How to Select a Special Needs Attorney
How to Start
Begin by asking others about their own experiences with special needs attorneys. You might turn to friends, business contacts, clergy, special needs service providers or other attorneys you know.
There are also well-respected attorney rating systems, such as Martindale-Hubbell and Best Lawyers. In addition, you can consult online directories maintained by professional organizations, such as the Special Needs Alliance, that focus on special needs law.
As you begin to compile a list of candidates, check out their websites. How often do they make public presentations concerning the topics that most interest you? What articles have they published, and what organizations do they belong to? If they’re active on social media, you may be able to gain further insight concerning their values and community involvement.
It’s important to interview and “qualify” a prospective special needs attorney to ensure that they understand your expectations and that you’d feel comfortable sharing deeply personal information with them. Differences in state law and regulations make it important to retain a local attorney, and meeting them face-to-face during an initial consultation will tell you a lot. You’ll also want to assess other staff members who would be serving you, as well as the physical accessibility of their office. Find out ahead of time whether or not there will be a charge for that first meeting.
The key to a successful attorney-client relationship is good communication. Does the attorney listen patiently to your concerns and spend adequate time answering questions? Do they approach your needs with sensitivity, as well as professionalism? Do they have a network of special needs providers—such as psychologists and therapists—that they regularly interact with? Having extensive contacts in the special needs community is a good indication that they’ll understand the daily issues you and your loved one face. If your questions aren’t given the attention you feel they deserve, you should probably look elsewhere.
Choosing a special needs attorney should be a combination of analysis and intuition. They need the hard credentials, but they need heart, as well. Special needs attorneys often view their practice as both law and social work, and with good reason.
Robert L. McClelland practices special needs planning and elder law with the firm of McClelland & Associates, PLLC, in Lexington, Kentucky. He is a member of the Special Needs Alliance, a national organization of attorneys committed to helping individuals with disabilities, their families and the professionals who serve them.