This post is a summary of an interview I did with Richard Isaacs, an attorney here at CSNLG. Check out the full interview here.
Lawyers who handle special education cases know and understand that getting legal services may intimidate families. One thing that not all parents know is that there are three possible ways to pay for attorney’s fees:
- Upfront Payments – Client pays the fees upfront from their own pocket as the attorney completes the work.
- Retention Fees – Client pays a retention fee and the firm attorney from it and recovers additional fees during a settlement with the district.
- No Upfront Charges – Client pays no fee and all final fees are recovered during a settlement with the district.
Different firms have different payment structures… but clients should know they control the case and are always part of the decision process to continuing to pay for services.
A typical firm charges an hourly rate and retainer fees will vary. Attorney’s fees run from $200 to $500 an hour and cases, on average, run 20 to 80 hours. Depending on the complexity of the case, fees run from a few thousand dollars up to a hundred thousand. That final number is rare and involves an attorney working a case to and beyond an appellate court.
In California, about 97% of special education cases are settled outside of trial. From Richard’s experience, costs are about $3,000-$5,000 for a basic case and the average is from $8,000-$10,000. Parents and the school district usually go through due process, an informal hearing, with a judge provided by the state. When the judge’s decision favors the student, the parents have the right to recover the attorney’s fees from the settlement.
In the end, a good lawyer will clearly explain the fees, give you a sense of control over how much you wish to spend, and will ultimately focus on what is best for the child.