Education Law Advocates, P.C.

"Client-Centered" Legal Services

Education Law Advocates, P.C.
Education Attorneys

We know that parents have different needs for legal consultation and services.  Every child is different.  Every situation is different.  Every budget is different.  Therefore, we don't use a "one-size-fits-all" approach.  We offer different ways for you to consult with us.  We think of it as "Client-Centered" legal services.

As part of this "Client-Centered" approach, we are very mindful of our role as attorneys and counselors.  We will present you with a range of options and information on each option to help you decide what steps to follow.  Those steps may involve actions you can take with our assistance or actions you can take completely on your own.  We will recommend a plan of action and explain why we recommend it.  But we only "recommend."  You decide.  It's your call.

As a further part of our "Client-Centered" approach, we offer different ways for parents to pay for our services.  Some parents wish to pay by credit card.  Others wish to pay over time.  That's fine with us.  For some services, we offer a "flat fee."  Others are billed at an hourly rate, but cannot exceed a certain amount.  Whenever possible, we will look to recover our fees from the school district and to reimburse you for in full for the fees you have paid to us.  In a few cases, we will waive all but a minimal fee, such as $100 a month, if we believe that our chances of recovering our fees from the school district are strong.

OPTIONS FOR INITIAL CONSULTATION

There are three ways you can consult with us initially, as follows:

Free phone consultation Do you want to talk to an education attorney for up to 15 minutes at no charge?  You can maximize that time by thinking in advance about what you would like to tell us and what you would like to ask us.  Of course, we cannot provide a "legal opinion" because we cannot evaluate all of the "material" facts in the time available.  But we will try to provide helpful guidance and suggestions.  So feel free to call anytime!  No appointment necessary!

Flat fee, one-hour phone (or office) consultation Some parents may feel that they do not really need an education lawyer, but would like to consult with us by phone (or in person) to answer their questions in more depth than can be accomplished in a 15-minute conversation.  Others may need a phone consultation because they live in areas of Pennsylvania without easy access to an education lawyer.  For such parents, we offer a phone (or office) consultation of up to an hour for the flat fee of $150  If you would like to fax us documents, such an an IEP, we can review and discuss them during our conversation.  If you need more than an hour, it will be billed at our standard $150 hourly rate.

Flat fee, comprehensive initial document review, office conference, and follow-up This option is our preference because it typically allows plenty of time to carefully assess your child's situation and to meet with you initially to exchange information, discuss alternatives, and develop a plan of action.  It has three parts.

  • Step 1: Records Review A lawyer's stock in trade is information.  To be in the best position to advise you when we meet, and to ask further questions, we must first find out what your child's records can tell us about your child.  What is your child's history at school? What does he do well? What are her biggest challenges?  If she has been found to be disablled in some way, what exactly is the nature of her disability and how does it affect her?  What do the school and other evaluations tell us?  Does she have behavior issues?  Has he ever been suspended?  What are his grade levels in reading and math?  How did she perform on the PSSA's?  Is she making progress from year to year?  What are his strongest and weakest areas? What services has the school provided to her in the past and with what result?  What services, if any, is the school currently providing?  What needs does your child have that are not currently being met?  Those records will help us begin to get a clear picture of who your child is and what your child needs. Records we typically like to review before our first meeting include:  IEPs; 504 Plans; school evaluations; independent evaluations; medical history; reports of therapists, pediatricians, occupational therapists, physical therapists, psychiatrists, or others; report cards and progress reports; important correspondence with the school; and any other documents you feel would be important for us to review before we meet.
  • Step 2: Initial Office Consulation After we have thoroughly reviewed your child's records, we are ready to meet with you. How long our meeting lasts is up to you. Most initial meetings last about 1½ to 2 hours. We will have many questions based on our review of the records. The purpose of this meeting is provide you with information, to obtain additional information that will help us assess the situation, to begin to develop a plan for how your child can get the services at schoolthat he or she requires, and to identify steps that can be taken immediately to begin to make needed changes.  By the time our office consultation is over, you should have a much better understanding of what the records tell us about your child, your legal rights, the most important services your child needs, and the options for trying to obtain those services. Getting clear on what you want and what you legally are entitled to receive is a vital first step.
  • Step 3: Follow-Up Email with "Action" Items By the time we have reviewed the records and met with you, we usually have spent approximately four hours or so to learn about your child and what he or she needs. Following our meeting, we will prepare a brief email that sets forth suggested "to do" items, usually in a numbered list, and makes recommendations for going forward.

You make only one commitment for the initial review of documents, office consultation, and follow-up email. That commitment is to pay a flat fee of $290 for those services.  Our objective in the initial consultation is to help you find ways to obtain the services your child needs with little or no attorney involvement, if possible.  Where that is not possible, we can suggest a range of possible ways for you to proceed, with our assitance, which are described below.  During the initial office consultation, we will provide you with a copy of From Emotions to Advocacy" by Pete and Pam Wright, an excellent resource to help empower parents to get better results for their special needs child at school.

OPTIONS FOR LEGAL REPRESENTATION AFTER THE INITIAL CONSULTATION

Our services beyond the initial consultation are billed as follows:

  • Standard hourly rate$150.
  • IEP or other school meeting attendance will be charged at the hourly rate, but not to exceed $250, regardless of the length of the meeting.  We just don't think a parent should be required to pay more than $250 for us to attend a school meeting.
  • Maximum attorney fee for a "due process" matter: $7,500. We typically would spend roughly 60-100 hours of attorney time to handle a due process case. And sometimes more. But we want to keep the attorney fee portion of your expense as low as possible. That is why we will cap your total attorney fees at $7,500 for handling a due process action through the point when the hearing officer issues a decision in the case. But remember that other expenses can add substantially to your attorney fees. Our cap does not include bulk, outside copying or exhibit expenses, for example. And expert witnesses to testify in your case can easily cost $2,500 or more. So a due process case can be very expensive, even if it is resolved at the "hearing officer" level. Keep in mind, also, that either party can "appeal" the hearing officer's decision to federal or state court, which can add additional thousands to your costs. It is true that if you prevail, the court can require the school district to pay your attorney fees (but not your expert witness fees), and school districts frequently will pay attorney's fees as part of a "settlement." But you cannot count on it.
  • Payment by check or credit card.

Litigation (such as bringing a Due Process action against the school district) can be expensive, time-consuming and aggravating. That is why we like to avoid it.  We focus on your child and what he or she needs.  What does your child need that he is legally entitled to receive, and how can we get it?  Then we discuss with you different options for obtaining what is needed, including the following:

Parent Coaching

Sometimes, you can get what your child needs by changing how you do things at school. At our initial meeting, we may be able to suggest ways that you may be able to do that on your own, without any further help from us.  We don't want to be involved unless there is a need and a benefit that will come from our involvement.  So if all you feel you need is the initial consultation, we're fine with that. Many parents simply like the idea of developing a relationship with a special education attorney, and then to check back with us in future years, such as when the school offers a new IEP or they face some other issue at school.  We're fine with that, too.

But in many cases, we need to be more involved, at least initially.  Sometimes, we "coach" parents "behind the scenes" on how to get better results and what they need to know.  So we may have an on-going relationship where we consult with you by phone or email for a time untli you no longer need us. Sometimes, all you need is someone who knows the law, can provide legal advice, can help you avoid the legal "landmines," and can help steer you towards getting the results your child needs. This can take the form of helping you to "strategize," get organized, develop legal arguments you can use at IEP meetings, prepare letters and emails, follow up on meetings, and execute your plan.  Non-attorney advocates can help you do that, too, but many parents prefer to have a lawyer involved. In some cases, we may recommend adding a non-attorney advocate to the "team."  The school has its "team"; parents need their own "team" as well.

More Active and Visible Attorney Involvement

Sometimes, behind-the-scenes "coaching" isn't enough, and we need to play a more active role through attending an IEP meeting or other school meeting, preparing a letter to the school over our signature, or other such activities. In these cases, our goal typically remains to get what your child needs informally, without the need for expensive, time-consuming and risky litigation.

If we are involved in a visible way, then the district's own counsel will be involved in a visible way as well. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. If a school district is not following the law, their own attorney may sometimes be a constructive influence in pointing out to them the need to make certain changes and improvements in order to reduce their potential liability. Even in matters of private placement, we have found in many cases a district will voluntarily agree to a placement, if our position is sound. Districts realize that if they lose a due process case, they not only must pay the relief ordered by the court and their own attorney, but they may be required to pay the parent's attorney fees as well, which can easily total $50,000 or more, depending on how high the case is appealed. Apart from the possible expense, and other considerations, we believe there are many special education directors, school administrators, and others who try to do the right thing for the student as they see it.

Keep in mind that as our involvement increases, your attorney fees are likely to increase as well.  We have tips on our website on how to keep your attorney fees as low as you can -- and there are specific things you can do to achieve that purpose.  We believe that, at $140 per hour, our attorney fees generally are below the "market rate."  Still, if we are attending school meetings, preparing detailed letters, doing legal research, and conferring with opposing counsel on your behalf, your attorney fees can add up in a hurry, so keep that in mind.

Due Process Cases and Other Litigation

Unfortunately, in a few cases, despite your best efforts and our best efforts, you will not be able to get the services your child needs except through litigation.  It's too bad when that happens, but of course it happens.  Sometimes, the parents and the school district simply disagree in good faith on what services the school is legally required to provide.  Sometimes, other factors are at work that make an informal resolution of the problem impossible.

When that happens, we will try to give you our best assessment of what will be involved in the litigation process, its potential costs, and the chances of a successful outcome.  So we will try to give you all of the information you need to make the most informed decision possible.  The key is to not go into the process blind or to undertake a series of steps without knowing what costs and risks each new step may bring.  You need to get the "big picture" in the beginning so you really understand as best you can what you are getting into.  That includes having an understanding of the chief legal issues that lie beneath the surface and our assessment of how those issues are likely to be resolved.  This isn't an exact science, of course.  We don't have a crystal ball.  We can't make any "guarantees" of what will occur and we can't foresee every possible legal issue that may be raised or every "bend in the road" during the litigation process.  But too many parents, in our view, begin litigation without having a general understanding of the potential costs, risks, benefits, challenges and sacrifices in time and sweat that litigation typically entails.  It's not impossible, of course.  You can do it, if you need to do it.  But don't go into a due process action with your eyes closed!

HOW CAN WE DO IT?

We can set relatively low hourly rates (and, yes, we know it's still a lot!) by working efficiently, keeping our costs down, and exploiting technology. Scanning all documents helps us to work efficiently, reducing storage costs and time wasted in locating paper documents.  We rely on email to the maximum extent possible because it is fast and efficient.  We use "snail mail" only when necessary. We only access secretarial help when we need it.  We are proficient in Word, Outlook, PowerPoint and, of course, the Internet. We therefore can create documents on the computer screen, whether letters or legal briefs. We do not need a secretary for that purpose. Because nearly all of our documents are in electronic form, we also do not need a secretary for routine office activities, such as filing. We perform legal research electronically through Westlaw, a proprietary legal research database for lawyers. No wasted trips to the law library. And our office space is attractive, but if you are looking for oriental carpeting and oil paintings of the "founding partners" on the walls, we are not the right law firm for you.  By keeping our costs as low as we can and working efficiently, however, we can pass those savings on to you.

In this way, we can focus on what's really important: helping you obtain the educational services he or she needs and is legally entitled to receive!  That's our mission.

Want more information?  Call us now at 610.696.5006 or email us now by clicking on this link.

Education law is virtually all we do.

ELA Education Law Advocates PC - Special Education Lawyers

The Culbertson Building
590 Snyder Avenue
West Chester, Pennsylvania 19382
Voice: 610.696.5006
Fax: 610.696.6590
E-mail

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Education Law Advocates, P.C. skillfully represents parents and their special needs children in southeastern and central Pennsylvania, including West Chester, Lower Merion, Coatesville, Paoli, Downingtown and Upper Darby, and throughout the Philadelphia metro area, including Chester County, Montgomery County, Delaware County, Bucks County, Philadelphia, Lancaster County and Berks County.

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