Newly-minted attorney with quadriplegia and severe cerebral palsy wants the bar raised on society’s perception of lawyers with severe disabilities.
It is common to find recent law school graduates discussing what bar exams are more daunting than others. Typical observations include the fact that the bar exams for and are three-day affairs and involve jurisdictions with a complex and rich body of law to digest. For Sean E. Pevsner, Esq., his bar exam experience far exceeded the strain and required effort most face when preparing for a two or three day examination—it took him eight days to take the bar exam. Yet Sean is no worse for the wear and wants his experience to be an example as to how individuals with severe disabilities can enter the legal profession.
Sean—who has quadriplegia with cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair through head movements—graduated from The University of Texas School of Law in 2004. As accommodations he uses a human interpreter and a computer system called the EyePro. From early on he wanted to assist others with disabilities in breaking down the barriers of discrimination that prevent full participation in society. After law school he was an Equal Justice Works Fellow with Advocacy, Inc, which is the protection and advocacy agency for people with disabilities. His fellowship focused on ensuring that others with disabilities had the appropriate accommodations and services in their educational and employment careers. He now is establishing his own law firm to practice disability law as well as other types of law.
Sean also had assistance from a close friend and mentor of his for twenty-seven years, Mark Whitburn: “Mark not only provided time to ensure I had the tools to reach my full potential,” Sean stated, “but money as well. He also showed me how the law can be used to ensure that students with disabilities can receive appropriate services in order to reach their goals.” Mark assisted Sean in getting through high school all the way to passing the bar.
Sean had to make sure he was assisting himself. Throughout college and law school he received on tests, among other accommodations, quadruple-time and an interpreter. When he applied to take the state bar they were only willing to give him triple-time. “I have found patience and persistence to be the two most important qualities to have when advocating for myself,” Sean said, “For most of my academic career I have had quadruple-time as an accommodation to make sure I was on a level playing field with others. Therefore, I was unable to take ‘no’ as an answer to my accommodation request.” Sean proved everyone, including his own attorney, wrong by convincing the Texas Board of Law Examiners to grant him quadruple time.
In addition to attaining quadruple-time as accommodation—thus allowing him to take the exam over an eight-day period—Sean studied eight hours per day in order to build up the stamina to take the bar exam for six hours each day. His hard work, both for attaining his required accommodation and for studying Texas law, paid off: Sean passed the bar exam this past summer. The Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson specifically announced Sean’s admission to the Texas State Bar at the swearing-in ceremony. Everyone in the auditorium, including all of the justices on the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals, gave Sean a standing ovation.
He wants his success to serve as an inspiration to others. “As far as I can tell, I am the only person in to have quadruple-time as an accommodation for a bar exam. Additionally, there are so few individuals with severe physical disabilities who have achieved such a high level of professional achievement,” Sean proposed, “I want to raise the bar for society’s views of those with severe physical disabilities—we can work in the professional world. People should place no limitations on us after reading this article.”