Legal Question in Education Law in Massachusetts

I am an advocate and some families have not paid me for my services but they want a copy of there file. CAn I deny them a copy till they pay me?

Asked on 2/15/11, 1:40 pm

1 Answer from Attorneys

Jennifer Andrade Andrade Law Offices

Are you an attorney advocate or a lay advocate?

If you are a lay advocate (have not passed a state's bar exam) then yes, you likely may withhold their file until payment is received. I am a special education attorney and if I do sped advocacy and the client wants their file and has not finished paying me, under my professional rules of conduct I cannot withhold that.... I would be subject to disciplinary proceedings if I did.

So, while a lay advocate can withhold information, do you really want to? Are they leaving you because there was a breakdown in your client/advocate relationship? Have you done a work despite the lack of funds? Do you have a written contract/fee agreement? If you don't have a written fee agreement/contract you may arguably have to give up the file. Consider what is in the file. Do you have any original copies? I typically make copies of what parents give me... but I do have some original documents (correspondence from schools, etc) in which case, I feel ethically (despite my rules of professional conduct) I would need to turn those over.

Consider a payment plan with them or credit card payment? You can do a credit card payment through paypal. You'll eat a small portion in fees, but it may be worth it to get paid. Via paypal you can send them an invoice that they can pay online.

Also, consider the client- are they the type that would spread negative feedback about you to other parents? If so, what impact will that have on your reputation. You can also use the negative balance as a write off/loss on taxes. Just make sure you have an invoice in your billing system. If you have any other questions and feel free to contact me. Also, I'd be interested in touching base for referral purposes. Often times parents can't afford an attorney advocate and other times they need an attorney for BSEA purposes.

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Answered on 2/15/11, 2:26 pm

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