New Jersey Supreme Court Committee Issues Opinion 57 Supporting Non-Attorney Advocates in Special Education

New Jersey Supreme Court Committee Issues Opinion 57 Supporting Non-Attorney Advocates in Special Education

In September 2020, the New Jersey Supreme Court's Committee on Unauthorized Practice of Law released Opinion 56, making it more difficult for non-attorney advocates to assist families during special education proceedings such as Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings and Mediation conferences.

Non-attorney advocates provide invaluable knowledge and assistance—at no cost—to families who need support navigating special education processes or cannot afford an attorney. Families, self-advocates, and organizations across the state, including The Arc of New Jersey, expressed overwhelming opposition to Opinion 56 and petitioned for its withdrawal by the New Jersey Supreme Court Committee on Unauthorized Practice of Law.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of parents and families across New Jersey, Opinion 57 was issued on April 14th, superseding Opinion 56 and supporting the role of non-attorney advocates in special education. Opinion 57 states that "non-lawyers may represent parents or children with disabilities in Office of Administrative Law contested special education cases provided they are qualified, submit an application, and do not charge a fee for the representation."

It also grants non-attorney advocates the ability to advise, represent, and speak on behalf of families at IEP meetings and Mediation conferences. The Committee supported the efforts of organizations offering training for non-attorney advocates and encouraged the NJ Department of Education to initiate a certificate program in the future.