Parent Center staff are knowledgeable about State and local legal resources for families, but military families have unique circumstances that can call for out-of-state or specialized assistance. For example, when they move to a new duty station, they may need to find a lawyer in the State to which they are moving to help them establish a new guardianship for an adult child with disabilities. Fortunately there is an online resource from the American Bar Association: ABA Home Front, created to help military families get legal assistance both on and off the installation.
ABA Home Front helps users locate and contact free, low-cost, and standard fee-for-service lawyers by state. Each listing shows the type of law practiced. Example: “Landlord-Tenant Law, Family Law, Wills”. There’s a search engine to find a fee-for-services lawyer by legal topic. Many states also include contact information for the Judge Advocate General (JAG) offices at that State’s military installations.
Some States have more robust listings than others. California, for example, which has large military-connected populations, has several county and city legal programs with a focus on specific military issues, including veteran’s issues. However, every State page gives a family the opportunity to search for a program or a lawyer that will work for their situation.
Families (both military and civilian) can visit another ABA page to find a State Bar Association, and use a search function to locate a lawyer for a specific purpose. If, for example, an active-duty family wanted to plan support for an adult child with a disability, they could use terms like “military”, “disability”, “estate planning”, and “guardianship”.
If a family has no internet access, most telephone directories will have a phone listing for a local or State Bar Association that can give information on which lawyers specialize in their area of need.
Families still have to check out the program or lawyers they locate, and select the lawyer based on their own needs, financial situation and whether they believe a lawyer is right for them. ABA Home Front has a section called “Working with a Lawyer” which is a great place to start. The page gives answers to essential questions like:
- What exactly is a lawyer?
- What are the professional requirements to become a lawyer?
- What about lawyers who work with military families? Do they need to have any special training?
- Are there specific cases when I should see a lawyer?
- Should I save money and wait until I absolutely need a lawyer’s services?
When a family is ready to look for a lawyer, your Parent Center may be able to refer them to a specific practice. Sometimes, when the search needs to go out-of-state (a lawyer that does Special Needs Trusts, for example) you may need a few more suggestions for organizations or search tools that can help:
Other National Legal Resources
The ARC of the United States is an organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities which has state and sometimes county- level chapters. They are known for referring families to lawyers with appropriate experience in the disability legal field. The national website has the online Center for Future Planning which encourages families to search for professionals such as lawyers and financial planners.
Disability issues: the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) has a web page to search for member attorneys. The site also gives guidelines for choosing a lawyer or advocate.
Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF): civil rights legal action and public policy organization which operates one of California’s Parent Centers. For families interested in the legislative or civil rights aspects of their legal concerns, or who need Parent Center services in Alameda, Contra Costa, or San Joaquin counties.
Family Network on Disabilities (FND) is a national network organization which operates three Parent Training and Information Centers in Florida. They also offer a Special Needs Trust Administration which provides comprehensive trustee services nationally. They don’t prepare trust documents but are available to review any documents prepared by a family’s attorney (fees apply).
The Military Families Learning Network connects military family service providers and Cooperative Extension professionals on topics focused on the needs of military families. Many of the webinars are also suitable for families. A good basic look at future planning is in their webinar, Estate Planning for Families with Special Needs.
Wrightslaw Special Education Law and Advocacy offers the Yellow Pages for Kids website, a search tool to find “educational consultants, psychologists, diagnosticians, health care specialists, academic tutors, speech language therapists, advocates, and attorneys.”
State or local level: some Parent Centers have directories of legal firms or legal aid listings on their websites. Military families who live in these highly military-impacted states can use their resources: