Four law firms dominate school district services

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On Long Island, where public education is a multi-billion-dollar enterprise, four law firms control more than 60 percent of the estimated cost for legal services.

In 106 of the 124 school districts, $56.9 million was spent for legal fees from 2000 through 2004 -- $16.4 million alone during the 2003-2004 school year. Experts say legal costs have grown since then, with lawyers handling a wide range of issues from personnel and union issues to special education lawsuits.

The four law firms -- Guercio & Guercio in Farmingdale; Ingerman Smith in Hauppauge; Ehrlich, Frazer & Feldman, and Jaspan Schlesinger Hoffman, both of Garden City -- earned the majority of that total amount during that period, the most recent data available to Newsday.

Some experts say that consolidation of legal services is expected because educational law is highly specialized and few lawyers are experts at it.

In an unprecedented series of moves that have unfolded in rapid-fire fashion in the past week, three of these firms -- Guercio & Guercio being the exception -- that have attorneys whose arrangements with school districts allowed them to receive lucrative public benefits while working as private legal counsel are now under state and federal investigation.

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