To DEAFLAW Or Not To DEAFLAW

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. 
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7 responses to “To DEAFLAW Or Not To DEAFLAW

  1. Deaf people can do anything including steal, kill, rape, commit crimes except hear. However, deaf people will not snitched on other deaf people to the hearing police

  2. Not snitch deaf people to the hearing police? How idiotic is that?

    What if this deaf person keeps raping deaf women? Would you keep enabling this guy to victimize Deaf people???

    I disagree with you. Deaf people needs to be accountable for their crimes, just like their hearing peers.

  3. I know know a few deaf people who turn in other deaf people to law, for the sake of law. Snitching? No… just to keep the streets safe.

    Snitching is more rampant in the prisons where the consequences are more severe. Then better to obey laws than to break them… I’d not want to serve my time in prisons… no thanks.

  4. What a bunch of non-sequiturs. 🙂 Thank you for bringing this issue out in the mainstream Deaf community. It’s really up to the Deaf lawyer; I would rather hope that he/she can serve a broad range of clientele, be they deaf or hearing, and on a wide range of issues.

    I’m going to throw up some cliches; fair warning given! 🙂 Don’t put all of your eggs into one basket; diversify. Practicing DEAFLAW is analogous to putting all your eggs into one basket. For a while, times may be good, even great. But an unfortunate & unforseen event (a la Buckhannon), and your business is ruined.

  5. Oy you read my mind! If I had a dime for every time a Deaf person exclaims upon finding that I am a lawyer – “GREAT you can help us Deafies!” I would be be richer than a law firm partner!

    I have a few Deaf Lawyers as friends, and they all have a wide range of interests just like I do. I do not think you owe it to the Deaf community to limit your scope of practice. It is like saying a Native-American lawyer has to practice Native-American law or represent solely/mostly Native Americans, a gay person has to practice gay rights law (or represent solely/mostly gay people).

    I agree wholeheartedly that having Deaf people performing non-traditionally “deaf” jobs has positive implications. However I must beg to differ with one of your points. I do not think an interpreter provides the same comprehensive communication as a fluent ASL signer. No matter how wonderful an interpreter may be, s/he is no substitute for the interpersonal interaction a deaf person gets by communicating directly with another ASL signer (I am not saying a Deaf attorney because I want to include CODA lawyers or attorneys who are fluent in ASL). This is especially important in sensitive situations where a Deaf person’s rights are at stake – such as when he is being accused of a crime (this goes both ways – bad PD or a clever Deaf person getting away because the DA does not know how to communicate with him to expose his guilt – I have heard stories from a DA about deaf suspects getting off despite strong evidence because of lack of communication).

    So, I think it is important that there are Deaf attorneys who have the desire to practice DEAFLAW, but there are plenty of Deaf attorneys to go around today – some can practice DEAFLAW, some can practice whatever. Don’t succumb to outside pressure – you are investing too much time and money on your education – dont practice what others want you to.

  6. Interesting post… I am planning to go to law school within few years. (I am taking few years off from school.)My interests are in Civil and Criminal Laws. You have NO idea how many deaf people would tell me that they expects me to represent them. I would only if they pay my fees… And if their cases interest me. OR if I am appointed to represent them. That’s all. I don’t care if they are deaf or hearing. It irks me that they think just because I am deaf that I would give them more attention or whatever. But that’s not going to happen.

  7. I totally agree if DOJ can truly penalize non-compliance lawyers. It did not happen. My case got dismissed with 3 attorneys who refused to provide a sign language interpreter. It is an eye-opener when DOJ is being faciliated by attorneys, are attorneys confused with the difference of loyalty among attorneys and ADA laws are meant to be enforced as well? Which factor comes first, my answer lies above.

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