This month, Setfords welcomed Andrew Laing as a Consultant Solicitor.
As a specialist education lawyer, Andrew will provide expert services to local authorities, Academy Trusts and the governing bodies and senior leadership teams of both maintained schools and academies and free schools.
We caught up with Andrew to find out more about his area of expertise and what he offers his clients in the education sector.
Why education law? What made you specialise in this area?
One of the things I enjoy most about practising within this fascinating area of law is the sheer breadth of the work that I do. On any given day, I may spend the morning drafting a formal response to a judicial review letter before action on behalf of a client local authority’s Special Educational Needs Service. Then, the afternoon may be taken up advising the governing body of a maintained school on the merits of its proposed defence to a disability discrimination claim against the governing body made by the parent of a registered pupil.
What have been your most memorable cases?
Whilst I have been involved in many interesting cases over the course of my 13 year career as an Education Lawyer, perhaps the most satisfying was an ordinary residence dispute in relation to a child with special educational needs. Their school fees were costing my client, a local authority, in excess of £120,000 per annum. The child had become ordinarily resident in another local authority’s area, but they refused to accept that the child was their responsibility. As such, the matter was referred to the Secretary of State for Education. He found in favour of my client, thereby entitling the local authority to recoup in excess of a quarter of a million pounds from the other local authority. Needless to say, my client was absolutely delighted with this outcome.
What are the challenges for educational institutions that they require specialist legal services?
With increasing numbers of parents and young people accessing specialist legal advice in relation to education-related issues (and with increasing numbers of law firms establishing dedicated Education Law departments), never has it been more important for local authorities, Academy Trusts and individual maintained schools and academies to be able to access prompt, specialist legal advice of their own.
Local authorities, Academy Trusts or individual maintained schools and academies face a range of legal challenges in administrating educational services, including dealing with serial complainants, threatened applications for judicial review and disability discrimination claims.
As the saying goes, ‘prevention is better than cure’ and being prepared in advance of any potential issue is also of paramount concern to clients. So often they will require a periodic review of their statutory policies. This approach – both being prepared in advance and seeking advice early when issues do arise – means clients pay a fraction of the potential cost of failing to obtain and act on such advice.
Whatever the issue, be it a serial complainant, a threatened application for judicial review, an allegation of disability discrimination or simply carrying out a periodic review of a local authority or school’s statutory policies, seeking specialist legal advice at an early stage invariably pays dividends.
What will clients gain from you joining Setfords as a consultant solicitor?
Having spent the past 13 years practising as a specialist Education Lawyer within the Legal Services departments of several local authorities, I am delighted to have joined Setfords as a Consultant Solicitor, thereby giving local authorities, Academy Trusts and individual schools throughout the country the opportunity to access the specialist legal advice and assistance which they might otherwise have been unable to access.