Special Education Attorneys

Parent Q&A

Select any title to view the full question and replies.

  • Special ed attorney

    Apr 26, 2022


    Does anyone have experience with Kathryn Dobel, Deborah Jacobsen, Mike Zatopa or Roberta Savage?  Would love to hear your experiences as we navigate a stressful school situation for our child with disabilities.  Also anyone with insight and thoughts on whether an advocate or lawyer is needed to get public school to pay for private school placement would be very helpful.  Thank you for your help.

    I had a very limited interaction with Deborah Jacobsen on a different legal issue, and had a very positive impression. 

    I know about this as a lawyer and not as a parent, but I've done pro bono work on these type of cases in NYC and it was shockingly difficult for parents to navigate the DOE payment system without lawyers. There may be some online resources that are helpful if you want to try to get it done without a lawyer (see, e.g., Advocates for Children of New York | Guides & Resources). Hard to know whether you need one without knowing more details about your situation, but it couldn't hurt to talk to one and see. 

    Sorry I know neither piece of info is directly on point, but offered anyway in case it may be helpful. 

    We had excellent experience with Sarah Fairchild at Tollner Law offices. They are located in San Jose but service the entire bay area. All of the lawyers will do a free 20 min. initial call. Talk to a few and determine who is a good fit for you, your child and family. Good Luck.

    I met virtually with Deborah Jacobsen and really liked her. She didn't think we had a case (appealing an IEP denial at BHS) but I definitely would have worked with her and she came really highly recommended. 

  • We are in need of recommendations for a good Special Ed Attorney. 

    If you are looking for a Special Ed. attorney to interface with a school district about obtaining services, I highly recommend Sarah Fairchild at Tollner Law offices. She was instrumental in negotiating a residential placement for us. She knows her stuff and will fight for you. Good Luck!

    I worked with Jennifer Steneberg at Dale Law Firm on an event providing detailed guidance on long-term financial planning for kids with disabilities. I found her very knowledgeable and empathetic. 

    We had a very good experience working with Mark J Wojciechowski @ Tollner Law Offices in San Jose for help in dealing with OUSD. http://www.specialeducationcounsel.com.

  • We are searching for a skilled attorney to help our family navigate the quagmire that is the Albany Unified School District's special education process.  We have done a ton of research, connected to DREDF, written the letters we were supposed to write, and filled out all forms.  We need a lawyer familiar with the Albany district who can efficiently clear a couple of logjams - it would appear that the administration is waiting for us to file suit.  It's hard to find any education attorneys with availability this time of year, so we are casting a wide net.  Thanks for any leads!

    Try Tollner Law Offices. They are in the San Jose area but have represented cases all over the Bay Area and are very good. We used Sarah Fairchild at Tollner and our district is in Contra Costa County.

    I have used Roberta Savage in Sacramento multiple times relating to issues with my kids’ IEPs in BUSD and WCCUSD school districts. I don’t know if she’s specifically familiar with Albany, but she had no problem navigating different districts because they’re all ostensibly following state law. I highly recommend her. Caring but no nonsense and reasonably priced for the quality of service.

    Deborah Jacobsen was a godsend for us in a similar situation. She is based in Berkeley and knows the various east bay districts well. She is highly competent and very nice. 

  • I am looking for someone to represent us to fight for my child with an IEP who did not get services they were supposed to. I have already talked to them and DREDF, I am at the attorney stage. Single mom, so hopefully someone who has a sliding scale and we can take care of this swiftly. 

    I highly recommend Deborah Jacobsen, who helped my family with an IEP matter. She is based in Berkeley. Both her demeanor and her expertise were exactly what I needed.

    I had a terrible experience about 8 years ago with an educational attorney to whom I was referred because of reasonable rates.  So be careful.  The law firm is Adams Esq. in Oakland.  I initially dealt with Jean Adams, but she subcontracted the work to Gail Hodes. I'm hesitant to outline the details here -- they are lawyers, after all.  But feel free to contact me and I'll explain.

    Katherine Siegfried in Oakland. She used to work for Bay Area Legal Aid. She did a wonderful job on a case for a family that I worked with as a provider. She was paid by the district as a part of the mediation settlement so there was no cost to the family. She is really lovely, responds very quickly and is super skilled. https://www.siegfrieddisabilitylaw.com/

    Kathryn Dobel is excellent- (510) 548-2004, kathryn.dobel [at] comcast.net. She has been a special education attorney for many years and she knows many people in the various districts and is highly regarded. She did excellent work for us.

    I, and the friend that referred me, both had good experiences with Tollner Law Offices in San Jose.  That's far but they're good at working remotely.  I went to their office once; my friend has never been there.  However they do require a retainer.  I put down $5000.   The attorneys I'm working with, Mark J. Wojciechowski and Joshua Cruz, seem to be doing exactly what is required to achieve the best outcome without making things any more complicated or expensive than they need to be.    Fees have been very reasonable to date.  During my first meeting with them they told me that it's most efficient if you go in with clear goals.  Best of luck to you and your child.

    When I began working with the attorneysBest of luck to you

  • Hello,

    Have you worked with education attorneys Natashe Washington or Roberta Savage?  If anyone has worked with either of them, I'd love to speak with you, especially if you had a child within BUSD.  We are not being appropriately served in the school environment, there are compliance issues, and we are being stonewalled. 

    I'd prefer not to leave my name here but if you'd be able to share your contact, I'd be so appreciative.

    At the end of my rope. 

    Although I did not hire Natashe Washington, I had a very positive experience talking with her, which led to a decision not to file a lawsuit. Our son had an IEP and needed residential treatment, which the school district (not BUSD) did not agree to. In our case, she would not require an up front fee to take our case, but would be paid out of the legal fees, if we first followed the process she recommended and she thought we could win. Her advice was very valuable and put us in a good position to have most of our costs for residential treatment covered by insurance, the Adoption Assistance Program, and the school district, without a lawsuit.

  • I am looking for an expert lawyer for my child who is in special education in a public school.  I had one lawyer and they just wanted to make money off of the situation and not help my child.  I need someone who knows the laws inside out and can really fight when needed and still communicate respectfully.  I want the best lawyer I can find.  The situation with my child really needs help.  Your referral would be much appreciated.

    Try dredf.org for referrals.  They provide advocacy for kids with IEPs.

    I highly recommend Roberta Savage in Davis. Very reasonable rates for her skill level. I know she has worked on many cases in the East Bay.

    Deborah Jacobson, Berkeley.  Excellent attorney for Special Ed issues, but usually very booked.

  • My son has an IEP and is making the transition to high school.  He attends public school in the east bay. We just had a very difficult triennial IEP and I would like to find an educational consultant who can help us find agreement with the district but who will also, frankly, help us get what we want, which is what our son needs. 

    I would appreciate any recommendations or pointers. 

      Our family can highly recommend Deborah Bloom educational consultant / advocate  in San Ramon.  She is highly regarded with a depth of  experience.  Her work with us and BUSD was instrumental in our child's receipt of FAPE and well being today.  She has a website to check out and give an informational call to:

    +1 (925) 820-5480

    Call DREDF - For their recommendation on how best to proceed. They will provide free counsel. They also have workshops 
    3075 Adeline Street,
    Suite 210
    Berkeley, CA 94703
    510.644.2555 v

    Deborah Jacobsen is an education lawyer who  has helped many families and their children.  She will be part of the upcoming DREDF workshop on Solving School Disputes 3/18. 

    Best wishes to you.

Please contact DREDF (Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund).  They listened, offered great advice,  and we were (finally) heard.  We eventually used lawyer Natashe Washington ((510) 394-4356) who was great.  I hope this is resolved soon.

I recommend calling education lawyer Deborah Jacobson (https://www.jacobsoneducationlaw.com/). I paid for a couple of hours of her time, and it was the best money I spent throughout the entire saga of trying to get appropriate treatment and education services for my daughter. Her staff may be able to give you some pointers during an initial phone call, and would likely give you an honest assessment of whether it would be worth your while to hire the firm. Can't recommend her enough.

If you have the means, I highly recommend education attorney Deborah Jacobson. She has a wonderful demeanor, was very responsive, and was straightforward about the likely outcomes. Her firm will do a free initial phone conversation, which can help you determine if it's worth spending the money to have her take your case.

Jennifer Callahan 415-238-2338 .

This is her specialty!

Our family lives in Oakland.  Our situation is slightly different but parallel.   I'm working with Tollner Law in San Jose.  Special education is their focus.  It's been a good experience.  Get in touch and I can give you more details.  Good luck.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Education Lawyer for special needs kid in Albany

March 2013

We are an Albany family with a special needs kid who is now getting pushback from the school. We are hoping to speak to a lawyer about next steps. Does anyone have a recommendation on an education lawyer who is familiar with the Albany Unified district? Needs help

Hello, I'm mom to two special needs children in Oakland, ages 4 and 7. I have found FRN (Family Resource Network) to be of HUGE help in these matters. I suggest talking to one of the parent advocates there before seeking a lawyers' services. They will often help you resolve issues before letting things get that far. I believe the director, Eileen is an Albany parent herself. They will attend IEPs and mediations etc. Their number is 510-547-7322 http://www.frnoakland.org/pages/enter.php Lilian

Special education lawyer needed for underserved child in OUSD

Jan 2011

We are looking for a special education lawyer for our underserved child in OUSD. Does anyone have any recent recommendations for someone who has experience in OUSD and good at coaching parents? The current atmosphere due to budget cuts, etc adds to the frustration and need for someone experienced and successful. Thanks! anon

Are you sure it's a lawyer you need? I ask because oftentimes people are advised to ''get a lawyer'' when actually what they need is an advocate. I would caution you strongly about starting off by hiring a lawyer because that will immediately change the tone of your dialogue with the school district, unless that's what you want. Hiring a lawyer is usually the last step you take when you're ready to go to court. Advocates can very easily do the same thing that you would think you need from a lawyer but they are cheaper, less adversarial (in theory) and most of the time faster. I'm sure you'll get some names from this list, but just please be careful about your next steps. I could give you more advice if I knew more about your situation and your reasons for being anonymous here are obvious. Please feel free to contact me directly if you think it would help you and your child. Jill

Special ed funding comes from a separate source of federal funds. You should only focus on the services that your child needs and not their budget problems. Have you requested a full set of evaluations; they are crucial to getting services. And you are entitled to independent evaluations if you are unsatisfied with the evaluations that the school district provides. Neil

Special Education Lawyer for OUSD child

Jan 2011

We are looking for recommendations from the BPN community for an experienced lawyer who is familiar with education laws, Federal and State, and has a successful track record working with families in OUSD getting services for children. Our biggest fear is creating a hostile environment for our child, however, we do need help since there are many compliance issues. If you have a recommendation, it would be helpful if you asked the moderator for my email address. Thank you! Anon

Dear Parent,
I empathize with the concern that advocating for one's child will create a hostile environment in future interactions with the district or the school or the service providers or the mediators or all of the other administrator's that provide these services. And its ridiculous that society operates a service for which one of its results is the wear and tear on the parents of the children who, in truth, really do receive some of the benefits that should be delivered.

However, it has been my experience that one should not operate out of fear of raising a hostile atmosphere. The special education providers, and their associates have no use for a hostile environment any more that the recipients of the services.

The first understanding that a parent should have with the staff of special education providers is that this ''case'' will be a continuing and regular responsibility of all those involved, and that all will be cooperatively focused to provide the services and catch problems as they happen. I have found that this a key to a productive relationship. I have a 15 yr old son who I am navigating through the system. Neil

Attorney for IEP disagreement with Albany school

March 2010

I have a child in Special Education with ADD and some language processing issues. We have been in an ongoing disagreement with our school district (Albany USD) over his IEP and are at the point that I think we need an attorney to help us, as we are heading toward filing a suit (due process complaint) against the district for failing to provide appropriate services, and several other issues. Any suggestions? Unhappy Albany parent

Catherine Doble is a great attorney from what I have heard. Unfortunately I do not have her number. I am also an Albany parent and unhappy. Would be interested to know which school your child attends and what grade he/she is in. Also are you a member of the Yahoo groups put on by an Albany Parent for families who have children with special needs? My child has processing issues and I would have to agree that I don't think they are addressing the issues appropriately. Frankly, I don't think they know what to do. Good luck. anonymous

DREDF will be able to provide some legal advice. They may also be able to refer you to an attorney. http://www.dredf.org/ Good Luck

Special education attorney for child with autism

March 2008

Looking for a referral for a special education attorney, for my child who has Autism. Is there anyone that you can suggest to be good or if you know of an attorney you would not suggest, I would like to know as well; If you could share your experience. Thank you. Mary

This is for Mary, who was looking for a special ed attorney for her child who has autism. I would recommend LaJoyce Porter, 1814 Franklin St., Suite 800, Oakland, CA 94612. (510) 444-9543 lporter[at]porterlawfirm.net.

I worked with Ms. Porter at an inhouse law firm, and she cared passionately about children's rights. She has special needs children, and she decided to put her passion and the expertise she had gained working on behalf of her children into her law practice. So she left the corporate world for her own practice emphasizing education law. Pat

Tamara Loughrey. She's taken on the special ed system as a parent and a lawyer. tamara[at]spedattorneys.com Anon

Advocate for transition from RC to OUSD Special Education

March 2007

We are looking for a special education lawyer or advocate who is familiar with working with Oakland School District. Our son is almost three years old and was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum about a year ago. We need a good attorney / advocate to guide us through his first IEP with Oakland because this is the transition IEP from services funded by the Regional Center to services funded by the school district. Thank you in advance. Thank you! John

You may begin by contacting CASE (Community Alliance for Special Education). They are located in San Francisco. They do good work, mainly advocating for those needing special education services. They should be able to locate resources for this purpose. Their website is www.caseadvocacy.org . cindy

Earlier Recommendations

Looking for help with the IEP process in Acalanes

Feb 2006

WE are looking to hire a legal advocate familiar with the IEP process to be an advocate for our son who has special ed needs and is in the Acalanes School District. Our son was diagnosed with comprehensive ADHD and emotional problems and is classified as AB 3632. However, we are finding it difficult for the district to meet his needs and are looking for an advocate in the East Bay area to help us with the IEP process.

If you want an attorney, I highly recommend Kathryn Dobel in Berkeley, tel.no. (510) 548-2004. She helped me twice with my special ed kid, back in 1994 and 2000, when I had to fight against the school district's recommendations. We reached an agreement before we went to court and both times my son got what he needed. She's extremely knowledgeable and a fantastic advocate. The only problem is that she's extremely busy and may be working part-time now. But it wouldn't hurt to call and see what kind of help she can provide. Good luck. nj

Attorney for special education/IEP

Jan 2006

Can anybody recommend an attorney who works on special education issues? I'm anticipating an IEP-related fight with the school district. Somebody other than Katherine Dobel, who doesn't return phone calls. I'm also already familiar with DREDF. Thanks

Roberta Savage 221 G Street, Suite 207 Davis, CA 95616
She just had a baby so I don't know if she is working. If she isn't, however, any referral she would provide would be excellent. Another way to go would be to get an educational advocate, who attends meetings with you and helps structure the IEP, but is more collaborative and less hardball. Ask other IEP parents or attorneys for referrals. Hang in there

Special ed attorney for IEP

June 2005

Can anyone recommend a good attorney to help with an IEP, or relate your experiences, good, bad or mixed, with special ed attorneys? There have been great recommendations for Sarah Clarke, but her number is disconnected, and I don't think Catherine Dobel is taking new clients. Thanks anon

Not all special ed attorneys will attend IEPs, but some do, or work with local special education advocates.

Attorneys in the Bay Area include Elizabeth Aaronson 650-322-6387, Dave Sherman of Sherman & Zieglar, Valerie Montague 415-789-5693, Mike Zatopa of San Francisco.

Also check the Council of Parents Attorneys Advocate website: http:// www.copaa.org/find/index.asp and select ''California'' B.

We got past advice from Sarah Clarke but she decided to get out of special ed law Spring '05. What a loss to parents as she was very good. She referred us to Jonathan Quint in Oakland. We used him in what we felt was a successful mediation with our school district. His number is 510-595-9130 x120. We came with our paperwork organized for review and he was very straightforward about what would happen. He knew the various parties that would be involved with our case. He was good in the mediation. Good luck. lr

Discrimination based on Learning Disability

February 2003

Hi, I am the mother of an 8 year old boy who was expelled from a private oakland school. I believe he was discriminated against because of his learning disabilities and that the school breached our contract by expelling him without allowing me to be involved, having never been put on probation or suspended before and not having allowed me to get a physicians diagnosis or psychological evaluation. He was also in the middle of an IEP. I am looking for a lawyer who has experience with ADA civil rights in the private realm, learning disabilities and contract law. Any help or suggestions would be app darlene

There is an organization called DREDF, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, that may be able to help you. Their main office is in Berkeley:
2212 Sixth Street Berkeley, CA 94710 510.644.2555 V/TTY 510.841.8645 fax
Their web site is: http://www.dredf.org/ Good luck. Cynthia

You probably have these resources, but I would call Community Alliance for Special Ed (CASE) at 415-928-2273, Protection and Advocacy (510-839-0811) or Disabilty Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) at 510-644-2555. I would think they could counsel you and/or refer you to an attorney. Good luck!! peggy

I have heard that Katherine Dobel in Berkeley is a lawyer for ADA education related issues. You might also try CASE which is an advocacy group. I am sure they would have recommendations for this kind of situation. I believe they have an office in Marin. If I can get my hands on their contact information, I will send it in. Also, Marjorie Kaplan, who is an educational therapist in Orinda, has worked with advocacy cases and would likely know some lawyers to contact. Good Luck. an educator

I believe you might want to speak to a lawyer by the name of Rhoda Benedetti. Not sure exactly where she is located, but I believe in the Walnut Creek area. She has a disabled daughter herself and is now an advocate for children with disabilities who are maneuvering through the school system. She is a rel go-getter! Sorry I cannot give you her phone #, but imagine you could find her out here without too much difficulty. Good luck! falconcrest

Attorney for Special Ed Child who is being underserved


I need recommendations for attorneys who have been successful in suits against the Berkeley Unified School District. I have a child in Special Education and I believe she is being inappropriately place and underserved.

This message is forwarded from the ADA coordinator for the City of Oakland

There are two excellent national disability rights firms located in the East Bay. The Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) is located in Berkeley and Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) is located in Oakland. Either firm might take your case.

Christine Calabrese
Oakland City Manager/ADA Programs
ccalabrese AT oaklandnet.com

Are you in need of an attorney or an advocate? We have an autistic child (13 yrs old) who is being tossed about in the Berkeley Special Ed Nightmare Machine. So, I know your travail, here. I can give you the name of an advocate, or I can ask our advocate for the name of an attorney he trusts. There is a big difference in the process and outcome. Our advocate is so skilled in these things that he has the bearing and expertise of a lawyer, but his expertise is in educational programs for the handicapped, physically, developmentally, learning disabled, etc. He has never lost a case. Sharp as a tack. Sweet and funny, too. His non-combative nature during IEPs is all ordered and part of a plan. He can get you what you need. Please contact me and I'd be happy to discuss this with you. Tobie