Growing Legal Costs in the School System

 


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The school system today is dramatically different from what it was 20 years ago. It used to be that children got off the bus, milled around the hallways, attended class, played on the playground, and went home – safe and sound. Today, we see metal detectors at the entrances of schools, armed police officers in the halls, bomb-sniffing dogs, and the list goes on.

Legal costs have grown significantly. Schools now pay for lawyers and find themselves on the defending end in court. While legal support has become a part of today’s school system, it also means money that would go toward future education is affected. Funds that would typically be spent on books, transportation, and other educational funding are suffering. In some cases, the heavy load of legal expenses has closed school doors permanently.

As risk of lawsuits build and problems within the schools are ignored or badly dealt with, more and more teachers are walking away. We already have a shortage of good teachers in this country; now, with legal costs rising and salaries down, this career field is even more unattractive. Legal support does have its place, but it has impacted the effectiveness of our schools.

The solution is not straightforward. In recent years, we have seen some new laws passed that speak directly to frivolous lawsuits. For instance, President Bush is recommending a new clause be added to the education reform bill in which “teachers and principals and school board members can take reasonable actions to maintain order and discipline in the classroom without the fear of being sued. " While not everyone agrees with this amendment, it shows how serious the problem of discipline in the school system has become.

School systems themselves can do a number of things on their end to reduce legal costs. For starters, the system can impose stiffer penalties for wrong behavior. Adopting a “three-strike rule" could help foster better behavior and increased safety. In addition, both teachers and students could be taught or trained to identify problem students and know when and how to take the appropriate action. The goal all the way around is to ensure the safety of the students without disrupting quality education.

Richard A. Hall is founder and President/CEO of LexTech, Inc. , a legal information consulting company. Mr. Hall has a unique breadth of experience which has enabled him to meld technology and sophisticated statistical analysis to produce a technology driven analytical model of the practice of law. As a busy civil trial attorney, he was responsible for the design and implementation of a LAN based litigation database and fully automated document production system for a mid-sized civil defense firm. He developed a task based billing model built on extensive statistical analysis of hundreds of litigated civil matters. In 1994, Mr. Hall invented linguistic modeling software which automatically reads, applies budget codes, budget codes and analyzes legal bill content. He also served as California Director and lecturer for a nationwide bar review. Mr. Hall continues to practice law and perform pro bono services for several Northern California judicial districts.

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