In-house counsel with Tourette’s Syndrome makes time to advocate for those with his disability as well as immigrants.
James. A. Merklinger, Esq. leads a busy professional life: he is the Deputy General Counsel and Acting Vice President of Legal Resources for the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), an organization that provides resources, education, networking, and training opportunities to over 10,500 corporations in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. He manages the development of legal resources and services for the Association’s membership, supervises several attorneys, and manages outside counsel and certain vendor relations. On top of these duties, Jim also performs pro bono legal work for immigrants and advocates for the rights of those with Tourette’s Syndrome in Washington, DC.
Jim, a graduate of the University of South Carolina School of Law, has Tourette’s Syndrome, a neurological disorder that manifests itself in the form of verbal and physical vocalizations and involuntary movements. Although he requires no accommodations for his disability, Jim finds a certain aspect of the impairment peculiar, especially in light of his duties at the ACC: “I sometimes find it intriguing, sometimes even amusing, that someone with a disability as visible as Tourette’s speaks publicly so often on behalf of the ACC,” Jim stated, “but the ACC recognizes my communication and public speaking skills, and I enjoy presenting publicly.”
Aside from traveling the globe and managing a team of attorneys for the ACC, Jim also takes pro bono cases for low-income immigrants. Most of his clients are referrals from those he previously represented. For several years, Jim has helped those who have come to America seeking a better life. He notes that his interest in immigration law, an area completely different than business and contract law, came from discrimination he experienced as a youth. “I was made fun of and even ostracized by my peers when I was younger,” Jim observed, “and I wanted to see if the rest of the world was like this—I wondered if the rest of the world discriminated because of someone’s disability. So I traveled the world a great deal. In doing so, I was drawn to the international community, and thus developed an interest in helping those from other countries.”
Another free service Jim performs in his down time is advocating for those with his disorder on Capitol Hill. He lobbied Congress to have the language of the Children’s Health Act of 2000 mention Tourette’s Syndrome. This change led to Congress’ approval of $1.5 million dollars for research and education about Tourette’s. He also spoke on a Congressional panel on behalf of the Children’s Health Act Coalition and the Tourette Syndrome Association (http://www.tsa-usa.org/). Despite having a full plate, Jim has always made time to advocate for those who may not be in society’s mainstream.