Special education law: Why there's a shortage of legal assistance for children with disabilities
There’s no denying that there’s a shortage of legal assistance when it comes to matters concerning children with disabilities. But where does this shortage stem from? Even with special education law being one of the fastest growing fields, there are still very few law schools that offer courses on the subject.
Furthermore, unlike that vast number of schools that are known for “specializing” in fields such as environmental law, public policy and corporate law there is not a single school that is known for excelling in the field of special education law. This deficiency leads to many lawyers who are not adequately trained or prepared to represent clients bringing a disability claim.
With this serious fault coming into recognition, some schools have started developing programs and clinics to remedy the matter. One school that is taking great strides on the matter is William & Mary Law School. In January 2009, William & Mary Law School announced the opening of a new special education advocacy clinic to assist children with special needs and their families with eligibility or Individualized Education Program meetings, discipline matters, mediation and administrative hearings.
Pepperdine University School of Law not only offers a course on special education law but also has a whole program devoted to the matter, which includes multiple classes, dispute resolution courses, as well as a clinic. However, despite these specialty clinics at William & Mary and Pepperdine, there are not many other schools that have taken significant steps in expanding the instruction of special education law. Sometimes offering a single clinic or seminar just doesn’t cut it.
Discrimination based on disability is something that has legal redress and it isn’t fair to deprive the public of this redress merely because there are not enough qualified lawyers out there to advocating for the matter. Jennifer Laviano, a special education attorney practicing in Connecticut said that she is “sick of inheriting cases that were poorly handled by attorneys who didn’t really understand […] special education law” and that “there are so many children with special education needs out there whose parents require the help of good lawyers [in the field of special education law].” Laviano pointed out the shortage of special education courses in law schools, saying that it’s particularly a shame since special education law requires such a high level of “consideration, research, and training.”
The solution to this problem begins with the education of lawyers in law school, where the fundamentals of the legal field are encoded in the minds of lawyers-to-be. With so many schools lacking the option for law students to enlighten themselves with special education law, it’s no wonder why so many lawyers lack a basic concept of special education law.
If more schools were to provide — at the very least — one course or clinic on special education law, then upon seeing the class on their course listings bulletin, more law students may be prone to take the class, thereby opening their minds to the idea of becoming a lawyer specializing in special education law.
Anoosha Rouhanian is a law clerk at Hooverlaw and J.D. candidate.