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The Difference Between Special Education Advocates and Attorneys

You may be thinking about hiring a special education advocate or attorney to help your child get the services he needs in school. But what’s the difference between the two? According to an article written by Andrew Lee on understood.org, here are the different roles of advocates and lawyers, and what each can do for you and your child:

Special Education Advocate

Basic description: A person who guides you through the special education process.

 

An advocate can:

 

  • Negotiate with the school on your behalf

  • Facilitate IEP and other meetings with the school, including mediation

  • Advise you on educational services and supports

  • Recommend specialists, service providers, evaluators and school

  • Help you write letters to the school

  • Review your child’s IEP or 504 plan

  • Give you information about the law

  • They may have expertise in areas like:

  1. Teaching methods

  2. Specific learning and attention issues, or other disabilities

  3. Behavior strategies

  4. Evaluations

  5. Mediating disputes

  6. Knowledge of programs in different private and public schools

  7. Assistive technology

  8. Special education law

 

An advocate can’t:

  • Give you legal advice about your child’s rights

  • Prepare legal complaints and papers

  • Represent you as legal counsel in a lawsuit in state or federal court

  • Your state may have specific rules on what advocates can and can’t do.

Attorney

 

Basic description: A professional with a law degree who represents you when you’re considering dispute resolution or legal action against a school.

An attorney can:

 

  • Negotiate with the school on your behalf

  • Give you legal advice about your child’s rights

  • Review your child’s IEP or 504 plan from a legal perspective

  • Write letters to the school on your behalf

  • Prepare legal complaints and papers

  • Represent you in a mediation, due process hearing or impartial hearing

  • Represent you in a lawsuit in state or federal court

What special skills they may have:

 

Attorneys may also be former teachers and specialists. But more often, they aren't.

Even if they are, attorneys may be reluctant to offer specific advice in non-legal areas, like teaching methods.

 

Special education advocates and attorneys can help your child in different ways. Understanding the differences is important as you try to get the help your child needs.