Advocate vs. attorney.
Many parents go back and forth between the two when deciding who to hire when they seeking advocacy services. Some parents may skip looking for a special education advocate and hire a special education attorney. While others choose to stick with an advocate. Even though it is a personal choice, it is always best to keep in mind the needs of your child and what you are looking to accomplish when seeking services. In addition, if you do hire an attorney, you always want an attorney who specializes in special education law. If you are thinking of going the attorney route, here are few pros and cons…
* They are familiar with special education laws and regulations (advocates are as well)
* Can guide parents through the process of securing appropriate programs and services under the law (advocates can as well)
* Will review evaluations and determine what additional services your child be entitled to (advocates can as well)
* Can help you with litigation, mediation, negotiation and due process (if you are heading down this road always get an attorney)
* Can help with taking further legal action if necessary
* They are expensive
* Advocates can do a lot of what attorneys can do (however, as noted above, if you are planning on due process or legal action always hire an attorney)
* They can make a school more defensive
After reading the Pros and Cons, you way still be confused on which professional to hire. If you are, here are a few more things to consider…
What an advocate/attorney help you with
While both an advocate and attorney can negotiate with the school on your behalf, facilitate IEP meetings, help you write letters to the school and review your child’s IEP, only attorneys can provide you with legal advice about your child’s rights, represent you in a lawsuit in state or federal court and prepare legal complaints.
Schooling and licensing
A special education advocate job is to guide you through the special education process, whereas attorneys are professionals with law degrees that can represent you though dispute resolution and legal proceedings. One thing to keep in mind is that currently there is no license or certification for advocates, like attorneys. However, many advocates are members of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates and operate under their code of ethics.
Bringing an advocate vs. an attorney to an IEP meeting
As mentioned earlier, bringing an advocate or attorney to an IEP meeting may cause some discomfort with the IEP team. Sometimes advocates and attorneys are seen as confrontational. However, this should not deter you from hiring either one. Which ever one you choose, it is always good practice to let the school know ahead of time that you will be bringing representation with you. Keep in mind, if you do decide to bring an attorney, the school has a right to be equally represented by bringing their attorney as well.
The cost of services
One of the main reasons parents like to try an advocate first is because the cost of services are much lower that attorneys. However, fees for both advocates and attorneys can vary widely. But in general, attorney fees are much more expensive than advocacy services and they usually require an retainer upfront.
What to ask before you choose
Before you hire an advocate or attorney, you want to make sure you ask the right questions. Read more about choosing the right special education advocate here. As far as an attorney, you should always ask about their legal experience, if they specialize in special education law, if they ever handled due process hearings and lawsuits, the cost of their legal fees and services and if they have malpractice insurance.
Whether you decide to hire an advocate or an attorney is a personal choice, but always keep in mind, YOU are still your child’s number one advocate!
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