October 20, 2016

MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: An Interview with Jason Goitia

In 2007, Jason Goitia was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. While it has dramatically changed his life, it hasn’t stopped him from an active and fulfilling legal career. The solution for him was to develop an eLawyering practice, which focuses on serving clients via the Internet. In 2010, he was named one of eight innovative attorneys in the eLawyering movement in a Lawyerist post by Stephanie Kimbro, who is now an eLawyering expert at Stanford Law School. 

Goitia served as chair of the Lawyers with Disabilities Involvement Subcommittee of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee of the ABA Business Law Section and was a former ABA Business Law Section Diplomat. He is currently on the Board of the National Association of Attorneys with Disabilities. He earned his law degree at the University of Chicago Law School, and worked at Mayer Brown LLP, where he specialized in finance and securities law, and also Goldman Sachs. 

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In 2007, you began to experience double vision and were eventually diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. At the time you were working at Goldman Sachs. What were some of the accommodations that you requested so that you could continue working?

For the first few years when I had MS, it was completely invisible. So my main accommodations were allowing time off for things like doctor’s appointments and having a spinal tap and things like that. I eventually came out to my coworkers to say what the issue was, because I didn’t want them to think I was getting preferential treatment. 

Was that hard to do? 

Yes and no. No, because my supervisor was very supportive. But it was hard emotionally. It’s an unpredictable condition, so at the time, I minimized everything when I told them. I was like it’s not a big deal. Fortunately, my supervisor was very understanding. 

Shortly after that, in 2010, you launched your own firm. Why did you decide to leave Goldman Sachs? 

I saw a trend that was coming, with eLawyering. Technology has really helped me, and I thought if I had my own firm, I could use this technology to develop a practice. I can no longer drive, for instance. The first big physical accommodation was a phone with a big screen. I use text-to-talk technology, too. As Einstein said, there’s opportunity in difficulty. 

How did you handle health insurance? At the time you left Goldman Sachs, we didn’t have the Affordable Care Act. 

That was another pressing question. I was uncovered for a while because of a preexisting condition. Thankfully, now we have the Affordable Care Act and insurance companies can’t deny coverage based on a preexisting condition. 

You’ve developed eLawyering, a virtual law office. What is a virtual law office or eLawyering?

ELawyering is doing legal work over the Internet. You communicate and collaborate with clients and other lawyers over the Web. I used the technology provided by www.Directlaw.com. They provide a secure email address, a platform, and a client portal. 

I think it’s the wave of the future, and I can do well practicing law this way. At Mayer Brown, I had a lot of New York clients, for instance, but I never saw them. It was all done over the Internet. In truth, when I was at Goldman Sachs, I never saw my clients either. I talked to them, emailed them; it’s the same with eLawyering. 

How do you manage your stress? I know that with MS, you need to reduce your stress level. 

Stress is part of life. I find if I plan well, I reduce my stress. So, for instance, if I have to go to a meeting in another part of the world, I make sure my passport is up to date, I’m prepared, that sort of thing. I walk to work, since I can’t drive. That’s my main form of exercise. 

What advice would you give to law school students who have a disability? How important is it to be vocal? 

It’s very important not just to advocate for yourself, but make sure you’re with people who are understanding and supportive. I’ve been fortunate in that way. I use a walker now, for instance, and people hold the door for me. 

You wrote an article recently that focused on educating people about language and disability. You noted the difference between the “people with disabilities” versus “disabled person.” Can you talk more about this distinction?

In general, the distinction between disabled person and person with disability is people-first language. It’s saying, you recognize the person first before the disability. The disability is an aspect of the person, not something that defines the person himself or herself. So, a person uses a wheelchair, not is wheelchair-bound. The latter uses a mobility device to limit a person. I could go on, but you’d do well just to respect and support the person, not limit the person by his or her disability.

Why did you join the ABA? What was the original impulse?

The ABA is full of experts. Whatever niche you care about, you’ll find an expert. 

You served on the ABA Law Practice Management Section E-lawyering Task Force. Can you talk about that experience? 

I got to be a witness to really smart people thinking and talking about issues that really matter to me. These are people that the world wants to know what they think. 

In 2010 you were selected to be the Diplomat of the Business Law Section of the ABA, a two-year position. What was the highlight of this experience?

It was an amazing experience. I strongly advocate the opportunity both to young lawyers who want to learn the profession better, and to people who want to access a strong talent pool that gets overlooked far too often. The data shows this far more strongly than I ever could say. 

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

There are two quotes I’d like to mention that have meant a lot to me, ever since I was diagnosed with MS. One is a lyric from John Lennon: “Life’s what happens when you’re making other plans.” And the other is from Booker T. Washington: “If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.”

From this discussion, I hope that people create more inclusive environments and attitudes. 

Thank you so much!