Law Office of Michelle Ball advocacy,attorneys,school discipline,Special Education Why Students Need An Education Attorney Not Just An Advocate

Why Students Need An Education Attorney Not Just An Advocate


Student attorneys can resolve school problems.

Last Updated on September 20, 2021 by Michelle Ball

By Michelle Ball, Sacramento California Expulsion, Special Education, sports/CIF, College, Education and School Attorney/Lawyer for Students since 1995

Parents facing a school issue such as expulsion, suspension, a special education problem, discrimination or otherwise, often have to bring someone in to help them. Should they hire an attorney or not? What about an advocate?  What is the difference?  The differences are significant.

education attorney or lawyer for students
Becoming an attorney is no simple feat.

What Makes an Attorney an “Attorney?”

An attorney (aka lawyer) is essentially someone who is licensed to practice law in the state they are in. I am a lawyer in California, where I am licensed. To get my license, I had to go through college, then law school (7 years altogether of college) to receive my doctorate degree (JD= juris doctorate degree, the degree attorneys have). Then I had to pass the multi-day grueling examination called the “Bar Exam.”

After that, I was reviewed and allowed to join the “California State Bar,” the agency which licenses attorneys in California. I now have to pay my annual dues, and take continuing education classes.

My education gave me the ability to understand the law, and all its nuances, to interpret what it means, and to apply it to life. My license also gives me the authority to interpret the law for others.

That is essentially what makes me an attorney.

What is an Advocate?

An advocate really is anyone who wants to call themselves an advocate, who says they will help a person accomplish a goal. Presumably, they are people who may try to help, but may or may not have the training to do so. I am unaware of any licensing for advocates.

An advocate, unless they are a licensed attorney, do not have the legal authority to interpret law and tell schools what the law says. They also usually don’t have the years of training in how to understand law, what takes precedence over what, and cannot go to court as an attorney.

I have not worked with an advocate before, as my clients want a lawyer to help them. I am sure there are good advocates out there. Unfortunately, the stories I have heard are often about things that go wrong. For example, the advocate who did not know that parents had a legal right to record an IEP meeting. What? Hmmmmm.

I am sure competent advocates are great for parents to have, but they are not a substitute for an attorney.

What is Advocacy?

Advocacy is fighting for your client with resources that support you. It is what I do every day. This is different from an “Advocate.”

Education lawyers have license to interpret law and use that to attack schools
Attorneys are licensed to interpret the law and can use their authority to help students.

Good advocacy means winning a matter or resolving it with the best possible result for your client (e.g. a student). Attorneys advocate. Hopefully advocates also advocate, but they unfortunately don’t often have the teeth of a law degree behind them.

What Is an Attorney Specialized in Education Law?

The focus of a lawyer’s legal practice is what makes that attorney an education or student attorney. For example, since before I got my law license I assisted the disabled at various non profits. After I got my license, I focused, since 1995, on representing students.

I devote one hundred percent (100%) of my legal practice, week after week, only to students and helping them. This focus can help when trying to attack a school expulsion, transfer denial, sports issue, or IEP (Individualized Education Program).

My question ultimately is, how much time does any attorney devote to students and education law versus their other areas of practice. I devote 100 percent of my time to student representation and am highly specialized.

Should a School Advocate Be Tried?

In my life, I go to the most effective method of resolution when I have a legal matter. For me, this is an attorney, as I know the power of lawyers and their knowledge. When I had a real estate problem, I brought in a real estate attorney. When a family member was cyberbullied (disrelated to school), I brought in an online cyberbullying attorney. I know the impact an attorney can have and it was worth it to me.

Ultimately, it is up to the parents. I am not into spinning wheels on things and like to be efficient and get the job done. On some things, especially where time is important or an opportunity could be lost, an attorney would be the right option. I have had many people in my office whose advocate just could not cut it, who spent time and money toward something which did not work, and who ended up seeing me to try to clean things up.

However, it is always up to the family what they want to do. It is important to remember that sometimes students get one shot and if it is not handled the right way, or timely, they may lose that chance forever.

Attorneys and lawyers can help students
Sometimes it is necessary to get the “big guns” to help with student problems

Why Attorneys Are Necessary

If you have ever received a letter from a lawyer and shook, you know why lawyers matter. Lawyers have teeth. Attorneys have the power to create a lot of legitimate trouble for schools which improperly mess with students. They can file lawsuits, lodge investigations, and they have credibility. Student attorneys can make life hard for schools. When a student is being crushed to the ground, this is what parents need.

Doesn’t an Attorney Cost More?

Yes, due to their skill and knowledge, plus their ability to interpret and communicate with legal authority about the law and what it means to schools.

But, sometimes, to get what a parent wants, or what a student needs, it is necessary to bring in qualified legal help.


Michelle Ball is a student rights lawyer representing students in special education, expulsion, sports/CIF and many other school matters. An education attorney in Sacramento, she reaches across the state to Tahoe, San Diego, San Francisco, Fort Bragg, Roseville, Stockton, Elk Grove, and to many other cities.

[This communication may be considered a communication/solicitation for services]