and advocates who have been representing children with disabilities in your state are likely to have more information than you can ever learn reading the IDEA or your state special education regulations.
Any good lawyer knows that there is a vast difference between what the law looks like on paper and how it plays out in reality. Special education law is no exception, and in fact might be one of those areas of practice where knowing how things actually work is as important as knowing what is legally required.
Think of it this way…you know that scene in Good Will Hunting, where Robin Williams reminds Will that he can read all he wants about Michelangelo, but that will not substitute for knowing how the Sistine Chapel smells? It’s much like that…you can read the IDEA forwards and backwards, but until you talk to colleagues in your state, you won’t have crucial information.
Colleagues in your state can tell you which special education directors you should respect, which evaluators you can’t, and which law firms that represent school districts you can trust.
You can’t get that in any book.