Group Legal Services
The firm of Zatopa & Stephens has developed a new approach for parents
of special needs students to obtain legal advice on how to access special
education services for their children. Rather than hiring an attorney
to individually represent them, with probable fees upwards of $5,000,
parents can access individual legal advice, in a group format.
These prepaid group legal services will provide direct case by case counseling
services to parents, although not direct representation. This will be
more than simply training or seminars. We will individually analyze a
child’s case, and provide direct advice to parents on their specific
issues. This will not, however, involve an attorney accompanying parents
to any meetings or proceedings. Parents will be advised on how to handle
such meetings themselves.
For those families who have already formed, or are interested in forming,
a group, or for existing organizations that serve special needs families,
we will provide assistance in the development of the group, as well as
determine the common needs of the group, and the most effective way to
approach issues of accessing special education services for each family
in the group. By assisting a group of parents/guardians in one school
district or local area, or by assisting an organization that serves a
specific disability, we will develop a specific group plan as follows:
- Initial Meeting: We will have an
initial meeting with the organization’s or group's representatives
to develop a pre-paid legal counseling agreement for the organization.
- Legal Services Provided: The components
of this counseling program will be as follows:
- Analysis of current situation: We
think of this as a kind of initial “check-up”
- If individual students are not yet in special
education, we will review all relevant documents and information,
take a detailed history, and determine what the short-term and
long-range goals are for each student in the group.
- If any students are already in special education
we will review the student's IEP and all other relevant information
and documents. We will evaluate the students' histories and
make recommendations on the short-term and long-range goals
for each student.
for outside assessment: In most cases, the assessments
in the file are insufficient to determine precisely what services
are appropriate for that individual student.
- Most parents have either not had any expert
testing done of their children outside the school district, or
such testing is not sufficiently comprehensive, or targeted at
the area of need, to provide sufficient information as to what
special education services a student needs or is entitled.
- We would review what is available and, for
most parents, provide recommendations and specific referrals for
outside testing that would be the most cost efficient, high quality,
- Review of Assessment, and Development
of IEP Strategy:
- After review of the assessment and clinical
recommendations, we will work with the parents to educate them
on what special education and/or other services might be available
from the school district, and the strategies to obtain them.
- A strategy usually entails drafting a written
request for services to be included in the IEP, and determining
how to handle the IEP meeting. In addition, we would assist
in developing some detail as to the kind of program (where,
what kind, curriculum, strategies, etc.), related services and
other programmatic components should be requested (for example
if there is a mental health issue, how to secure the appropriate
assessments and services through the “AB 3632” process).
- IEP Preparation: Since many
special education disputes can be solved through the IEP process,
we would counsel the parents on how to:
- Deal with those IEP meetings that don’t
go as expected; how to be sure the IEP document represents your
point of view, when to sign, not sign, or partially sign the
IEP, etc. If the dispute cannot be resolved in the IEP process,
we would assist you with the due process proceedings to resolve
- Assistance with Due Process and Other
Formal Actions: If you are unable to resolve matters through
the IEP process, we will help parents:
- Understand the informal and formal procedures
to resolve a dispute with the school district, which is called
- Provide parents in the group with training,
and feedback, on how to handle early resolution sessions and mediations
effectively without an attorney present.
- Training on how parents can represent themselves
at administrative hearings.
Attorney’s fees of course, can be significant. In the larger
San Francisco Bay Area an attorney with average experience in special
education law will normally charge at least $200 an hour; those with
extensive experience will charge in excess of $300 an hour.
It is precisely because we know full well about such costs and further
how quickly legal fees can add up, that we have developed this special
education legal services plan. Once you hire an attorney to help with
a special education dispute your legal fees will normally be anywhere
from $500 (just for an initial consultation) to $5,000-10,000 to solve
a dispute short of Due Process, then $10,000 and more for a Due Process
Our fees for providing a group of parents with direct legal counseling
on how to navigate the special education system would range from $1000
to $2000 per parent, depending on the number of parents involved and
the complexity of counseling required. These fees would be negotiated
at the outset, and would be prepaid, usually in two installments.