Cultural Barriers?

One interesting thing that I’ve noticed about myself and other law students is our cultural differences. I won’t pretend that I have fully immersed myself in the Deaf community (how could I have done so? I grew up in a mainstream educational environment and went to a hearing university), but I have adopted some of the patterns that we see in Deaf people.

One thing I love and hate about the Deaf culture is its propensity for bluntness. It can be slightly uncomfortable when someone says “oh my goodness, you lost soooooooooooo much weight! You were sure fat before!” One part of me always cringes because in the “hearing world,” that is a big no-no and it’s difficult to respond politely. At the same time, it’s refreshing to get rid of the fakeness and euphemisms that defines “polite society.”

The legal world is something different. It’s not just the professionalism, but it is the uber-formal atmosphere. After all, this profession revels in formality: one has to follow specific court procedures, to adopt specific writing structures and use obscure language. Moreover, once you get into the ranks of elite law schools and/or firms, you go out to fancy restaurants.  The average “BIGLAW” associate earns $160,000 dollars a year in a firm in a major market (usually New York, Washington, DC, San Francisco, Chicago or Los Angeles). That kind of money opens up a huge stratum of society that may not have been available to you before.

This has proved to be one of the more daunting parts of law school for me. Of course, this is not exclusively due to my involvement in the Deaf Culture – it also has to do with the fact that I do not come from an upper-class family and the town that I grew up in isn’t exactly urbane. However, I find myself at a loss of words when my peers talk about going to Aspen for a skiing vacation, going out to dinner at a five-star restort and being able to shop at the most expensive stores. This kind of cultural schism engenders a stange feeling inside of me – the feeling of not quite belonging. Of course a person could say, so what? Money isn’t a big part of being a cultured person or even a good lawyer. That is true, but the issue before us today is how one’s culture background can affect one’s success in the legal profession.

People like me who are part of a minority cultures do suffer from one major disadvantage that is usually invisible – the lack of connections. I do not want to overuse the buzz word, “network,” but networking has shown itself to be an important part of the professional world. Both of my parents are in the educational profession and their interaction with the world of law is quite minimal (as they are law-abiding citizens). This is in stark contrast with many of my peers whose parent or family friends are partners at law firms. These people can ask for references from these family friends, while many minority members who are more like me, cannot do that.

In such a connection-heavy profession, any kind of assistance can be invaluable for a lawyer, no matter where s/he works: at the state attorney’s office, a small law firm or a large corporate law firm. Also, it can be a lonely world, especially for a d/Deaf lawyer, because not that many of our peers understand our life or professional experiences. Most connections are made on the basis of similarities. That is why you hear stories about a person giving an individual a job because s/he went to the same undergraduate institution or grew up in the same town. That is the way that the world works, like it or not and the d/Deaf and hard of hearing individual usually struggles in this respect. This is why I think having a more cohesive and unified support system for d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing lawyers would be a major step into a future of increased inclusiveness. However, as long as this group remains split along the cultural lines, I do not see this happening. This split is quite shortsighted and will only hurt the growth of the d/Deaf and hard of hearing lawyer population.

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5 responses to “Cultural Barriers?

  1. Pingback: » Cultral Barriers or Disunity?

  2. Having worked in a law publishing company for ten years, I can relate about the various social strata in lawyers that we do publishing for…some are sneakers and blue jeans lawyers who do editing and analysis, and other are big name corporate or torts lawyers that you have read about in the papers.

    There are websites that cater to d/Deaf lawyers that you could join up with. Most important is to stay close to your own roots, even if in a different profession like education. And if working with people, not corporations, stay close to other Deaf people even if you are not culturally Deaf…they have a humbling influence that will help your work greatly.

  3. This is an interesting insight in the world of Lawyers. I can understand where you’re coming from in terms of money, lol.

    After living in New York, it is kind of mind-boggling how connections seem to get you farther than many other things like education, experience and so forth.

    -Ben

  4. Congrats, I’m thrilled that you are in law school and sharing your experience. I’m a 2L myself (or 2->3L now that it’s summer) and I am not Deaf but my life partner of 12 years is and we have a signing home. It’s terrific to see more and more ASL-users going in to the legal field. Where I live there are no d/Deaf lawyers that I know of but I am friends with a CODA attorney and I refer my Deaf friends to her for advice and representation. It would be nice to have a directory of both Deaf lawyers and Deaf-friendly lawyers and law offices. I hope that a terrific firm steps up to the plate and hires you, in my experience many Deaf professionals work harder and smarter than their peers 🙂
    Keep it up and best wishes.

  5. I come from an upper middle class family and know very well the divide that’s there when around others who are not from the upper middle class. It can be lonely and you feel you have to justify everything you are which is ridiculous. However, I’ve found it both with the hearing and the deaf (myself being deaf). Imagine the strangeness of being a deaf law student from the upper middle class with fellow hearing law students who are not from the upper middle class and reliving that same “schism” there….
    So many layers to ponder—
    😉

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