Who Can Help When You Need Legal Advice
By Edwin C. Darden
For budding attorneys in law school, there is an expression declaring that the law is a seamless web. It means every legal action is in some way bound to the rest of the maze, and the attorney who sees the most connectors can render the best advice.
What that phrase also conveys is the complexity of a tangled U.S. legal system that superintendents and board members must cope with daily. Faced with such an elaborate and perpetually changing landscape and high stakes, the essential question is: Whom do you trust?
Like public school students learning to use the Internet, boards face a blitzkrieg of information. Youngsters must be taught to think analytically and to weigh how authoritative one source is versus another. Not every website is equally reliable. That same level of caution applies to school leaders when evaluating sources of education law.
Levels of authority range from laws passed by Congress or the State legislature to attorney general opinions and regulations interpreting law, to informal “Dear Colleague” letters from the U.S. Department of Education providing non-legal guidance. Add to that court decisions whose miniscule distinctions can stamp the difference between legal victory and defeat and you have a formula for confusion.
While school attorneys are the ultimate power in providing answers to non-lawyers, it still pays for you to understand a bit about the legal hierarchy.
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