In Conversation with Attorneys with Disabilities

Disabled attorneys have always represented a small percentage in the legal community. However, in recent years, as technological advances have made it easier for lawyers with disabilities to perform ordinary tasks, this number is rising.

This month, our panel discusses what it is like to be an attorney with a disability, what hurdles they face, and the accommodations and strategies they have employed to be successful.

Our Moderator

Nicholas Gaffney (NG) is the founder of Zumado Public Relations in San Francisco, CA, and is a member of the Law Practice Today Editorial Board. Contact him at ngaffney@zumado.com or on Twitter @nickgaffney.

 

 

Our Panelists

Kevin Fritz (KF) is an associate in the Chicago office of Seyfarth Shaw LLP. He focuses his practice on complex discrimination litigation, workplace counseling, and solutions, and is also a member of the firm’s Access Defense ADA Title III Team.
Kevin M. Hara (KVM) is a San Francisco-based lawyer in Reed Smith’s Life Sciences and Health Industries Group focused on product liability litigation and multidistrict and mass tort litigation for major manufacturers of medical products. Kevin has assisted in the drafting of two amicus curiae appellate briefs in education reform cases in the California Court of Appeal, and further pro bono projects included representing clients in asylum cases and assisting organizations that support veterans with understanding the legislative reforms that will improve veterans’ access to benefits. Kevin is the co-founder of LEADRS (Looking For Excellence And Advancement of individuals with Disability at Reed Smith), a diversity affinity group that is part of Reed Smith’s global Diversity & Inclusion Initiative.
Waukeshia Jackson (WJ) is a best-selling author, partner, and patent attorney with Jackson & Lowe Law Group. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Louisiana State University. She also has an MBA from the University of Houston – Clear Lake and her law degree from LSU Law Center. Waukeshia has been featured in Technology Diversity Magazine and National Society of Black Engineer Magazine and US News.
Michael Liner (ML) is the founder and managing shareholder of Liner Legal, LLC, a disability law firm with offices throughout Ohio. With a commitment to providing incredible client service and a passion for tireless representation of his clients in their time of great need, Michael has helped his clients obtain tens of millions of dollars in Social Security benefits. Michael speaks regularly at national as well as local conferences on both disability and marketing topics.
John F. Stanton (JS) is a lawyer with the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Immigration Litigation, Appellate Section. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1993 and cum laude from the Georgetown University Law Center in 1997. Prior to joining the DOJ, he worked in the appellate departments of Howrey, LLP and Holland & Knight in Washington DC.

 

NG: What is the nature of your disability?

KF: I have a form of muscular dystrophy. I have no use of my legs, extremely limited use of my arms and hands, and require assistance with virtually all of my activities of daily living. It is progressive in nature but manageable with the right tools and interventions.

KH: I have a high-level spinal cord injury, which impacts my mobility and requires me to use a motorized wheelchair and other adaptive devices.

WJ: I have Retinitis Pigmentosa. This is an eye disease that causes me to lose my peripheral vision. I am legally blind.

ML: I have ADHD and motor tic syndrome.

JS: I became deaf when I was four years old. I grew up speaking and lipreading. Although profoundly deaf, I had some residual hearing and could benefit from a hearing aid. While I was aware of sound, I could not understand it. I could not talk on the phone or listen to the radio. And I generally needed to read a person’s lips to understand what they were saying. My residual hearing collapsed to essentially zero when I was about thirty years old, and I got a cochlear implant after that. The implant restored me to where I was—if anything, marginally better.

NG: Do you consider your disability a disability?

KF: I believe that everyone is disabled in some way. Disability is truly a mindset. Sure, my legs and arms do not work the same way that someone without my condition does, but I do not believe that makes me disabled in comparison. I think that it is a very contextual notion and you must have that mindset. If you ask me to play tennis, I probably cannot do it. So yes I would be disabled in that fashion. But if you need me to be your friend, represent you in court, or kick your butt in a chess match, then maybe you are the disabled one! It’s all about perspective.

KH: I do, importantly, as my injury prevents the use of my legs, hands, and fingers—but I endeavor not to let that preclude my personal and professional activities to the extent possible. Additionally, I find it helpful to focus on the things I can do rather than those I cannot.

WJ: My mother always empowered me. She thought I would make a great engineer at a very young age. I have excelled in many STEM courses from a young age. I say this to say I have never looked at my life in any way as to consider my eye disease a disability. I am very solution-oriented; I prefer to figure out how I can do the things I want or need to do. I have received training on assistive technology devices that enable me to be an effective attorney. To me, the word disability means “not able.” I am fully able to practice law to the same degree as my peers. I simply do things differently.

ML: I think the word “disability” is a bit of a misnomer. The root of the word disability is ability. Adding “dis” in front of it seems to imply a lack of ability. I certainly don’t think I lack the abilities that my peers have. I think a better term would be diffability. Though my abilities aren’t lacking, they are unquestionably different than others around me.

JS: The law does. There are times when being deaf is an advantage. I went to a farm in West Virginia with my family and another family last weekend. The farm was near railroad tracks. When a train went by early in the morning, all the animals made a huge fuss and didn’t stop for a half an hour. I slept through the entire thing peacefully. Everyone else did not and were not happy about it.

That being said, the times when deafness is a disadvantage are far more frequent if you are attempting to succeed in the mainstream.

NG: Did you choose your career due to your disability?

KF: 100%. I wanted a career where I could be equal to my counterparts. Being a lawyer requires a brain. Everything else can be delegated. I knew I had my faculties and I chose a profession where I could apply them to the fullest.

KH: Law is a career that takes place primarily in the “Noosphere”—the sphere of human thought—so working in law at Reed Smith has turned out to be an excellent space for developing my mind, my communications skills, and my career. Practicing law as a life sciences attorney has allowed me to explore one of the things about which I am most fascinated and passionate—science. We work with many clients who either have or are in the process of bringing innovative technology to light.

WJ: No. I chose to practice law because I believed that I could make a difference. I am a champion for entrepreneurs and have been told by many clients that I have a great way of making the law consumable.

ML: Yes. I have a large social security disability practice in Ohio, and there is no question that when I was picking an area of law I wanted to focus on after law school, the opportunity to help other people who have similar daily challenges to my own was attractive. I have been fortunate in my life. Growing up, my parents were able to afford to send me to a private school and get me any extra help that I needed to succeed. Not everyone is so fortunate. Without the advantages I had as a youth, I could have very easily needed to rely on the government benefits I fight for my clients to receive.

JS: In a manner of speaking. When I was in high school in the late 1980s, my parents took me on a college tour. I was 17 at the time and knew enough that it would impress the interviewers if I looked like I had some direction. I always was intrigued by law, so I told the interviewers when they asked what type of career I was envisioning that I wanted to become a lawyer.

One interviewer responded, “That’s very interesting. I recently read an article that said that there are eight deaf attorneys in the United States.” I was flabbergasted. “Only eight? That’s outrageous!” I decided then and there that I was going to become a lawyer.

As an aside, I learned decades later that the correct number of deaf lawyers around that time was about 20 (indeed, I even think that I’ve read the article to which the interviewer was referring). But even if the interviewer had told me 20, my response still would have been the same.

NG: How has your disability impacted your ability to practice law?

KF: I am already incredibly organized because I have to be. I do not have the luxury of thumbing through papers on a desk, just like I do not have the luxury of going through the spice drawer in my kitchen to find what I’m looking for. Everything has a place in my life. That way either I, with the right assistive technology, or my assistant can find it for me quickly. While this is just one example, being organized definitely impacts how I practice law. It allows me to take on many cases at one time without too much confusion because I know where every e-mail, document, number, etc. is located simply because I do not have the luxury of finding it in a pile somewhere. Further, I think that my disability makes me more focused. I cannot write things down the same way someone with hand usage can, so I have to remember things. I create memory palaces all the time as a means to remember things in my own life because, again, I cannot write that well and that parlays very well in the practice of law.

KH: With tremendous support from Reed Smith, including several instrumental mentors and friends, my loving and inspirational wife Anna, wonderful family, especially my parents and sister, and dedicated caregivers, I’ve been able to contribute to Reed Smith’s professional environment. These remarkable people have assisted me in providing quality legal services to important firm clients, and live a healthy home life, all while managing a very challenging chronic medical condition.

WJ: My law practice is flourishing. I get to work with a variety of clients to help them navigate a plethora of legal issues. Not all of my clients know that I have a disability. It has not impacted my business or ability to practice law.

ML: My disability certainly makes it easier for me to relate to my clients. I strongly believe that the biggest difference between most lawyers isn’t in the way they work up and handle a case—it’s in the way they communicate with their clients. In most circumstances, a client could never know if a different lawyer might have been able to achieve a different outcome (better or worse) in their case. However, a client does know if the attorney they chose to represent them answered the phone (or returned voicemails), explained every step of the case as it was processing, and made them feel comfortable and understood. Because I have personal experience living with multiple disabilities, I can absolutely offer my clients empathy and make them feel understood in a way that another lawyer might not be able.

JS: I passed the bar on the first try if that’s what you’re asking. I got involved in appellate practice almost immediately at my law firm as a junior associate. I was good at it, and at the time the firm was looking to expand the practice. And I enjoyed it. So it was win-win all around. Like many young associates at law firms, I worked long hours. I also served as a utility guy at trials, being on-call back at the office to put together a memo or brief overnight on an issue that came up at the trial.

I never actually did a trial, but I have several deaf lawyer colleagues who have extensive trial experience. And again, at the time—I was plenty busy doing appellate and/or written advocacy work.

NG: Do you use any accommodations to assist you in your practice?

KF: I use Dragon NaturallySpeaking to dictate court documents, research memos, e-mails, etc. I have a Bob Barker microphone sitting on my desk at all times so that I can either dictate or make a phone call from the same equipment. My lung capacity is extremely diminished, but with the right technology and microphones, I am at the same level as my peers. I have a great secretary who goes above and beyond for me, so I do not think that is necessarily an accommodation! I think she is just an incredibly helpful and kind human being who understands that I might need help microwaving my coffee. In court, depositions, or in something like a client meeting, I never really travel alone—just in case. It is obviously impossible for me to type notes if I am also talking so having a paralegal or a junior associate in tow is a necessity. Honestly, throughout my entire life, I just figure it out as the need arises. Sometimes I need a microphone in court, sometimes it’s already there. I always plan in advance to make sure that places are physically accessible to me and make other arrangements if they are not. Thankfully, in this day and age, the practice of law is extremely digital, and frankly, I like this. I can be talking to a colleague in London while preparing a deposition notice for a client in California all from my desk in Chicago. It always fascinates me how connected we really are to one another. No matter where we are located.

KH: As I indicated before, Reed Smith has been supportive of my career, and my personal well-being, from day one and has provided me with adaptive equipment such as software for voice dictation and adjustable office equipment. Additionally, the firm has assisted me, my wife, and caregivers with travel accommodations. Most significantly, Reed Smith has allowed me to work with a flexible schedule, including telecommuting.

WJ: I typically use a screen reader, a screen magnifier, and speak to text software in my office.

ML: As the owner of my law firm I am in the unique position of being able to build my office and our systems around my limitations. I struggle to concentrate for long stretches of time. When I worked for other law firms in the past before starting my own, the rigidity of the workday was always a struggle for me. Now, my staff knows to not schedule me for long meetings where I won’t have the ability to get up and take a break. I have also been wise to hire other people who are strong where I am weak. I am the “idea guy” in my office, but if I were by myself it would be challenging for me (as it is for most people with severe ADHD) to implement many of my ideas. To work around that, I have hired people who are very task-oriented, with a strong attention to detail.

JS: I use Computer Assisted Real-Time (“CART”), which is also known as captioning. A courtroom reporter/captionist sits next to me and steno-types/captions what is being said and I read along on a computer screen. As far as I know, CART wasn’t being used for interpreting in schools until a guy at Stanford Law used it in the early 1990s. I, myself, didn’t even find out about it until my senior year of college and requested it in law school. It was an eye-opener. I probably loved going to class more than anyone in law school because I’d be able to understand everything that was being said for a change. I was like a kid in a candy store in law school. And my grades were a lot higher in law school than they were in college.

After that, I used CART on the job as well. Courtroom arguments, large meetings, conference calls, things like that. When I get assigned to argue a case in the court of appeals, I ask for CART. And usually whichever deputy clerk is handling the case gets responsibility for arranging interpreting. They ask me, “Do you know where I can find such a court reporter?” And I tell them, “You can usually find one at your local district court.” And they call up the district court and someone has the CART program.

And there are smaller accommodations. While I do have an accessible telephone, usually it’s faster to have my secretary or a colleague just call up the court or opposing counsel to get some information to pass along to me. My colleagues have been more than happy to assist in this regard, sometimes with humorous results.

A few years ago, I filed a brief in the Sixth Circuit that was rejected by the Clerk’s Office because it was not in conformance with the Court’s rules. Unfortunately, the Clerk’s order didn’t specify precisely what rule I had violated. I had actually clerked on the Sixth Circuit and I was well-familiar with the Court’s rules, and the brief looked fine to me. I asked my buddy Don across the hall to call up the Clerk’s Office and see if they could tell me what exactly was wrong with my brief so I could fix it.

Don calls up Cincinnati and gets connected with the deputy clerk who rejected my brief. He explains the situation, and I’m sitting on his chair next to him awaiting the answer. Then Don exclaims, “Oh, I see! Can he just file a new one? Ok, thank you—I’ll tell him.” He hangs up, turns to me grinning like a Cheshire cat and says, “John, you forgot to sign the brief.” Whoops.

And of course, I’m happy to reciprocate by taking over cases when my colleagues are not in a position to complete them for whatever reason. I’d like to think that we are all part of a team.

NG: Do your clients and peers acknowledge your disability? If so, how?

KF: My firm is supportive of Kevin Fritz. Not disabled Kevin Fritz. Just Kevin Fritz. I think that my firm is truly unique because it recognizes people for who they are. Sure I may come with some complicated scenarios, but I don’t think my situation is particularly different from any other attorney who might have their own unique requests/needs. My firm embraces diversity and difference. In fact, we have a new affinity group called All Abilities which I am the vice chair of. Our focus is to provide tools to empower the community and our internal employees, as well as clients to embrace diversity and inclusion metrics. Many of my peers and colleagues are members of this affinity group as allies and I think that’s awesome. The fact is that almost everyone will face some disabling condition at some point. Whether personally, or through a loved one, disability is a reality for many people.

Many of my clients honestly do not even know about my disability because it does not impact my ability to do a great job for them. Nor should it. Also, because I do not meet many of my clients in person as they are all over the country, it is completely irrelevant. And in the event that I do meet my clients in person, I think that they are proud of the work I do for them. Period.

KH: Yes, it is an important part of my personal and professional identity at the firm and in the legal community. At Reed Smith, it’s a big part of my job. Luke Debevec, a partner on our insurance recovery team in Philadelphia, and I are the co-founders of LEADRS in the U.S., which stands for “Looking For Excellence And Advancement of Individuals with Disability at Reed Smith.” This is a diversity affinity group that is a key part of Reed Smith’s global Diversity & Inclusion initiative.

LEADRS strives to support and enhance the professional, personal, and career development of individuals with disabilities of all types, physical and mental. We are increasingly focused on assisting individuals with nonvisible disabilities, such as persons with mental health and depression, which are difficult for people to discuss, and want to support people struggling with those challenges. It is an honor, not to mention invigorating, to assist in shaping the culture of a disability-smart organization. We lead by example and want to demonstrate that jobs for people with disabilities are both available and achievable at the top of the legal profession. Our aim is to be the law firm of choice for candidates with disabilities of all types.

WJ: Not at all.

ML: Because it is such a large part of my story, I am frequently asked to speak on the topic of succeeding in law with a disability.

JS: When I was at law firms, I’m not even sure clients knew that I was deaf. Communication about cases would be through email. To the extent that anything needed to be discussed over the phone, the clients usually talked to the billing partner.

With respect to peers, they acknowledged by attempting to accommodate my deafness. It was almost always little stuff. Assistance with phone calls now and then. Face-to-face office meetings rather than phone calls to discuss cases or projects. Things of that nature.

I was on a trip for a case in California last month and my computer would not accept the hotel’s WiFi. I needed that computer to get to my files so I could prepare for the argument the next morning. I emailed our tech guy back in DC from my smartphone and explained the situation, asking him to give me solutions in an email rather than over the phone. He did so, and I got the computer working again. Hence, I was able to do some last-minute research that ended up being an important part of my argument.

NG: Do you feel people take you seriously in your practice despite your disability? Do people treat you differently (positive and/or negative)? How do you address this in your practice?

KF: I think that there are certain people in this world who will never take me seriously. In elementary school, I experienced teachers who would separate me from academic projects out of fear I could not take the pressure. In high school, there were certain guidance counselors who just assumed I would go into trade school because I had no use of my arms and legs. In college, I would get looks sometimes when I told people I was going to run for student president or director of programming (positions of which I both secured and succeeded at). And even in law school, I remember students saying under their breath that I was the “affirmative action” student, and one was even so bold to ask if I was taking classes for credit because how could someone who cannot take notes keep up with the curriculum. These experiences will always be there. And there will always be people in work and my personal life who think I am less. I address it by embracing it, accepting their limitations to have an open mind, and I move on. On the flipside, practicing in public accommodation law, I think that people may take me more seriously because of my lived experiences of the ADA. Every single day of my life I am impacted by this statute. I would not be successful if it was not for the ADA, hands-down. Having that unique connection to this important law helps me navigate its complex nature with my clients and I think that those that know about my situation find it beneficial for their situation.

KH: Reed Smith as an organization, and the individuals here, from senior management, down, too many to name individually, have welcomed me as a person and attorney throughout my career. I have had amazing opportunities to work closely with remarkable people and practitioners both at the firm and with clients.

In fact, surviving and excelling as an executive or attorney with a disability in the workplace was the subject of a panel I helped create for Reed Smith’s 2017 Diversity Summit, which looked at different perspectives on Inclusion. It was a panel full of pioneers in disability diversity, with accomplished speakers from the UN Global Compact Guide for Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ABA Commission on Disability Rights, the City of New Haven Department of Services for Persons with Disabilities, the Deaf-Hearing Communication Centre, The Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University, Vanderbilt University, GSK, and others in Reed Smith senior management.

The speakers had an engaging discussion on “covering,” which is a form of self-imposed identity management, where one downplays or disassociates from their identity out of fear of stigma or retaliation. Covering can ultimately sabotage a company’s goal to create an inclusive environment. Rather, Reed Smith and LEADRS promote “self-identification,” which is literally the recognition of one’s own potential and value as an individual with unique qualities. Moreover, many of our clients are similarly dedicated to increasing opportunities and inclusion of individuals with a disability.

WJ: In working with me people are concerned about my knowledge of the law, the process they will have to go through, and how I communicate with them. Because of my command of the law, people take me seriously despite my disability. So, no I haven’t been treated differently.

ML: I think my clients take me more seriously because of my disabilities. When I have conversations with my clients about their experiences, I am able to speak from my own actual experience as opposed to making assumptions based on preconceived notions about what its like to live with a disability.

JS: I certainly hope so. There was a time not too long ago when deaf lawyers who used interpreting in court felt that judges were treating them with kid gloves because of misplaced pity. When the court ruled against the lawyer, the lawyer would express frustration—“If they had just asked me that issue at the argument, I would have explained it to them!”

I have not had that experience. Judges have indeed given me a hard time when they do not agree with the positions that the government is taking in a case. There are some judges who have reputations for being especially difficult with DOJ lawyers. Believe me—they have been difficult with me, too. They didn’t care at all that I was deaf. And that’s the way it should be.

As for my supervisors internally, they’re treating me like everyone else. There’s lots of work to go around, and I’ve been getting plenty of assignments (we all are). If my supervisors don’t like an argument I’ve made in a brief, they tell me to take it out.

NG: How has your disability helped you to be successful?

KF: My disability is my unique characteristic. Uniqueness is a major factor in success. If we were all the same, we would all be unsuccessful. I do not wake up thinking, “My life is terrible because I am disabled and I cannot move my physical body.” Instead, I wake up thinking, “I have an incredibly busy day ahead of me as an attorney at a huge law firm, so I will have to find a way to make it work no matter what.” The disability is a constant. Strategies to navigate the world with a disability is the key to my success. Anything can be accomplished with the right strategies.

KH: There are many measures of success in law. Helping other attorneys with physical and other types of disabilities has helped me be a better leader, lawyer, and person. Our affinity group’s name “LEADRS” was driven by the goals of striving to attract, develop, and retain individuals with disabilities; to serve our clients’ needs with the best-qualified professionals and people, and to take a leading role on these important issues. As a former LEADRS Associate Liaison and current board member, I also enjoy mentoring the personal and professional development of our attorneys with disabilities. This has given me a greater window into the different kinds of adversities that we, as individuals with disability, can face—which, you know, really comes in addition to the challenges and stress of just being an attorney at one of the largest law firms in the world, and in an increasingly competitive legal environment. Perhaps more than anything, having had to overcome numerous obstacles due to my disability, I have also applied that same determination and effort in the practice of law.

WJ: Unfortunately there is some stigma that comes with suffering from a disability. Some people think that because you are wheelchair bound or have trouble learning or have bad eyesight means that you cannot achieve greatness or live your life the way a “normal person” would. Personally and professionally I live my life with a purpose to prove them wrong.

ML: Without hesitation, yes. Although on my own I might not be the most organized person or have the best attention to detail, I think that my ADHD has been a creativity engine for me. The constant mind racing that I live with fuels many outlandish thoughts, but I have trained myself to develop my radical ideas into radical action by working with the talented people I surround myself with every day. While so many of my peers ask, “Why?” my attitude has always been to ask, “Why not?” Without ADHD, I don’t think I see my professional world through this same lens which has helped me achieve incredible success—both financially and in the satisfaction I have with my career—at such a young age.

JS: It’s difficult to answer that question because being deaf is all I’ve known in my life. I have no alternative experiences to which I could compare being deaf.

I am cognizant of deaf (and disability) history. There have been deaf lawyers before me that did not have the legal protections and technology that I (and my fellow deaf lawyer colleagues) enjoy today. I am very grateful for the paths they blazed. I hope that I am doing the same for tomorrow’s deaf lawyers.

NG: What advice would you give to a prospective law student who was nervous about entering the legal profession due to their disability?

KF: I would say that you should seriously consider your physical, emotional, and disability-related needs first and foremost. Figure out how you will manage those things on top of a busy workload. There are options, of course. Alternative work schedules, smaller firms, solo practices—those are strategies to navigate a disability when you are an attorney who wants to practice law and may have significant personal obstacles to overcome. But remember that your client is your priority and you need to make sure that you can organize your own needs as well as the needs of your client. Sometimes the client comes first and that is just the way it is. Asking yourself if you can put yourself and your needs second at times is the really important threshold question to entering the legal profession in my opinion. I think being a lawyer is incredibly difficult, incredibly challenging, but incredibly rewarding and I would not change a thing. Resolving conflict for your clients is the best for after you devote time and effort to their cause, no matter what side of the case caption you are on. I’m happy I chose to pursue this path.

KH: I would say be proud of who are, your strengths, and your courage in overcoming whatever challenges you face, both personally and in your career path. In this way, we can be voice and inspiration for all people, whether or not they have a disability. So, I would also say get involved and be a leader. Furthermore, I encourage people to ask for assistance when they need it—be proactive in informing an employer about your disability and how they can help support you. If a person remains silent about their disability, whether out of concern for stigma, lack of opportunity, or retaliation, it is very difficult for the employer to provide the necessary accommodations which might otherwise lead to greater inclusion, opportunities, and achievement.

Also, talk to us. Reed Smith is committed to widening its outreach to seek qualified attorneys from the widest talent pool to increase the firm’s diversity in all of its manifestations. We partner with clients, law schools, and disability law organizations with similar programs for persons with disabilities to help increase the visibility and inclusion of attorneys with disabilities of all types, visible, nonvisible, physical, and mental.

WJ: Utilize the resources that are available to you. Also, understand that sometimes we let our present circumstances control our future, in that everything that we think of ourselves, of what we can accomplish or not accomplish is based on our current situation. But if we are really going to be successful, if are really going to start to pursue the life you love, you have to ask yourself these questions: Are you willing to that very thing that you are scared of doing? Are you willing to get out of your comfort zone?

Are you willing to endure the scraps, scratches, and bruises that come with being successful in the legal profession? Are you willing to use the negative things that people may say to you, think about you as fuel to propel you to your greatness? If the answer to each of these questions is yes, then I’d say go for it, bearing in mind that anyone that has ever been great has had to overcome obstacles and break barriers.

ML: Everything is possible. Perform an honest analysis of your talents and weaknesses. Spend as much time as possible focusing every day on those areas that are strengths for you, and figure out how you can minimize the relevance or importance in your daily life of those areas that you determine are weaknesses. I know this works because I do it every day!

JS: I do not have the experiences with respect to other disabilities. But with respect to deaf prospective law students, I would tell them that it gets easier every year. For example CART program in 1993 when I first started law school it still had a two-or-three second delay in translation. That type of lag can matter in an argument. Today, it’s virtually instantaneous. With respect to actually practicing law, a deaf person should not worry about their deafness being an issue.

That being said, there are challenges to overcome. While there are several deaf lawyers who have made partner at their respective firms, I believe that most of them are “service” partners doing work and are not the rainmakers at their firms. Convincing clients to have a deaf lawyer be “first chair” and/or the primary source of contact for a matter is still a challenge. But that’s really a discussion for another day…

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