"Children will do well if they can. If they are not doing well, something must be getting in the way. Let's figure out what it is so we can help." - Unknown source
ADVISING AND REPRESENTING
PARENTS OF CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS
WHAT I DO FOR MY CLIENTS
I use my expertise in the law and in education to seek school experiences that meet the needs of my clients’ children. (I will refer here to adolescents as “children,” meaning only that they are my clients’ children.) My greatest professional accomplishment is that I frequently persuade schools to provide services in excess of the schools’ legal obligations. I also am pleased that those who have worked with me, including former clients, other school attorneys, psychologists, psychiatrists, psychotherapists, and educators, have referred the majority of my clients.
I advise my clients about law and about educational services and processes. I explain the steps that they can take themselves. I refer my clients to evaluators who are extremely competent clinicians and who can communicate constructively with educators. I directly represent my clients in a variety of situations, including: in telephone conferences; in disciplinary hearings; at eligibility meetings; at IEP meetings; in mediation; in hearings, and in meetings with educational, medical and mental health providers. I focus on solving problems at the earliest possible point. I strive to solve problems in ways that result in the best possible relationships between the parents and educators. I give my clients strategies and information that help them to advocate for their children. I help students to become advocates in seeking the assistance necessary for their own educational needs to be met.
HOW MY SERVICES ARE UNIQUE
I interact with educators about educational practices, services, strategies, and methods as well as about their legal obligations. I have earned a Master’s Degree in special education and a Doctoral Degree in education in addition to a law degree. I worked in schools for over thirty years as a teacher, an administrator, and an attorney. I have worked with hundreds of school administrators and staff members and with the majority of attorneys representing school districts in the Chicago metropolitan area. I know the cultures in schools. I know the politics of schools. Consequently, my unique knowledge, skills, and expertise help my clients obtain the services that their children need.
I use a style of interaction that promotes a cooperative focus on the needs of the child. Often, persuasion is much more effective than attempts at coercion, so I avoid contention and hostility as much as possible. This approach is likely to be effective because educators will do much more for a child if they want to help the child than if they are forced to help the child. Although adversarial processes are sometimes necessary to help children obtain benefits, those processes can be conducted in ways that are not disrespectful, uncivil, or impolite. I focus on the fact that, after the immediate issues are resolved, parents, children and educators must work together for the good of the child.
My expertise is widely recognized, and I am frequently asked to speak to groups of educators, school board members, and parents.
WHY I REPRESENT CHILDREN
I take great satisfaction in making a difference in the education of a child or adolescent. A parent usually comes to me unhappy about school experiences and progress or anticipating the need for special help in school. When we finish our work together, I see, and my clients tell me about, the differences that I have made. Most gratifying of all, former clients tell me about the successes that occurred as a result of my work. These successes motivate me to do this work. By retaining me to seek the school assistance and services that a child deserves, a parent show enormous trust and confidence. When agreeing to advise and/or represent a client, I take very seriously the responsibilities that I am accepting.
A FEW THOUGHTS . . .
Parents often express fear that their children will be the victims of retaliation as a result of retaining an attorney to assist their children. I have never encountered retaliation against a child as a result of representation. This is not to say that it could never occur. Certainly, parents should expect that some educators will be unhappy if parents are advocates for their children, but those are adult problems that are much less important than their children’s education.
Parents often tell me that they fear deterioration in their relationships with educators will occur if they retain an attorney. My response: “How good can the relationship be, and how important is it, if your child is not receiving an appropriate education?”
The first step in getting children with disabilities what they need is writing appropriate IEPs. The next, and essential, step is insuring that educators follow the IEPs. If parents have tools to monitor IEP implementation, they can increase the likelihood that IEPs will be followed. Therefore, I advocate for inclusion of structured school-to-home communications in IEPs. Also, I advise parents that they need to immediately contact educators if IEPs are not being followed. Direct contact by the parents is more efficient than attorney-to-attorney contact, but the latter is an option if the former is not effective.
No attorney can guarantee a particular outcome. Clients should be wary of any attorney who promises success in achieving a client’s goals.
Open communications between clients and attorneys are essential. Without full disclosure and information, attorneys cannot effectively represent and advise clients. I encourage clients to keep me fully informed and I strive to fully and promptly inform them. I typically do not charge clients for emails and voice mails that only give status information and do not ask for advice or action. I never charge clients for questions about my fees or invoices. I always return telephone calls quickly and do my utmost to be available when clients are available and when they need assistance.