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Special education advocate vs. attorney

Special Education Advocate vs. Attorney – Which Do I Need?

Special Education Advocate vs. Attorney – Which Do I Need?

After we discussed when you might need a special education lawyer in San Diego and what these professionals do, let’s compare their services to an advocate’s. We’ll do this with the help of a very resourceful portal for parents of children with disabilities

A breakdown of services: special education advocate vs. attorney

The most important difference is that an advocate cannot give you legal advice, represent you in a legal capacity nor prepare legal documents in a dispute.

An advocate can:

  • Review your child’s IEP or 504 plan
  • Attend IEP and 504 meetings with you in order to facilitate solutions
  • Negotiate with the school for you
  • Advise you on the appropriate services and support for your child
  • Inform you on your and your child’s rights with regard to special education
  • Recommend specialists, service providers and other institutions/professionals that might be of help
  • Help you write letters to the school

An attorney can:

  • Review your child’s IEP or 504 from a legal viewpoint
  • Attend IEP or 504 meetings with you
  • Negotiate with the school for you
  • Advise you on your and your child’s rights with respect to special education
  • Write letters to the school for you
  • Represent you in a mediation, due process and impartial hearing
  • Represent you in court
  • Prepare legal documents, including complaints

The qualifications of a special education advocate vs. attorney

There are no minimum educational requirements, no specific training and no continuing educational requirements for someone to call themselves a special education advocate. That’s why it is very important to do your homework before you hire an advocate.

On the other hand, for someone to call themselves a lawyer in San Diego, they must have a license to practice law in California. Not many lawyers focus on special education law, but there are some.

Whether you are considering hiring an advocate or an attorney, here are some questions that could help you find a good match for your case:

  • How long have you been practicing in this field?
  • Have you worked on similar cases?
  • Do you have a personal experience?
  • What would you propose as a course of action in our case?
  • How will I be included in the process?
  • How will you keep me in the know about the developments?

You should also make sure you ask about fees, services included in those fees, contracts and agreements if applicable and malpractice insurance (for attorneys).

What are the benefits of hiring special education advocate vs. attorney?

Advocates and attorneys have different, if sometimes overlapping, skills. The benefits of hiring an advocate or an attorney are not just the differences in their knowledge and skills, but also in the way they can bring you leverage in your relationship with the school.

With an advocate at your side, you would hire someone who will:

  • Review your child’s IEP or 504 with a focus on goals and objectives, teaching methods, behavior strategies, assistive technology
  • Be able to differentiate disabilities and difficulties and recommend further evaluations/professionals to work with
  • Be able to talk directly to the school representatives (attorneys generally have to communicate with the school via their attorney)
  • Very likely be able to negotiate child-centered solutions at the IEP level, without the need of proceeding to mediation or due process
  • Most likely not be seen as an adversary

Regarding the last point – schools can react differently to the presence of an advocate, but they are generally open to working with advocates. You will need to notify the school if you intend to hire one. Whereas hiring an attorney may send a clear message about how serious you are, it may also be seen as an aggressive and confrontational move. The school will typically bring in their attorney as well, which may hinder communication.

With a special education lawyer next to you, you hire someone who will:

  • Be able to assess your situation from the legal perspective
  • Advise you of the legal implication of actions you are considering taking
  • Handle legal documentation for your case
  • Make you look more aggressive in your pursuit of appropriate services for your child

The message is – you don’t have to go it alone

You don’t have to pursue appropriate services and support for your child on your own. And when you think you want to have a professional at your side, you needn’t decide all on your own either. Pacific Coast Advocates are here to give you a no-cost 30-minute phone consult that could provide you the information you need to make the special education advocate vs. attorney decision. We are a team of highly qualified special ed advocates, who are also parents of children with disabilities, and we have a good relationship with a number of special education attorneys in San Diego. Feel free to reach out to us to book your free consult at 619-255-5532 or email us at