This article reviews thirty-five years of administrative decisions, seeking to understand any differences between families who were represented by attorneys at the hearing and families who were not. Significant differences were found, and the author notes that this correlation does not confirm causation.
"The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides states with the option of having one or two tiers of administrative adjudication prior to the judicial level of dispute resolution. Although the numbers of states that have only a hearing officer level and those that additionally have a second tier, i.e., review officer
level, have fluctuated, the net direction and overall balance has been clearly in favor of a one-tier system. Although originally established as a relatively informal and expedited means of adjudication in comparison to the courts, these administrative levels have become increasingly legalized. Given the costs of legal
representation and the lack of attorneys with specialization in IDEA cases, the question of whether there is a significant relationship between attorney representation, i.e., whether the parents proceed pro se, and the case outcome, i.e., whether the parent prevails, looms large. Although the considerations include other factors, including parental choice regardless of affordable availability, empirical information specific to this question would be useful."
"In sum, the response to the question set forth in the title of this article is that the outcomes for pro se parents at the IDEA hearing officer level appear to be significantly less favorable than those in which both parties have legal representation—at least for IDELR published decisions. The national scope and thirty-five-year period of this analysis, along with methodological refinements, confirms the more limited findings of previous research. However, the finding of a difference does not necessarily mean that attorney representation made, i.e., caused, this difference."