General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionMagazine

Volume 15, Number 3
July/August 1999

Disparate Abilities

From the Editor / jennifer j. rose

Matinee idols aside, and I’m not so sure about some of them, the perfect human doesn’t exist. Some of us are born luckier than others, and some of us break down along the way. And that goes for lawyers, too.

Despite the common belief that law’s a profession that can be practiced until the mind completely falters, it just isn’t so. More than one recent study has revealed a high likelihood that lawyers are subject to the same frailties as mere mortals.

Some form of disability will strike nearly every lawyer at some time or another. It’s all a matter of degree, but it’s more likely to occur than a million-dollar verdict or an appointment to the bench. Limitation may be as planned and temporary as pregnancy or as eye-catchingly unexpected as a neon cast worn as a badge of a midwinter skiing mishap. Or it may be as permanent as blindness, as fraught with complications as AIDS, as socially acceptable as a heart attack, or as covert as mental illness.

Disability doesn’t discriminate among its bearers, striking the young and old, the sleazy and the chastely ethical, the marginal as well as the best and the brightest. One-fifth of all Americans has some disability, and almost three-quarters of them met with disability before age 55. Even the fortunate, skipping through life unscathed, will deal with the disabled as family member, clients, and adversaries.

Disabled lawyers valiantly bucking insurmountable odds to thrive in the profession, grace magazine covers, and win awards are few. Most quietly accommodate with varying degrees of success. It’s humiliating for some, and others simply give up. For every disabled law student, there are many more whose impairment doesn’t strike until the ink on the certificate of admission has long since faded. Dysfunctional and tired old greyhounds have more rescue organizations and public appeal than disabled lawyers. The ABA Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law is an unsung resource, with a database of disabled lawyers as well as those practicing disability law and more. Check out its site at

Lessons learned during the civil rights movement of the sixties were parlayed into protections for the disabled, offering practice opportunities and pitfalls in nearly every practice area. Disability law impacts elder, family, labor and employment, litigation, real estate, business law, criminal law, and even communications law practices.

Then there’s the matter of nomenclature. While the terms crippled and handicapped are as socially acceptable as colored and bastard, there’s a delicacy of distinction between blind and visually impaired, deaf and hearing impaired, becoming disabled and acquiring a disability, challenged, and differently abled. What’s acceptable in one camp is egregious error in another.

This issue’s editor, Karen Renzulli Lynch, a Connecticut solo, remarkably piloted this issue through rocky shoals, and her fine work in the thankless chores of needling and cajoling writers, the editorial board, and the staff glows throughout this issue.

David Arocho, a blind lawyer, takes us through the challenges and adaptations faced by lawyers in "A Difficult Journey: Acquiring a Disability After Starting a Practice." Iowa lawyer Ann Zenk reveals her own discovery of hearing loss when she confused "gun bullets" with "grandmother’s bowl."

Not yet a decade old, the Americans with Disabilities Act has spawned some interesting decisions. Does carpal tunnel syndrome rank up there with narcolepsy as a disability? In "Making an Employment Case under the ADA: Appellate Court Rulings Shed Some Light," Ann F. Kiernan explores those aspects and more.

The AIDS epidemic creates special concerns beyond the ADA, and Todd Pilcher explains what it means to your practice in "An Introduction to AIDS Advocacy."

Many lawyers consider worker’s compensation law too narrow and insufficiently remunerative to be part of a general practice. Solo practitioner Michael Stacy explains how to build a client base while making money in "Worker’s Compensation: A Law Practice Management Perspective."

The concept of structured settlements is often bandied about, but many lawyers really aren’t sure what’s involved. In "Negotiating a Structured Settlement," Wayne Wagner describes those settlements, the tax benefits, and the nuts and bolts of drafting one.

Championing the rights of others, many solo and small firm lawyers are as unshod as cobblers’ children. Is disability insurance a necessity or are the benefits illusory? Weigh the pros and cons in "Disability Insurance for Solo and Small Firm Lawyers."

What’s on the horizon in October/November 1999 issue of The Complete Lawyer? Stayed tuned while we take you "Beyond the Bo rder."

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