There are some ‘schools of thought’ (and I use that term very loosely), that think that d/Deaf lawyers should go into DEAFLAW in order to become “real” Deaf lawyers. Just to clarify, a general practitioner practices DEAFLAW by providing legal services to only/mostly d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing clients. Usually, DEAFLAW will consist of criminal proceedings, divorces, wills, and some ADA/Social Security thrown in for fun. There are some people that feel that d/Deaf lawyers who decide not to go into this particular field are “selling out” and doing a grave disservice to the community.
I beg to differ. I’m of the school of thought that “people should do whatever they are interested in, period.” I would think that the more d/Deaf lawyers that get into diverse practices, the more exposure our hearing peers get to d/Deaf lawyers. Increased exposure is a good thing. If more hearing lawyers see d/Deaf lawyers practicing and succeeding, they will see that it is possible for a d/Deaf lawyer to flourish in a professional environment that values oral and writing skills. Increased respect within the legal community is just as important as serving the d/Deaf community. Moreover, if a d/Deaf lawyer practices in a large corporate firm, that person is in a powerful position because prestige is a highly-vaunted currency in the legal community. Once our peers see d/Deaf lawyers in powerful positions, there won’t be as many attitudinal obstacles that hinders most d/Deaf lawyers and law students. Fortunately, with more and more d/Deaf lawyers entering the profession, the ability for d/Deaf lawyers to enter diverse legal (or even non-legal) professions is growing. That’s a good (perhaps even great) thing, not a bad thing.
I do not mean to suggest that the d/Deaf community does not have needs that could be better served by d/Deaf lawyers. Of course, it IS easier for two people who use the same language to communicate with each other. Just the fact that it is easier doesn’t mean that we should blindly encourage d/Deaf law students to enter DEAFLAW. We do have the ADA that requires a lawyer to hire an interpreter if he/she has a Deaf client. However, we do need to encourage real enforcement of this law – not just wrist-slaps. This has more to do with informing the d/Deaf community of their rights and demanding that the Department of Justice (DOJ) truly penalize non-compliant lawyers. If the ADA truly lived up to its promise, perhaps we wouldn’t feel such a need to get d/Deaf lawyers to practice DEAFLAW.
In all and all, I believe that you should practice whatever you want to practice. If that’s DEAFLAW, that’s great. If not, that’s great too. All reasonably successful d/Deaf lawyers will benefit the community, one way or another.
Just a side note: I might be “selling out” by aspiring to a large law firm, but I do want to do some pro bono cases that serves the d/Deaf community. Therefore, I am not completely morally bankrupt. 🙂
Also, thank you (and you know who you are) to the people who talked to me about this subject.