I am proud to announce that today I have launched the first virtual law office that represents parents of special needs in the area of special education law and guardianship! (This virtual law office will be in addition to my bricks and mortar office in Northbrook, Illinois.) The access point for my virtual law office is my website foxspecialedlaw.com.
Just a few months ago I read about a new concept in the practice of law--Virtual Law Office ("VLO"). As I looked into VLO, I realized that this new way to practice would allow my office to more effectively represent parents nearby, and provide access to those families who are outside of more urban centers who otherwise have not had access to legal services at all. The concept is to offer full service, and more limited representation (the new term is "unbundled services") but still effective legal services (e.g. counseling prior to a meeting, reviewing letters and input statements). I have had numerous encounters with parents where I have given them some critical advice on the phone or reviewed a document that has changed the course of an upcoming meeting in favor of the parent.
The heart of the virtual law office is secure portal where clients and attorneys can communicate, upload file information and track the progress of the case in a virtual and confidential setting; not unlike how people today conduct online banking, except with a lot more interactivity between the attorney and the client. The wonderful part of it is that clients can have full access to all of their records at their secure page at any time. Often clients give me their entire file and then they want to look up part of an IEP or evaluation. If that question comes up outside of business hours, access can be very limited. Moreover, often clients have only received parts of their student's records and I acquire the remainder from the school district. The client can readily see the full file and download what I have received from the school district at their secure portal. The VLO also allows clients to see what work is in progress and can communicate in totally confidential environment.
While security and confidentiality are all central to VLO, my VLO practice will allow parents of students with special needs to have access to representation in more remote areas of Illinois, and eventually in other states, as I am able to be licensed, or be admitted for purposes of the case, in states other than Illinois. I expect a lot of the service delivery will be provided through email and skype calling, but when fully operational, I am planning on being at a meeting via a webcam hookup representing clients virtually. The webcam will allow parents, who have otherwise been locked out of legal representation, help without paying for expensive travel, except when absolutely necessary to desired.
While my office has been representing a few clients in more remote parts of Illinois, this has been a very limited part of my practice. Several of my attorney collegues, who represent school districts, have freely acknowledged that the most outrageous and egregious violations occur in parts of Illinois, that have little or no parent representation. Almost all of the larger school district law firms have a small office in other parts of this state, insuring that parents in downstate regions of Illinois will have to advocate against the school team and their attorney, without legal help on their side. Given the flexibility of my special education virtual office, I expect that parents will finally be able to level the field and advocate on more even terms with the school district. One of the most important forums that parents need representation, beside IEP meeting is in mediation where the vast majority of cases are settled, not always favorably to the parent, when they have no legal help. With VLO my office can can provide direct or indirect representation (e.g. creating a strategy for the negotiation) that should increase the potential for a positive outcome.
In this new age of technology, I am hopeful that over time, as I am licensed in states other than Illinois, to represent parents across the country and finally allow many more students the potential to receive a FAPE.