Originally from Dispute Resolution Journal
It is not uncommon as a special education lawyer to never, for the
purposes of education law, go to trial. This is because special
education law operates primarily through resolution sessions and
mediation—and with a settlement rate of approximately 96% before
trial, perhaps it has touched on a system of far more efficiency than
the traditional litigation model. Lawyers who practice through a
particular business model do not even require parents of special needs
children (the petitioners) to pay for their services—attorney fees are
covered by the settlement, and paid for by the school district.
And the benefits are tremendous.
The Special Education Model reflects favorably on their slightly
modified method of mediation as effective in achieving conflict
resolution. Petitioners who cannot afford the devastating cost of a
lawsuit are still able to see to it that their children are properly cared
for while they and the school district both also encourage hasty
resolution—which, in acknowledgement of the accelerated rate of
early brain and behavioral development, can be imperative when
cases revolve around a child’s education.
Additionally, in resolution sessions and in mediation, rarely does
the school fight that they aren’t doing what they are accused of, and
much of the gain revolves around future accommodation. The cost of
proceeding to a due process trial (the concluding litigative step of
conflict resolution in Special Education Law) is financially
burdensome on school districts, with one state reporting an average
cost of $40,000. Accordingly, school districts are very motivated to
settle, and there is very little risk on the behalf of the accusers—they
already win, it is just a matter of how much.
Morgan N. Zankich graduated with a BS in Industrial and Labor Relations from
Cornell University and is currently pursuing an MS in Leadership for Creative
Enterprises from Northwestern University.