Special Education Law – Overview

Many of us, who went to school not that long ago, remember that being a special needs student meant riding to school in a separate bus and attending one class with other children of varying disabilities. These classes resembled more of a day care than school, and even the most advanced students had little hope of receiving a high school diploma, let alone attend college. Since that time, the term disability, and special needs student, has expanded to encompass much more than a person with an IQ below a certain arbitrary standard. What I have attempted to do in my first article is to give a little history of the evolution of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

In 1954 the United States Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954) which found that segregated schools were a violation of equal protection rights. It would be another twenty years before this concept was applied to children with handicaps, especially learning disabilities, trying to receive an education. In fact, shortly after Brown was decided the Illinois Supreme Court found that compulsory education did not apply to mentally impaired students, and as late as 1969, it was a crime to try to enroll a handicapped child in a public school if that child had ever been excluded.

Due to court challenges in Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia in the early 1970’s things started to change. In 1975 Congress enacted the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975. This was the first law that mandated that all handicapped students had a right to an education. Not only did it mandate that all handicapped students had a right to an education, it also mandated that local educational agencies could be held accountable for not doing so. Shortly thereafter, the term handicapped was replaced with “child with a disability”. Although revised in 1990 as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the most comprehensive changes came in 1997. This law required schools to identify children with disabilities to make sure that all children have available a “free appropriate public education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for employment and independent living” 20 U.S.C. ยง 1401 (d). Unfortunately, the most recent changes in 2004 made the law slightly more difficult to receive the benefits they deserve, which, depending upon the next administration and the make up of Congress may or may not be a trend that will be followed in the future.

Exactly what is a “free appropriate public education”? Under the law, it is defined as “special education and related services that (A) have been provided at public expense, under public supervision and direction, and without charge: (B) meet the standards of the State educational agency; (C) include an appropriate preschool, elementary or secondary school education in the State involved; and (D) are provided in conformity with the individualized education program required under [the law].” In other words, the school must provide services that meet the needs of a child with a disability that may affect their ability to learn. These “related services” can be services that are provided in the classroom, such as giving the child extra time to finish taking tests. They can also encompass services that can be provided outside of the classroom, such as tutoring, or having the child attend either a day or residential program outside of the school, along with transportation.

Legal Studies Degree – Curriculum Explained

A legal studies degree can be very useful in today’s job market. After completing a bachelor’s degree in the legal field, you could become a paralegal and perform a variety of tasks in legal offices or even work in the legal department of a major corporation or government office. You could also continue your education and obtain a graduate degree to pursue a career as an attorney or a judge. Legal studies programs can also be very beneficial for careers outside of the legal field because they teach excellent research, writing and critical thinking skills. These courses can be a stepping-stone for a number of careers. For example, you could become a teacher at the high school or college level.

Although there are many options available, the majority of people with a legal studies degree goes on to law school and become attorneys. This is a rigorous and expensive process, but you can earn very high salaries and have an extremely rewarding career once you finish school and pass the bar exam. You could become a divorce attorney, personal injury lawyer, barrister, bankruptcy attorney, environmental lawyer, corporate attorney, immigration attorney, prosecutor, defense attorney and the list goes on. Some attorneys make more money than others do, but even the lower paid legal professionals still have relatively lucrative careers.

During your legal courses you will expand on a variety of skills useful to numerous careers, so your options will not be limited to becoming a lawyer. You will acquire excellent communication skills, for starters, which is valuable for virtually any career as well as for your personal life. Legal studies programs also require being able to identify right from wrong and understand how various actions fit into the guidelines of the law. Skills such as critical thinking, analysis, decision-making, debate and essay writing also play valuable roles while acquiring degrees in the legal studies field and are useful in many aspects of the professional world as well.

Completing a legal studies program could be a great choice if these are the types of skills you like to learn and excel at. Taking this educational path can lead to a rewarding future.

Institutions offering quality Legal Studies Programs include Brown Mackie College, Keiser University, National American University, Strayer University and Rasmussen College.

Continuing Legal Education from the Client’s Point of View

In a lawyer’s world, it is hard to find the time to satisfy all of your clients’ needs, manage professional contacts and relationships, and continue to try to gain new clients. That is one of the main reasons that Continuing Legal Education requirements have been met with moans and groans from attorneys across the country. Lawyers feel that imposing such rules is foolish, and a waste of time that could be spent working on more important matters.

But let’s take a look at the issue from the clients’ point of view. As a client, you should want the best possible attorney to represent you in any situation. The word, representation, in its nature, carries such a strong meaning. Your attorney is acting on your behalf in all legal matters that you may encounter.

Some people may measure a lawyer’s ability and expertise in different ways, but some of the most useful information when considering a lawyer to represent you is the depth of their knowledge. This comes from a number of sources that include their primary and secondary education, their experience in a given field, the success that they have had in the past, and the amount of continuing education they do. That last part, Continuing Legal Education, may seem trivial. But without it, it is hard to ensure that a lawyer is keeping up to date on new laws and changing practice areas.

With that in mind, Continuing Legal Education should be mandatory in every single state. That offers civilians a broader range of qualified lawyers to choose from that will represent them to the best of their abilities. And from an administrative point of view, the Continuing Legal Education made available to lawyers needs to be of the highest educational value and quality. Lawyers need to get the most up to date information on a variety of subjects easily and completely in order to get the maximum benefit intended through the MCLE rules and regulations.

In the end, I think everyone, even the lawyers, can agree that a high standard needs to be set in the legal profession. With that in mind, Continuing Legal Education should be held to that standard, and should provide lawyers the opportunity to continue to learn and excel in their field throughout their careers.

Financing a Legal Education

Simply put, the number of people who are/were at some point interested in going to law school greatly outweighs the number of those who actually do. There are a number of reasons explaining this phenomenon. One explanation may be other job offers come first. There’s the possibility that one’s LSAT score and GPA were simply too low to get in anywhere. Laziness is another possibility. Also, there are horror stories circulating regarding the terrible legal job market and inability for graduates to get jobs. However, it’s my contention that the single most deterring factor is the high cost of attending law school. We’ll look at an example to get some numbers in our heads.

Let’s take DePaul College of Law, for example. DePaul is a private institution ranked right at the middle of the pack. Tuition for the 2010 entering class sits at roughly $37,000. Living expenses in Chicago (which are higher than most cities) come in at just over $22,000. So, with tuition and living expenses alone you’re looking at $60K per year. Do that for two additional years and you’re putting your debt somewhere in the realm of $180,000. That, my friends, is quite a scary number. And remember, this was before we figured in any additional fees, textbooks, entertainment, etc.

So, now that everyone’s shaking in their proverbial boots and thinking why anyone would go to law school and then thinking about the tens of thousands of lawyers who have already incurred similar amounts of debt, let’s look at this more realistically.

While most law students finance their education primarily by taking out loans (which we will talk about in a moment) there are other sources of financing.

For example, the vast majority of institutions offer merit-based scholarships to qualifying students. While you’re not likely to receive one if you barely make the cutoff to get in, if your numbers (LSAT and GPA) lie above the school’s expected mean then you may be looking at some financial assistance. While these merit-based scholarships are of course and honor to receive and will lighten the load of financing law school, they often complicate the decision of which school to attend.For example, someone may apply to Northwestern and DePaul and get into both places. However, they may get into Northwestern by a hair and have to pay full-tuition while at DePaul they are likely to boast the best numbers out of many applicants and thus could be granted big bucks to attend. This undoubtedly begs the questions, “Go to a better or school or get a law school education on someone else’s dime?” Nevertheless, this article is about financing you education not where to receive it so we’ll move on.

In addition to scholarships offered by the schools, there are a limited number of external scholarships offered to first year students and many more after completion of 1L. One of the most widely publicized and coveted 1L scholarships is provided by the American Bar Association (ABA).Their scholarship, The ABA Legal Opportunity Scholarship, to pull from their website is, “intended to provide resources to increase the flow of racial and ethnic minority students into the legal profession, these scholarships consist of $5000.” As stated in the quotation, this scholarship is offered to minority students looking to practice law (usually at top institutions such as Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Columbia, University of Chicago, Michigan, Northwestern, etc.).

Another possible situation is that your parents help fund you education. While, for most, this is laughable to ask one’s parents to shell out six figures from their bank account to pay for law school, this is more common than one would think. In my best assumption this happens most frequently when daddy is successful lawyer and wants his son to follow in his footsteps and inherit the family practice. So,popping a percentage of his yearly earnings to be able to brag to his lawyer buddies seems a worthwhile investment. Meanwhile, his son is enveloped by his dad’s pressure to succeed in law school that he may lose sight of anything else that tickles his fancy in the ream of potential career paths. I understand that speaking so bluntly about this issue creates the implication that I personally am in this predicament, but I can assure you that this is not the case. The last sentence seems like an opportune transition into my next topic:LOANS.

Taking out loans is the most common way law school students pay the bills while they are consumed in legal literature (case files and LexisNexis). Taking out a loan, most of which comes from the government, allows students to defer their undergraduate student loans (if relevant) and continue to study for an advanced professional degree. Then, a few years down the road, when they earned their piece of paper to be framed proudly on their office wall they have to begin paying back the government with interest tacked on to the bill.

Step one in taking out loans is filling out your FAFSA, the financial aid for students application. This basically enumerates how much money you currently possess (or lack thereof) and how much external funding you are expecting to receive from parents, schools, etc. Then, FAFSA and any of the schools you are considering and have been accepted to tell you how much financial aid you are awarded. These awards come in the form of subsidized loans, unsubsidized loans and GradPLUS loans which are especially issued for graduate level students.

The myths inherent with financial aid come into play when 0Ls say, “Well, I’ll take out $160,000 in loans but then work for a year after school and make that $160,000 at my BigLaw firm job and be able to pay it all back.” The fact of the matter is that those jobs are far and few between AND even if you do somehow land one I guarantee your full salary (or even half) is going to pay back loans.