Zatopa&Stephens : Group Legal Services
Zatopa & Siegel, Attorneys at Law

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.

    • Recommendations 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, and cost-effective.

    • 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 the dispute.

    • 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 “Due Process.”
      • 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.
  • Fees

    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 dispute.

    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.

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