I’ve discussed the roots of the expanding pool of the d/Deaf lawyer (for better or worse). Now, the next logical step is to look at what the future Deaf lawyers will look like. This is just my educated guess from my experiences with Deaf Culture, current trends in law schools and law itself.
Fortunately, law is slowly opening its doors to people with disabilities. It’s just a crack, but it’s a start. There are quite a few d/Deaf lawyers at BigLaw Firms (for you non-lawyers out there, BigLaw firms are big corporate firms with more than 150 or 200 attorneys). Also, there are numerous of d/Deaf lawyers in public interest, government and smaller law firms as well. These trends bode well for any d/Deaf person entering law school.
It’s given that there will be an steady increase of d/Deaf law students, hopefully an exponential rise . My hope is that the number of d/Deaf lawyers will reach critical mass and produce an organized professional association of our own. At my school, the Black Law Student Association (BLSA) and the Latino American Law Student Association (LALSA) are incredible networking tools. The members help each other get prestigious firms, clerkships, government or public interest jobs. These minority groups represent a real voice pushing for inclusion in the mostly-white-and-affluent law firm world. I must admit, I am a bit envious of their networking power and ability to convince prestigious employers to consider other factors other than grades and the school’s name.
Now, the question is, where is our voice? There have been efforts to establish official professional groups for Deaf and hard of hearing lawyers (I’m not sure what its name was, so I apologize in advance). However, the effort fell apart because of the internal split in the deaf community along ASL/oral/CI lines. Unfortunately, the internal turmoil in the deaf community has (perhaps irreparably) fragmented the d/Deaf lawyers. We cannot advocate for an industry-wide change in how employers view lawyers with disabilities without a strong group advocating for ourselves. An unified voice is much stronger than scattered individual voices.
Of course, there is the National Association of Law Students with Disabilities (http://nalswd.org/) which is a wonderful organization. However, I do think that d/Deaf lawyers face unusual resistance from employers. In such a communication-heavy profession, many employers feel leery about hiring a d/Deaf lawyer. We need a group that actually does understand d/Deaf people’s unique needs to be able to advocate for the idea that deafness can be seen as a strength, perhaps even a “diversity” factor, and not necessarily a crippling liability.
Also, I am curious about how Cochlear Implants (CIs) will affect the face of the typical d/Deaf lawyer. Honestly, I don’t see a problem with the impeding rise of lawyers with CIs. I can only hope that things will be easier for them than it has been for other d/Deaf lawyers thus far. However, the only concern I have with lawyers and CIs is diversity. From my own experiences (and trust me, I’ve met many people with CIs,) the most successful Deaf people with implants tend to come from affluent families.
The correlation between implant success and affluence shouldn’t be surprising. Affluent families are more likely to have insurance coverage that will provide funds for CI surgery and processors. Also, affluent families tend to have more time and resources to devote to their children, ensuring that they master the AVT approach. Of course, one can say, “same old, same old.” Perhaps that person is right – historically, law has been a white-shoe, predominantly white and affluent profession. However, that is changing today, and I’m glad about that. Moreover, people should try to change this aspect of law – after all, lawyers have an incredible power to change people’s lives. We need diverse viewpoints to implement this power in an equitable and understanding way.
Unfortunately, affluent families tend to be white Anglo-Saxons. I’m afraid that d/Deaf lawyer population will remain predominantly white. As a minority myself, I’m not entirely comfortable with that idea. I have to struggle whether to conform to the white and “hearing” culture or stay true to my heritage, as an double minority. Moreover, I don’t want my allegiances to conflict with each other (and they have before). I would love to see some progress in this area. I hope the rise in the d/Deaf lawyer population will cure this problem, but I’m not so sure it will. Perhaps I am asking too much, but I can always dream, can’t I?