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July 01, 2013

July 2013: Charlotte Lanvers

Department of Education Attorney Employs Patience, Empathy, and Nonjudgmental Attitude to Be a Better Lawyer

After graduating from Cornell Law School in 2007, Charlotte Lanvers worked as a Skadden Fellow at Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, in Berkeley, California.  “I was drawn to work addressing inequities in access to opportunity, and I liked that disability rights legal advocacy provides a systemic way to address concrete problems.”  There, she learned about litigating class actions, developing legislation, and monitoring settlements.  She worked on an effective communication case dealing with a federal agency’s failure to provide materials in alternate formats for individuals who are blind or visually impaired, as well as a popular streaming video site’s failure to provide closed captioning. 

Lanvers currently works as a civil rights attorney with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).  She develops guidance on disability rights issues in elementary and post-secondary schools under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  “My work is in keeping with OCR’s mission to improve educational excellence by vigorously enforcing civil rights.”

Lanvers, who has stuttered since age three, recounts the attitudinal barriers she  experienced in school.  For instance, some of her teachers and professors refused to provide her additional time to speak, finished sentences for her, laughed when she spoke, and offered unsolicited advice about speaking techniques or technology that she should use.  She credits her patience, nonjudgmental attitude, and empathy— skills that make her a better lawyer—to her disability.  “I think patience and an ability to withhold judgment while getting acquainted with someone or a particular task are critical skills.  My experiences have made me more empathetic to stigma and less likely to make assumptions.”

Lanvers points to the key role that disability civil rights pioneer Arlene Mayerson played in her career growth.  “She taught me how to develop arguments, draft briefs, take risks, and develop ideas.  She’s a creative force in the law.”

Acknowledging the importance of mentors, Lanvers herself serves as a mentor to aspiring lawyers interested in disability civil rights work.  “I discuss career opportunities with interns and try to support their life and career goals.  I have received so much support from colleagues, supervisors, and attorneys in my field over the years, and today it is gratifying to be able to offer insight and support to law students and new attorneys.”