• CT Parent Magazine

What a Parent Should Expect at the First Consultation with a Special Education Attorney

Regardless of the area of law, all attorneys must meet with a prospective client in what is commonly referred to as “the initial legal consultation.” This meeting helps the client and attorney decide whether or not they legally and ethically want to move forward and work together, establishing an official attorney-client relationship.


Here are recommendations for parents who have never met with a special education attorney.

1. FILL OUT AND RETURN YOUR CLIENT QUESTIONNAIRE & DOCUMENTS IN A TIMELY MANNER.

This form will help the attorney evaluate potential claims, determine whether any statute of limitations apply and to conduct a preliminary case evaluation of potential remedies of the situation. Sending along the child’s records before the initial legal consultation will help, as well.


2. LOOK THROUGH INFORMATION ON THE ATTORNEY’S WEBSITE.

The is intended to answer some of the basic questions parents commonly have when they come for an initial legal consultation. It should not be construed as legal advice because it does not account for the technicalities that may come into play for a particular child’s situation. It should, however, present a feel for the basic vocabulary used in the area of special education law.


3. HAVE A WRITTEN LIST OF QUESTIONS.

Just as you would before going to a PPT meeting, write down your questions so you do not forget any.


4. BRING OR FORWARD COPIES OF ALL THE DOCUMENTS YOU HAVE THAT ARE RELEVANT TO YOUR CHILD’S EDUCATION.

Often, your child’s education records are critical for the attorney advocating for your child. If you have copies of your child’s evaluations, assessments, progress reports and the like, send them along in advance of your appointment. Sometimes these your child’s records can explain the causes of action and potential claims best.


5. TAKE NOTES.

It can be difficult to remember what you discussed days or weeks later. Notes will help you’re your memory later. Additionally, there may be follow-up information or documents needed before further steps are taken. It always is helpful to have those types of instructions written down.


6. ADULT DECISIONS REQUIRE ADULT ATTENDANCE. OTHER THAN PARENTS, FAMILY MEMBERS SHOULD SIT IN THE WAITING AREA DURING THE APPOINTMENT.

Given that your child’s education is a joint and mutual parental decision, it is important that both parents (or the parent with educational decision-making authority if separated or divorced) personally attend the initial legal consultation. For parents that are divorced, please refer to this published law article: Divorce and Special Education: A Primer For Family Law Attorneys and Divorced Parents of a Child with a Disability.


7. THE INITIAL LEGAL CONSULTATION SHOULD TAKE ABOUT AN HOUR.

The time will depend on the complexity of the individual situation and how much information was organized before your initial consultation. Either way, you should leave the initial legal consultation with a proposed strategy.


8. HOW THE SAUSAGE IS MADE: WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS.

The attorney should take time to understand the child’s situation, develop legal claims, and determine what may be a realistic legal strategy as well as remedies to resolve the child’s education claims to the fullest extent available by law. Your attorney will help separate legal myths from legal facts, and generally ease worries about the unknown. Straight-talk and compassion are critical. You may not hear what you expected, or what you want to hear, but listen to the legal realities. Practically speaking, because of the pandemic, you may have a virtual consultation.


9. TO RETAIN OR NOT TO RETAIN, THAT IS THE QUESTION.

Meeting for the initial legal consultation does not mean you are required to hire that lawyer. Indeed, hiring an attorney may not be appropriate for your situation. Parents frequently come for an initial consultation with questions about their child’s education and end up not needing to hire a special education lawyer. The decision is always yours. However, you should expect an experienced special education attorney to present to you a retainer amount, a retainer agreement, and a proposed legal strategy towards the end of the initial legal consultation.


At Forte Law Group, the retainer amount is based on several factors some of which include the anticipated level and scope of the legal engagement needed, the forecast amount of time needed to investigate and research your claims, and the complexity of your case. The retainer amount will be an up-front, sum of money deposited into the law firm’s trust account from which attorneys and staff members will bill their time at their hourly rates. The retainer money is kept in a separate client trust account and only transferred when it is earned by the firm doing work on your case. Many firms also accept hybrid payment plans as well.


Additionally, the retainer amount is not to be confused with the estimate of the total cost of achieving a resolution. It is typical that the retainer will not cover the total cost of the case. Based on experience, the total cost will depend on how irrational the opposing party is.


Atty. Forte can be reached at (203) 257-7999 or jforte@fortelawgroup.com

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