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Education Attorney Versus Education Advocate


Last Updated on March 17, 2021 by Michelle Ball

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

Attorney or non-attorney advocate?  What is the difference?  Parents faced with a school issue, such as expulsion or a special education problem, often do not know who can help.  Do parents really have to hire an attorney?  What about the lady you heard about who helps parents?  Here is the lowdown on advocate versus attorney and how it relates to your school issues.

I am an attorney, licensed to practice law in California.  However, a lot of what I do daily is advocacy.  Advocacy is basically helping a cause (my clients’ cause).  Per “advocacy” (noun-thing) is “the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal.”  To “advocate” (verb) is “to support or argue for (a cause, policy, etc.).  An “advocate” (noun- person) is “a person who argues for or supports a cause or policy.”  So “advocate” can mean different yet similar things.

The distinction between my advocacy as a licensed attorney versus someone who is a non-attorney advocate, is the legal degree and the power to use it for the benefit of my clients.  This is not a small thing.  Being an attorney, I can use the courts, legally interpret the law, and use the power of the law to change my clients’ situations.  I can also back up what I say with court action if my clients want to go that way.

An advocate who is not a lawyer, can “advocate” in the sense that they may rally for a cause, but they do not carry the power of the courts behind them.  They may not be formally trained, whereas lawyers have many years of training in law.  This is a big difference, and it means schools may treat a non-attorney advocate differently than they treat an attorney.  So who you pick may depend on how fast you want things done or how effective you want to be.

Lawyers practice advocacy, but advocacy with teeth (good enforceable laws), presuming the teeth are available.  In some situations there are only baby teeth involved (weaker laws) which give us less leverage.  Attorneys leverage what they have for their clients’ benefit.  As my Contracts professor used to say, attorneys should: “Pound the law if you have the law.  Pound the facts if you have the facts, and pound the table if you have neither.”  Sage advice.  Attorneys pound everything (not literally) with whatever they have, and fortunately for our clients it can be beneficial.

If you have ever received a letter from a lawyer and shook, you know why lawyers should be involved in school issues.  They have that unidentifiable power and you want that power to be leveraged to resolve your child’s expulsion or to help with college problems or to help with a teacher who has gone too far.  You want to move things forward.

Advocates (attorney and otherwise), are needed in all fields to try to help people. However, the power of the law stands behind every attorney, which is why, if you invest your money to try to get something done, attorneys are a strong bet.

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