I’ve never been one of these people who bemoan the fact that I am Deaf. I figure that my life is pretty damn good, so I have no right to complain about it. However, I have noticed a few unexpected benefits of being Deaf in law school (perhaps even in law?) Of course, this is only from my experiences, as limited as they may be. Also, I do not mean to say that being d/Deaf does not suck sometimes. It can be frustrating at some points, but sometimes you do get rewarded.
The Advantages of Being Deaf
Apologies for my blog neglect! I have been mired in the world of brief-writing.
People tend to have two types of reactions when they meet me in law school: (1) respect or (2) utter disbelief. Thankfully, most people fall into the former category. I can say that I get more respect than a random guy who went to law school because his parents are lawyers and he didn’t know what else to do. I remember when I did my oral argument, the “judges” were impressed with how I handled such a verbal endeavor. Other law students and professors know what it takes to get into law school and most of them can’t help but respect what a d/Deaf person overcomes to get there. For the latter category, well…they will learn eventually. Of course, that does not make them any less annoying.
Being d/Deaf in an overwhelmingly hearing profession makes you stand out. It makes you memorable. Of course, being unique can be good or bad. However, it is unlikely anyone will forget your name or confuse you with someone else. Honestly, how many d/Deaf lawyers do hearing people meet in a lifetime? Unfortunately, it is not a lot. It is nice to be remembered and recognized, even though it invariably means that your entire school knows about you.
EDIT: in order to clarify some confusion – I intended that the rhetorical question, “how many d/Deaf lawyers do people meet in a lifetime?” apply only to hearing people. The d/Deaf world is incredibly small and tight-knit, so many d/Deaf people have met d/Deaf lawyers (and live to tell the tale!)
This might sound like an odd advantage, but I like the fact that I am consistently underestimated. I think it’s much better to be underestimated than overestimated because you can prove them all wrong, dazzling them in the process. Of course, it hurts that you are underestimated because of your hearing, but in the end, it can help. What can I say, I would rather be the Red Sox than the Yankees in the 2004 World Series (or was it 2005?) Some of you might think that the fact that I am underestimated contradicts the respect I receive. That’s not necessarily true – you can still respect someone while underestimating them.
As most Deaf kids, I had to deal with a lot of accommodation issues when I was growing up. That experience actually gave me the self-confidence to really self-advocate. I just take the skills that I developed for myself (advocacy) and parlay that into my profession – after all, lawyers are paid to advocate for their clients.
This might be an unique observation of mine, but I find the Deaf community to be an argumentative lot. I do not mean to insult anyone but, I must admit, I do think Deaf people tend to argue things to death. Look at the CI/oral/ASL debate. The argumentative quality actually helped me because I learned how to defend any position that I want to defend. As a lawyer, you are paid for your argumentative skills.
I must admit, even though I can speak well and carry on a conversation comfortably, the spoken word was never completely natural to me. For me, writing became an outlet where I was truly an equal with others. In a verbal conversation, I might mispronounce something or misunderstand a word. It’s different in the world of pen and paper. In the world of the written word, I am equal to my hearing peers. Fortunately, that world is also the lawyer’s world. 95% of what a lawyer does is written work, such as: drafting contracts, writing memos, motion briefs and appellate briefs. Luckily for me, I’m quite comfortable in that world and I know what it is like to have the written word as your best friend. It is not to say that I am (or any other d/Deaf lawyer) inept at oral advocacy. Since speaking is more of a cognitive task for me than it is for my hearing peers, I find that I think more about what I say before I say it. That is not a bad thing at all. Oftentimes, I come off as more articulate and prepared than my hearing peers because I actually think about what I say before I say it.
Law school is full of neurotic overachievers who will have a nervous breakdown if they get a B or a C. I’m glad to say that being Deaf made me less susceptible to these emotional breakdowns. I know there are worse things out there. I also know there are people living much tougher lives. That knowledge helps me keep that emotional center that one needs to go through the pressure-cooker that they call law school.
As I mentioned above, these are merely my observations and thoughts. Feel free to add onto my list and/or comment.