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May 01, 2008

May 2008: Charles S. Brown, Esq.

Lawyer with visual impairment expects the unexpected.

Irish playwright Oscar Wilde said, “To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect.” If such is the case, Charles S. Brown, Esq. is certainly contemporary in his thinking. In both his professional legal career and his current work with helping the blind deal with discrimination, Charlie knows that nothing is set in stone—especially in this day and age.

Charlie Brown was born blind, but due to corrective surgery as an infant, regained a limited amount of sight. Charlie has made sure to discuss accommodations for his disability up front with employers, which include computer screen enlargement software, closed circuit TV reading systems, and Braille.

Charlie graduated from Northwestern University School of Law. In recalling his instruction during law school, Charlie notes that his legal education prepared him to deal effectively with the unexpected: “All lawyers need to deal with arguments that surprise them. They need to understand new facts and new circumstances as they unfold and then be sure to deal with them calmly and effectively.” Such a trait should be had by all lawyers, Brown says: “A lawyer should always be as well prepared as he or she can be, in addition to possessing patience when dealing with unexpected situations.”

Surprises can also come in the form of employment opportunities. Charlie worked as special counsel for the U.S. Department of Labor and then as the Designated Agency Ethics Official for the National Science Foundation. After many years of service for the National Federation of the Blind, Charlie became the first vice-president of the National Association of Blind Lawyers. Currently, he serves as director of the Volunteer Lawyers for the Blind, a pro bono project of the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. When asked whether he expected to be doing litigation on behalf of the blind after years of public service as an ethics officer, Brown replied, “Not at all. It was quite a surprise, but I cherish the opportunity I now have to help my fellow blind folks achieve fair treatment.”

Dealing with the unexpected also applies to lawyers who deal with disability law and disability rights. “When advocating for those with disabilities, one has to watch public attitudes—they can change quickly,” Brown observes, “An advocate needs to take such a shift in attitudes into consideration when attempting to educate the public about the rights of those with disabilities.” In practicing disability law, the lawyer must also be prepared for unforeseen results. “Sometimes, in representing those with disabilities, a lawyer will seek a legal solution that may not always be there in the end. Litigation takes its toll on the winners, too; the time and resources necessary to succeed in a case for your client can never be predicted,” says Brown, “That is why lawyers need to be mature when handling a case and realizing the unexpected is out there.”