Special Counsel Legal Services
If a school entity has a need, chances are that PSBA has a service, expert or program to meet that need.
In addition to member benefits such as consultations, information and publications, PSBA staff attorneys may be retained as special counsel (on an hourly fee basis) to assist member school districts. School districts, usually through or on the advice of their solicitors, retain PSBA staff attorneys in many kinds of cases and issues:
- School board hearings - In local agency hearings before school boards in matters such as employee discipline, demotions, furloughs and student expulsion hearings, constitutional due process requirements can require that the prosecution role be handled by an attorney who is separate and independent from the attorney serving as hearing officer or advisor to the school board. PSBA attorneys are available as outside counsel for either of these roles as needed or desired and at any stage, from early investigation and preparation up through preparation of adjudications and defense of court appeals.
- Administrative agency proceedings - Assistance and/or representation in matters pending before agencies such as the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, Human Relations Commission and Department of Education, involving discrimination complaints, professional licensure issues, unfair labor practice complaints, etc.
- Arbitration proceedings - Assistance in analyzing grievance issues, developing presentations and representing the district before labor arbitrators.
- Litigation assistance - In its judicial advocacy efforts, PSBA frequently participates as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) in state and federal appellate courts, supporting school district positions in cases involving legal principles of statewide impact. School districts also may retain PSBA attorneys to assist in representing the district in both trial courts and appellate courts in Local Agency Law and Right-to-Know Law appeals, Sunshine Act challenges and many other kinds of court cases. More information . . .
- Research and legal opinions - PSBA staff can provide research assistance on local legal issues and questions requiring preparation of research memoranda or legal opinions. PSBA staff provides assets, subject matter resources and time not always available at the local level, as well as previous knowledge and experience with unusual issues that can help avoid “reinventing the wheel.”
- Contingency coverage - Temporary on-call attorney coverage for board meetings and other matters can be provided when the regular solicitor is unavailable due to vacation, illness or other emergencies, and where other local backup arrangements are not preferred or feasible.
- Investigations - Complete, discreet and sensitive investigation and evaluation of discrimination, sexual harassment, conflict of interest, or other complaints and issues.
- Customized training - Specially designed seminars and inservice training on proper procedures and liability avoidance strategies in areas such as student discipline, personnel actions, anti-drug programs, weapons and school security, sexual harassment prevention and complaint handling, premises safety, equal opportunity, ADA and similar law-related topics. Programs can be designed as a component of a school entity’s continuing professional development program eligible for credit under Act 48 of 1999.
- Real or perceived conflict situations - Despite best efforts, actual or potential conflict situations can arise unavoidably in the course of legal practice. Ethical rules requiring attorneys to steer clear of even the appearance of impropriety can preclude regular counsel from handling a particular matter. Or, the solicitor may recognize that using outside counsel in a particularly sensitive matter will help avoid permanently damaging working relationships. When these situations arise, PSBA legal services may be the solution.
PSBA keeps hourly rates for special counsel services at a reduced level. The current rate is $150 per hour, minus a member discount of $25/hr., for a net member rate $125 per hour. Rate increases take effect upon notice to clients. Flat fees may be established or agreed upon for customized training programs and certain other work.
- Charges for travel expenses -- Additional charges for mileage, lodging and meals are billed separately.
- Fee-based special counsel services are available only to PSBA members, based on PSBA staffing limitations and program priorities. If requests for services cannot be accommodated for such reasons, we can assist in locating other counsel.
- PSBA staff may help solicitors or school officials locate and contact a regionally available member of the Pennsylvania School Board Solicitors Association who can offer experience and special knowledge in a particular subject area.
Coverage under PSBA-sponsored insurance programs provides insurance-paid counsel for the defense of many kinds of litigation and administrative proceedings. Other insurers also may make such coverage available. To avoid incurring legal fees unnecessarily, school officials should check for insurance coverage with their agent before retaining special counsel in such matters.
For further information about available assistance or fees, contact Stuart Knade, PSBA Chief Counsel, ext. 3377.