1. The attorney should be familiar with IDEA (and the ECEA for a Colorado special education attorney). The attorney will be able to describe the types of proceedings available to you, such as due process, state level complaint, OCR complaint, and mediation, and the relative costs and benefits of each.
2. For any legal action you plan to take, an attorney should be able to describe what is involved in going forward, and what you may get out of taking action. She or he should know what your chances are of winning on particular issues. Your child’s struggles with disabilities and his or her education are an emotional topic for you. An attorney should be able to clarify where the school has violated the law and where it has not. The attorney can help you figure out which issues are a “hill you want to die on,” and which ones you should drop. Not every educational problem is a violation of your child’s rights. Or sometimes the school may indeed be in violation of the law, but it is not a problem worth expending precious resources on.
3. An attorney should help you sort through the pros and cons of having an attorney involved. There will definitely be pros and cons (other than the expense, which will be significant), so your conversation with the attorney should not be a high-pressure sales pitch. For the perspective of one parent, see "A Parent’s Perspective: Pros and Cons of Bringing a Lawyer to the IEP Meeting.”
4. The attorney should feel comfortable with negotiating with the school district, and should have an approach where he or she will make peace if possible. You need to continue to live with your child’s educators, so your attorney should not be hostile or abrasive. Whenever schools (and their attorneys) are willing, a problem-solving approach to educational issues is best.
5. Your attorney should be a good attorney. If you check the Bar of his or her state for grievances, there should be few to no grievances. The attorney should have good credentials, background, and experience.
6. You should like the attorney. If you go forward in filing a due process complaint, an OCR Complaint, or some other action under IDEA or Section 504, you will be in frequent interaction with this person. Pick someone you don’t mind spending time around, and whose approach makes you feel less stressed rather than more stressed.
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