If you need to sue a school or school district, the type of lawyer you'll need to hire depends upon the type of the lawsuit and the scope of the matter. Particularly with large or overly complex cases, more than one attorney representing different areas of legal expertise may be retained. Education law attorneys typically handle such matters as student rights, student discipline, bullying, harassment and school governance; if your issues involve other types of problems, another type of lawyer may be appropriate.
Lawyers for Parents and Students
Lawsuits brought by parents and students against a school district could be anything from a slip-and-fall case to a violation by the school district of local, state, or federal statutes. You'll need to hire a lawyer that specializes in the type of legal problem you're experiencing. For example, if your child has been injured on school premises, you may need to hire a personal injury lawyer. If you think your child is being bullied, has special needs that are not being met or is facing discriminatory practices or harassment from educators and other staff, you'll need an education lawyer. If the school has violated your admissions agreement, you may have a claim for breach of contract and will need a contracts lawyer. The first step may be to speak to an education attorney and find out if she can help, or she can direct you to the appropriate type of attorney for the situation.
Union Representation for Staff
Lawsuits between a school district and its employees typically fall under collective bargaining agreements and so will be handled by an attorney working for the teacher's union. In addition, union attorneys are frequently used in the course of negotiating a collective bargaining agreement. When the union and the school district are unable to reach agreement through negotiation or arbitration, the agreement occasionally proceeds to the courts, where a union attorney will represent the district's employees. As the parent of a student, however, this type of dispute is unlikely to involve you.
Lawyers for the School District
If you sue a school district, the district will hire its own counsel. The district may hire a single attorney, or it may hire an entire law firm. A law firm, as opposed to a solo practicing attorney, holds the advantage of having many attorneys to draw on for expertise and having more resources to cover expenses. Some law firms have attorneys that specialize in education law and so are well practiced in defending school districts. In some lawsuits, firms will also provide attorneys with litigation experience to assist in court, especially in large complex cases like class action suits.
School District General Counsel
Occasionally a school district will retain an individual attorney or a law firm to serve as the district's general counsel for any matters that may come up. The school district will pay for the legal services directly without going through a law firm. Counsel hired by the district as general counsel usually handle daily legal questions, contractual issues and smaller lawsuits involving simpler laws, such as open records requests or procedural questions for school board meetings. However, these attorneys may also advise on more complex lawsuits, typically with the assistance of a firm or attorney separately hired for a specific lawsuit.
If you want to sue a school or a school district, the type of lawyer you hire will depend on the type of lawsuit you want to file. Education lawyers handle suits related to the child's education and treatment at the school, but you may instead need a contracts lawyer, a personal injury lawyer or some other type of lawyer based upon your complaints.
Based in Wisconsin, Courtney Ryan has been writing since 2005. She has been published in "The Motley" literary magazine and has provided private research for various businesses and organizations. With a background in education and economics, Ryan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Spring Hill College and a Master of Arts in the social sciences from the University of Chicago.