While a seasoned and skilled attorney since 1989, in 2007, I opened the law office of Patricia S. Phelan to dedicate my practice exclusively to supporting parents of children with disabilities -- specifically, to assist in the navigation of all possible aspects of the field of special education law. As a solo practitioner, with an established Rockland County Firm, my clients can be assured that I will personally handle all aspects of their case. I am also certified by the NY State Education Department to preside over impartial due process hearings between parents of children with disabilities, and their school districts. In 1989 I received my J.D. Degree from Washington University School of Law where I was an Associate Editor and published author on the Law Review. I received my B.S. Degree in Psychology from Union College in 1981. I am admitted to practice law in both the States of New York and Connecticut.
What makes my practice unique from others' in the field?
1. My initial experience in this field was and still is, personal -- advocating for my own children's special education needs (including IEP and 504 plans). I am you. While no two children or advocacies are identical, I have stepped in your shoes as a parent of a child with a disability. I am sensitive to your limitless efforts on your child's behalf. I have felt your anxiety because having a child with a disability is hard enough; why should we also have to advocate for supports for our child? I have suffered the financial, social and time challenges which accompany our children. I get it. I remember crying at a friend's wedding as he and his bride danced their first dance, hours after a doctor told my husband and me that our daughter may need an institution some day. Fast forward to 2017. Notwithstanding her years as a "classified" student followed by a 504 plan, our daughter graduated High School with "Presidential Honors," and is pursuing a BFA in theatre performance and theatre education at Emerson College in Boston.
2. In my practice of special education law, I emphasize educating my clients to be strong and organized advocates for their children. As knowledge is power, I find this makes parents more effective advocates for their children, as they move forward in years, with or without my legal services. I am fully invested in assisting my clients (a) in identifying and explaining the legal issues and grounds for their advocacy, as well as (b) by educating them to understand how to successfully navigate the special educational system and advocate for their children as independently as they desire. I facilitate my collaboration with my clients with the use of charts/graphic organizers and other vehicles to expand the effectiveness of our efforts. I take the time to make our advocacy to school districts visual, planned and unique. I make the child part of our advocacy in creative ways, whenever possible. In my opinion, my initial consultation is like no other. I focus on educating parents I meet, and providing a foundation of the legal and factual issues involved in their child's matter, after I have reviewed a sample of the student's educational records. Sensitive to the emotional nature of our consultation, the amount of information usually discussed, and the likelihood that a parent may come to the consultation alone, or may otherwise have others to discuss the issues with after our initial meeting, I provide a written "outline" for parents to take away from our meeting. During the initial consultation, a parent will see first hand how I work and have the information necessary to decide if working together makes sense.
3. I support my clients in a way my husband and I wanted to be supported when our child was young and we first needed to hire a special education attorney. Finding the "right" attorney for someone is about finding a match for the way a parent wants to be represented and the way an attorney conducts her representation. For my husband and me, we looked for an attorney who who would represent our interests resiliently, but would not alienate the school district in doing so. We looked for collaboration. I practice with these goals in mind. Unlike other areas of law, special education law is not about a parent or school district either winning or losing. The child must remain the priority of all parties, and it is part of my job to keep everyone, regardless of their perspective, focused on that common goal. Otherwise, it is the child who will lose.
4. I have an extensive and applicable litigation and special education background:
Upon graduation from Law School, I became a state prosecutor at the Kings County District Attorney's Offfice in Brooklyn, NY, where I handled a wide variety of cases and became a Senior Assistant District Attorney, assigned to the Major Narcotics Bureau. Upon leaving the DA's Office, I went to a private firm in Long Island, NY , where I practiced predominantly matrimonial litigation; I also defended persons accused of federal and state crimes.
My certification as an Impartial Hearing Officer (IHO) and work presiding over impartial due process hearings (DPH) between parents of children with disabilities and their school districts provides me with a unique perspective of the special education system, thereby further enhancing my private practice. As both an IHO and a parent's attorney, I have participated in an extensive amount of workshops, seminars and conferences, improving my knowledge and experience of special education law.
5. I keep current on recent developments in special education law and remain an active member of my Community:
During my work as an IHO, I participate in multiple training opportunities per year, keeping me up to date on recent developments in special education law. In addition, I am currently a member of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, the American Bar Association and the Educational Committee of the Westchester Women's Bar Association. For many years I have been an active volunteer for Autism Speaks. Prior positions include Walk Chairperson and Corporate Sponsor. My children have all volunteered for Autism Speaks, recognizing even at their young ages the importance of giving back to their Community.