Category Archives: Law School

Question? It’s An Answer.

Questions, questions and few answers. Welcome to the life of a lawyer.

This semester, I am participating in a clinic where we serve indigent clients. (The idea of representing a real and live person is absolutely frightening though). My clinical experience has shown itself to be an incredible and unparalleled learning experience. One of the key lessons that I learned (and am still learning) is the importance of questioning

You may think that the act of questioning is solely confined to depositions or client interviews, situations where you are actively trying to get information from someone else. Not true. A competent laywer must question everything she does, sees or learns about. You must constantly question your next move – is this truly necessary? Does this action serve the clients’ objectives?  if you don’t, you may veer off-course and end up wasting your and your client’s time. Also, you must question everything you disclose – is this confidential? Did my client approve? Most of all, you must question your assumptions – you know the saying, when you assume, you make an ASS out of U and ME. Just imagine, doing that in a professional and legal setting, where the stakes are high – ouch. 

Most law students (including me) are loath to question – we think it makes us look incompetent and dumb. In fact, it’s a sign of truly competent and intelligent lawyering. You need to know all of the facts and underlying assumptions to get the right answer. 

Now, you may be asking yourself, how is this relevant to me as a d/Deaf/HOH person and a non-lawyer? Well, it is. 

One thing I find to be very disturbing about some of us d/Deaf/HOH folks is the reluctance to question hearing people.  Of course, this is fairly common among any population, but I fear that d/Deaf/HOH people suffer the most from the consequences. If you don’t question the doctor about his or her diagnosis because “its just too difficult to communicate” – it’s your life. If it is a legal proceeding, if you do not question why you are not getting the necessary accommodations – the consequences could be grave. 

There’s something uniquely repressive about being d/Deaf/HOH – people have a tendency to give us limited information. You know that famous phrase, “oh never-mind,” after you ask a question –  that I’m sure more than a few of you have heard. The “never-mind” phrase is one of the most toxic phrases anyone can tell a d/Deaf/HOH person. It discourages that person from questioning, from getting answers and encourages complacency. By making us feel that we are being “difficult” for asking questions, these never-minders makes the act of questioning a negative thing, which is the furthest thing from the truth. Also, it puts the hearing person into the coveted position of an information-holder, establishing an aura of superiority. One of the saddest phrases I’ve ever heard a d/Deaf person say was, “you’re hearing, you know everything!” (Obviously, not to me, ha!). Just because some hearing people withhold information (usually out of convenience, frustration and neglect), doesn’t make them any better (or more well informed) than any of us. 

If d/Deaf/HOH people questioned more, pushed more, maybe, just maybe, people would rethink their assumptions and discriminatory attitudes towards d/Deaf/HOH folks. If you ask why you are not getting the necessary accommodations, you may discover that some people have misguided assumptions. Once we get these assumptions out in the open, then we can counter them. For example, many people’s insnict is to equate the inability or difficulty in verbal communication with inability to think or reason. That assumption is, at best, misguided and , at worst, discriminatory. Once people realize they are assuming this and this assumption is wrong…maybe it will be easier for a d/Deaf/HOH person to succeed at whatever she wants to do. 

So being a compentent lawyer is not so different from being a successful d/Deaf/HOH person. 

Questions? 🙂

Interview Accommodations

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I thought that I would share my accommodations experience during my interviews last fall. It was quite interesting to see how private law firms dealt with it, which gave me a great picture of what it would be like to work there.

It is important to note that what works for me, may not work for everyone (somehow, a lot of people have trouble with that idea). Since I do get fatigued easily when I am reading lips and listening hard, I chose to have an sign language interpreter with me for all of my interviews.  I felt that, in order to be a professional; I had to make sure I understood everything. It was also a good way for me to let the interviewer know that I was deaf, without turning it into a surprise. So, that in mind, my advice here is quite biased towards people who use sign language, but hopefully there are some tidbits in here for everyone.

Since there were two stages of the interview process, I will handle them separately.

On-Campus Interviews

Since all of the preliminary interviews were on-campus (they are called screening interviews), I was able to obtain a sign language interpreter through my school. I did a few things that were hel

  • Consistency – I liked to use the same interpreter for the majority of the interviews. I always like to build a relationship with an interpreter so I don’t need to tell him/her about my preferences all the time.
  • Age/Gender – I must admit, I’m picky. I strongly prefer young-ish female interpreters. I don’t like older interpreters because they give off a mommy-vibe. (I’ve been asked more than once if an older interpreter was my mother – aw-kward.)
  • Introductions – I always, always introduced my interpreters and how to “use” them at the beginning of the interviews. Many people have no clue of what to do. It stinks, but I felt like it was my responsibility to tell them what to do.
  • Be a HardAss – in terms of interpreters, I made it very clear to the agency that the interpreter had to (1) dress in a suit, preferably a dark suit; and (2) be 10 minutes early. I absolutely hate it when interpreters dress sloppily or arrive late, it reflects badly upon me. This is employment we are talking about, no fooling around here!

Call-backs

Callbacks were 2-3 hour-long interview at the law firm’s office. Usually you meet with several people from that law firm, partners, counsel, senior associates and junior associates. After I got invited back, I called or emailed the recruiting coordinator to set up an interview. When I talked to the recruiting coordinator, I also set up sign language interpreters through her or him.

  • Come Prepared – I don’t mean come prepared for the interview (although you should do that too!), but be prepared to refer the law firm to an interpreter agency. They have no clue what they are doing, so I think it’s fair to help them out. Since I am not orginially from the area that I interviewed at, I asked around about the best interpreting agency, and it worked out well for me. However, I have talked to other Deaf law students and some of them actually reserved the interpreters themselves. I didn’t do this, mostly because I didn’t have a strong preference or experience with the interpreters in the area. So, do what works for you.
  • Rinse and Repeat – I tried to approach call-backs in the same way that I approached my screening interviews – explaining the role of the interpreters, blah blah.
  • Transparency – I really tried to be transparent about what I wanted as a summer associate, accommodations-wise. Some may think this conversation may put off some employers, which is probably true. My take is that the employer should know what s/he is getting into. I would much rather work somewhere that knows what I want and is willing to meet my needs.  

Surprisingly, only one law firm tried to sneak out of paying for interpreter (I expected more would do that). In that situation, I mentioned the ADA, and poof, all of the protests dissolved. I guess its one good thing about looking for a job at larger law firms, they know their ADA obligations. 

Discrimination and the Deaf Law Student

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I was looking over my blog posts and I realized that I may come off as sanguine about discrimination. I realized that my constant assertions that discrimination is from ignorance may make discrimination seem more benign. Not true. In fact, subconscious and implicit discrimination is the most insidious form there is. 

Don’t get me wrong – I experience discrimination in varying modes every single day. The clerk who looks at me funny because I didn’t hear something he or she said is discriminatory. The professor who never calls on me because he or she “doesn’t want to deal with it” is discriminatory. The law student who doubts that I can ever succeed at a job as tough as a lawyer is discriminatory. An employer who doubts that I can do the job just because I am Deaf is discriminatory.

So, you may wonder why I seem to deny the existence of audism – I don’t. I merely hate the word because it is so widely misunderstood by the hearing culture. As I mentioned in a previous post, audism is an implicit comparison to racism and that gets us nowhere wit the hearing community. For whatever reason, they feel that discrimination based on ability to hear is more justified than merely skin color because it is based on ability. The American idea of equality has so much to do with ability and meritocracy, and somehow, that twisted into the idea that anyone who needs assistance or accommodations are not truly equal. That idea is truly deluded because, as people frequently point out, if there were captions everywhere and everyone knew sign or some kind of visual communication method, D/deaf and HOH people would not be ‘disabled.’ Moreover, ability should refer to the ability to think, infer and, with others, get the job done. Individualism is so overrated in our society – why is it so bad to help each other overcome our personal limitations (we all have them, regardless of hearing)?

As twisted the idea of equality and meritocracy is in our society, the question is – how do we defeat that persistent idea that if we give a helping hand to someone, it’s unfair and oppressive. We haven’t been able to eradicate racism, sexism and other -isms in our society, so how do we confront audism (i am only using this word so people know what I mean)?

I don’t pretend to know the answer, and I’m not entirely sure my approach is the most effective one, but it fits my personality the best. Since discrimination based on ‘presumed inability’ is based on exactly that – the idea that we can’t. Hopefully, as more d/Deaf/HOH people show that they can, the they-can’t-do-that naysayers will be silenced by yes-they-can sayers as more people realize assistance is not a bad thing. 

Of course, like everything, this is easier said than done. In reality, due to the structure of the workplace, educational system, heck, the world, d/Deaf/HOH will need more “help” – i.e. assistance to overcome the structural barriers – but society needs to stop seeing this as a bad thing. When has help and assistance, when necessary, been bad? People without hearing impairments get help all the time, but it is just invisible (using sound to communicate helps them). Until we get rid of this macho-super-individual-I-never-need-help idea, I fear that discrimination “because of” disability will persist.

Big Bad Private Practice Wolf

As you probably know from my previous post – I have a summer associateship at a law firm this summer. I would like to share some of my musings about the whole interview process. Disregard as you may, but I think it was an interesting experience.

Frankly, I was a bit nervous entering the search for a private-sector job. I worked at non-profits and government jobs throughout my life, so I approached the big bad wolf of private enterprise very cautiously.  I had a preconceived notion that businesses were all about the bottom line, and being a Deaf woman, I thought I would not fit into the bottom line. However, I found out that it wasn’t that bad.

At my school, we have something called On-Campus Recruitment – literally hundreds of employers, mostly large law firms, come and interview with up to 50 students. This resulted in about 30 interviews for me (I wanted to play it safe – especially because I had no idea how employers would react to my Deafness and, of course, the economy, although the economy was not as bad back then as it is today). It was an exhausting affair – but not as bad as I expected.

Ultimately, I ended up with nine callbacks, which is when the employer invites you back to their offices for more interviews. This was actually more than most of my fellow students. I have a theory about why I was relatively successful in the private sector interviews over some of my other peers, despite some alleged disadvantages.

  • Preparation – despite the fact I can speak fairly well, I am not so great at spontaneous speaking. I need to think things through, figure out pronunciation and how I approach the topic before I speak. As I mentioned before, speaking is more of a cognitive task for me – it’s work for me. But my preparation (figuring out exactly how to explain my interest in the law firm, why I went to law school, etc.) resulted in me being better spoken than some of my peers who may have relied on their spontaneous speaking ability too much.
  • Directness  – I did not hide the fact that I was Deaf. Quite the opposite – I even brought a sign language interpreter to my interviews. I was open about the fact that I was looking for a firm that would support my needs. In my mind, if I was an employer, I would much rather know up-front about what an employee needs in order to function properly.
  • Confidence – This point is related to my previous point – since I did not feel like I was “faking” by either (1) not bringing a sign language interpreter with me to make sure I understood everything that is said; or (2) hiding my Deafness, I felt more confident walking into the interviews. A lot of people, regardless of deafness, try to hide their true self during interviews and it usually doesn’t work. I think that principle rings especially true for d/Deaf persons – both sides are cheated if the d/Deaf person fakes it, the employee and the employer. The employer doesn’t know how to deal with the d/Deaf employee because the said employee did not fully disclose everything. The Employee is stuck with mediocre (if any) accommodations and potentially unwelcoming atmosphere.

One other point – I was surprised how more willing larger law firms were in hiring me. I interviewed with some mid-sized firms and even though my qualifications were great for them and the interview went well, there were no callbacks. I compared notes with other d/Deaf law students and they also experienced this phenomenon. Of course, this is completely anecdotal, but humor me here. My theory about this trend is that large law firms have plenty of resources, so they are not as fazed about the idea of paying for accommodations. Mid-sized employers, however, are a different story. They seemed more concerned about the bottom line (despite the fact that they do well for themselves).

This is not to imply that I did not make mistakes during my interviews. To be honest, I was a nervous wreck during my first few interviews – stuttering, sweating and the whole works – a miserable failure. However, with 30 interviews, I was able to work out the kinks. By the end of the on-campus interviewing cycle, I was a pro. In fact, the firm that I will work for this summer was my final interview.

Stayed tuned… 

A Secret for Succeeding?

I’m afraid that I don’t have the secret to succeeding, but I have made a few observations about successful d/Deaf people. There seems to be two kinds of successful d/Deaf lawyers: one that becomes a tireless advocate for d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing issues, usually enveloping oneself in Deaf culture OR being a successful attorney. The former is great for people who want to pursue that goal and is somewhat easier to do, But what about the latter? It’s indisputable that it’s harder to succeed in the “hearing” world – there are more doubts, more skepticism and frankly, a LOT more ignorance.

One thing that I’ve observed is that it is crucial to understand the hearing world and their attitude towards deafness. I do understand the instinct to reject the hearing world as “oppressive,” “discriminatory,” and “audistic.” Honestly, I HATE the word audism – it implies a conscious intent to demote deaf people, and most of the time this is not true. Most hearing people have never met a deaf person before and their only frame of reference is TV, books and their imagination. Of course they will think that deafness is a huge burden, so would you if you lost your sight suddenly. Of course, some people, even if they are educated about deaf culture/ways of life, still discriminate against deaf people. They are bigots and shortsighted fools. It is dangerous to compare racism and audism because to a vast majority of people, you cannot compare a disability to race.

The prickly attitude about “audistic” hearing people will only get in your way if you aspire to professional success in a hearing-dominated field (like law). These sentiments will alienate your co-workers and bosses, and frankly, you become a difficult person to work with. What most people want is a competent co-worker/employee who WORKS WELL with others. If you harbor insidious feelings of hatred and resentment towards everyone else, how nice can you be? The hearing world values propriety, politeness and above all, conformity.

I’m not saying these values that I listed above are necessarily “good,” but that’s reality. To beat the game, you must play the game. If you want to see more fellow d/Deaf people become successful, they will have to conform to some degree to the hearing customs. For example, I know it’s not normal to expect people to form instant bonds with me like we do in the Deaf culture. I accept that, because otherwise, I would be perpetually disappointed and I would be “weird.”

Hopefully a story will illustrate my point. A few days ago, I asked a co-worker to tell me where to drop off some paperwork. He insisted on leading me to this place and proceeded to tell the human resources officer that “she can read lips really well.” Did I want to strangle him? Hell, yes. Did I make a snarky remark? No, I just smiled and said, “thank you very much for your help, I’ll be fine on my own next time.” There’s an old adage that you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

One does not need a cochlear implant or hearing aids or other fancy technologies to understand how to succeed. One must relate to the hearing world, particularly in a personality-centric field like law. These are your peers, like it or not and they have a lot of power until the day that you rise through the ranks and seize that power for yourself.

The Rise of the Modern Deaf Lawyer

            If you think that the Deaf community is small, try the d/Deaf lawyer community. The best estimates thus far, according to www.deafattorneys.com, estimates that there is 170 or so d/Deaf lawyers. That’s not much, if you think about how many d/Deaf people there are. Just to put it in perspective, there are approximately10 million with some degree of hearing loss, 1 million functionally deaf people. http://jdsde.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/11/1/112. However, things are getting better. There are more and more d/Deaf students in law schools across the country. What’s notable is that there are more and more prelingually and/or ASL-using Deaf persons entering law school.

            To be honest, most of the d/Deaf lawyers (and I emphasize, most, not all) that I’ve met were either oral or late-deafened. I have the utmost respect for these folks – they struggle with different issues than people like me, the pre-lingually Deaf with roots in the Deaf culture. Many pre-lingually and ASL-using Deaf folks struggle with the English language because ASL is a different language, with its own syntax and grammatical structure. Also, there is a history of delayed language acquisition because of late detection of hearing loss. That said, I wondered what triggered the rise of these Deaf folks in law school? After all, law is a profession that demands perfection in English and oral advocacy.

            The easy answer would be the obvious, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was passed in 1990. Most of my fellow budding Deaf lawyers grew up protected by the ADA. Many of them cite the ADA as the source of increasing number of Deaf folks in higher education. The ADA did indeed improve enforcement of IDEA and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which made the word accommodation actually mean something. However, just giving equal access in the classroom is not enough. Much of a child’s linguistic development  takes place long before he or she enters a classroom. Deaf children, historically, has had problems with linguistic delay and subsequent inability to properly express oneself in English. Without this ability, a future in law is fruitless. So, along with the ADA, why are Deaf adults entering law school at record numbers?

            Of course, I have my theories. I do think the ADA did help directly, but it had indirect effects as well. By framing non-discrimination towards people with disabilities as a civil right, the ADA created a culture of empowerment amongst d/Deaf folks. Even though not all of the provisions in the ADA have enough “teeth,” but the fact that people with disabilities were now a protected class, counts for a lot. On a personal level, I grew up with the mindset that even though accommodations could be sub-par at times, but I was entitled to them. Accommodation was no longer a privilege, but a right

  Also, the ADA mitigates some of the discrimination in hiring. After all, law school is pretty damn expensive, why would you want to go to law school if you knew that you would have severe difficulties finding a job? However, the ADA does not wipe away employment discrimination, but it helps.  

Just to clarify – the ADA did require that higher education schools provide services, something not covered by IDEA and the Rehabilitation Act. However, in order for Deaf students to enter higher education in higher numbers, they need the tools that they developed during their infancy and primary schooling years.  No law school would take a student, d/Deaf or not, that could not do well on the LSATs, write a coherent sentence and express himself/herself clearly. The ADA did enable qualified d/Deaf folks to enter higher education at more diverse insitutions, however, other factors contributed to the rise in the numbers of qualified d/Deaf people

On the education side, I think the few factors really improved the literacy of some Deaf folks. One was early intervention. By early intervention, I mean finding out that a baby is deaf and giving him/her access to language (I don’t care if it is ASL or via CI, but there must be access a language), avoiding a crippling linguistic delay. I was lucky – I was diagnosed at 4 months old, a rarity at that time. Soon after my birth, hearing tests became mandatory. I think that early intervention on my part was the crucial factor, differentiating me from many other Deaf kids with poor English skills. 

Also, increased education for the parents about hearing loss helped. My mother was clueless about this issue when I was born, but there were organizations and resources to help her. One can’t expect hearing parents to automatically know how to take care of a Deaf kid. It’s unrealistic. Increased parental awareness has fostered increased parental involvement. I believe that for any kid, d/Deaf or not, parental involvement in education is vital. However, it is even more crucial for Deaf kids. Deaf children can’t just pick up language by listening to people talking. They have to be taught and parents are the best people to do that. Unfortunately, that is not always possible (busy parents, parents who refuse to learn ASL or work with their children if they have CIs, etc.)

One another factor is captioning. I remember when I was very small – I couldn’t watch any TV shows or movies because they weren’t captioned. So I just watched Charlie Chaplin’s silent movies. However, when captions became widespread, I could access the mainstream ‘language.’ By reading the captions, I got a sense (albeit, somewhat artificially) of how people expressed themselves, and some vocabulary. 

Educational access is one thing and language acquisition is another. It pleases me to see that recent developments (i.e. mainstreaming, captioning, ADA, etc) have enabled a higher degree of English acquisition by Deaf children. However, there are still severe problems in this regard. Oftentimes, I will meet a Deaf adult who can barely string together a sentence. One thing to keep in mind is that language acquisition is CRUCIAL for any successful Deaf lawyer. The increasing number of d/Deaf folks entering law school suggests that something is working. That makes me wonder what future d/Deaf lawyers will be like. 

The Advantages of Being Deaf

Apologies for my blog neglect! I have been mired in the world of brief-writing.

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. 

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.