Planning for the future of your child or other family member with special needs cannot be more important to you. Finding the right attorney to help you in this process is vital to the success of your efforts. So, where do you start?
Step One: Compile Your List
The first step is to get a list of names of potential candidates. The first place to go in compiling your list is word-of-mouth. Ask other parents of children with special needs who they've used and who they like. If you are working with a service organization, ask its staff or volunteers who they would recommend. If you know or work with a professional such as a financial planners, accountant, or attorney with another specialty, ask for their advice.
The second source of candidates is the internet. You can Google special needs planning attorney and your town or state, and see who comes up. You can also go to the web sites of the two principal organizations of attorneys specializing in the field: the Academy of Special Needs Planners and the Special Needs Alliance.
Step Two: Investigate
Once you have your list of possibilities, the second step is to investigate them. You can do this by looking at their websites. See what they say about their special needs planning practice. Is this a core part of their law practice, or simply an additional service they offer? Are they a member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners, the Special Needs Alliance, or any other special needs organization?
As with any other skill, the more experience an attorney has in a particular specialty, the better she'll be at it. See how long the attorney has been doing special needs planning and how many clients she has represented.
Also, the website may give you an indication of the attorney's fee structure and approach to client representation. Determine whether you are comfortable with the attorney's style.
Finally, in terms of investigation, check the website of your state bar disciplinary agency to make sure that the attorneys on your list have not been disciplined.
Step Three: Call
With your investigation complete, you should have narrowed down the field to at most three or four attorneys. Your third step is to call the offices of these "finalists." Ask the same questions: Are they members of any professional special needs planning organization? What is their experience in special needs planning in terms of years and number of clients? What is their approach to representing clients? Either the attorney herself or her staff should be able to answer these questions.
Step Four: Meet
After your call, you should be down to one favorite attorney and perhaps some alternates. Your next step is to schedule a consultation with that primary attorney. If the meeting goes well, you have picked your special needs planning attorney. If not, you can schedule one or two meetings with the runner ups to see if there would be a better fit with one of them.
Don't meet with more than three attorneys. The goal with doing the preparation described above is to find the right attorney for you at the first meeting. In most cases that is all you will need. If the fit is wrong for one reason or another, try out one or two others. But if you've met with three attorneys and none is a good fit, then the problem probably is not the attorneys. Rather, it may be your expectations about what attorneys can and cannot do and how they should respond to you.
We hope these four steps help you find the right special needs planning attorney for you and your family.