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April 01, 2011

April 2011: Assistant Dean Sylvia Novinsky, Esq.

School administrator with multiple sclerosis teaches students to make the practice of law personal.

Grounded by a strong work ethic from her family, Sylvia Novinsky, Esq. makes sure that her students at the University of North Carolina School of Law take their duties as a student seriously and the practice of law personally. As Assistant Dean for Public Services Programs, she is a direct link between law students and the legal profession; therefore, she makes sure to hold them directly accountable for their work and shows them how to empathize with their clients.  

Sylvia, a graduate of American University Washington College of Law, began her legal career as a legal writing instructor at the District of Columbia School of Law. Shortly thereafter, she began practicing immigration law before making the jump to UNC School of Law. At UNC Law, she was Associate Director for Public Interest Law & Director of the Pro Bono Program and Associate Dean for Student Affairs. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1999. She takes no formal accommodations while at work, and just “takes it easy” when necessary. She has found that the best way to work with her disability is to simply educate others about MS, as it has many forms and various symptoms.

When it comes to educating students who are interested in public interest careers, Sylvia makes sure that they are fully capable and attuned to the needs of their clients. “The legal profession is about working as hard as you can,” she observed, “I make sure our students give it their all. In order to do so, it is important to show that lawyers should not be deterred from talking about personal problems. Sometimes legal education forces lawyers to focus on the substantive legal issues of a case while distancing themselves from the actual problem the client faces. Lawyers can’t be too detached from their client’s problems because they are real and impact the client’s life.”

Sylvia also noted that personal problems can come from the attorney as well: “Even though the lawyer is supposed to be the hero, he or she can also have personal problems. That is why I find it beneficial to help students become personal problem solvers. Understanding and dealing with personal problems and emotions is a good first step in this process. Not only will it help them to better empathize with the client, but it can help them address their own issues that may become manifest in their work.”

If you want to learn more about Sylvia and her unique story, along with the stories of other attorneys with disabilities, more can be found in the ABA publication, Lawyers, Lead On: Lawyers with Disabilities Share their Insights.