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 #9. Read disability specific books and websites.
If you are entering the field of special education law on behalf of parents and children because you have a particular passion for, or experience with, a specific disability, then you are already on your way to having enough information to help you start advocating. However, unless you intend to represent only children with that particular type of disability, I suggest you start reading up on others. In fact, I would even recommend brushing up on the latest in research and debate in the area which you already understand.
If you do not have a specific type of disability population to which you are drawn, then you are going to quickly discover that you have a lot to learn.
All kids are different, and yet there tends to be some kind of assumption that children with special education needs are similar to one another, simply by their membership in this protected classification. That is just not true. The needs of no two children are the same; in fact, the needs of no two children with a particular disability are the same. Just because certain goals and objectives work for one student with dyslexia, for example, do not mean that they would be appropriate for another child with dyslexia.
Start by picking two or three eligibility categories under the IDEA that interest you, and begin reading about those disabilities.
If you feel that you are likely to get a lot of clients with specific learning disabilities, then I suggest you start googling those terms and find some books that would be of interest. Or if you feel pulled towards representing kids with autism spectrum disorders, then find some commonly read websites and books on the subject and read them yourself.
I tell parents of children with special education needs all the time that, like it or not, they have to become experts on their child’s disability in order to advocate for them. For parents’ attorneys, you might become expert on the IDEA, but that doesn’t mean you will understand the nuance of all of the disabilities it encompasses.
Ironically, then, if you want to represent parents of children with special needs, you need to become familiar with what it requires to be a parent of a child with special needs.
Approach research on a particular disability first as if you were a parent of a child with that disability. Then, after you have read a lot on the subject from numerous different resources, then it is time to begin researching from the perspective of someone who might need an expert witness. You can try finding the expert before learning about the disability, but my experience tells me that you will be far better prepared to know what to ask if you look at it through the eyes of a parent first.