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November 01, 2013

November 2013: Michael Schwartz

Michael A. Schwartz is an Associate Professor of Law and the Supervising Attorney and Director of the Disability Rights Clinic at Syracuse University College of Law in Syracuse, New York. He has been practicing law for 31 years and his law degree, from NYU, is one of five degrees that he holds. His other degrees include a Ph.D. from Syracuse University in Education with a concentration in Disability Studies. His dissertation was a qualitative study of deaf patients in the medical setting, a project that he continues to work on with other Syracuse University faculty members and students from the Disability Rights Clinic. Professor Schwartz also has a Master of Arts degree in Theater Arts from Northwestern University. After graduating from Northwestern, he became a member of the National Theater of the Deaf and toured the United States as D’Artagnan in The Three Musketeers. To round out his education, Professor Schwartz also has an LL.M. from Colombia University School of Law.

To go along with his many degrees, Professor Schwartz has also had many other interesting legal positions, a law clerk to a federal district court judge; Assistant District Attorney in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office; Trial Attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice; a solo practitioner; and Assistant Attorney General in the New York State Department of Law. Outside of the legal world, Professor Schwartz also has his pilot’s license and a scuba diver’s certification.

However, not all of these positions have been easily achieved. Professor Schwartz says that during the application process after law school, “I disclosed my disability when I applied to 135 Manhattan law firms for an associate’s position, and I received 135 rejections. I then applied to one law firm without disclosing my deafness, and immediately got a job interview. However, once the law firm realized I was deaf, I was told there was no opening.” This experience, as well as others has proven that the biggest barrier in the employment and education context for people with disabilities is attitude. 

While that application process happened at the beginning of his legal career, Professor Schwartz still feels that the legal profession is doing a terrible job at creating a welcoming environment for lawyers and other people with disabilities. He says that “Judges and lawyers are among the worst violators of the ADA when it comes to accommodating deaf litigants, lawyers, clients, witnesses and other parties.” On the other hand, Professor Schwartz has had the opposite experience at work, “Syracuse University College of Law has been a role model for other institutions in how to accommodate a faculty member with a disability. I simply identified what I needed, and the College of Law provided the accommodations I needed to be an effective worker. “

As words of advice and encouragement, Professor Schwartz says, that lawyers with disabilities have a responsibility to be more vocal and law students with disabilities must Organize! To lawyers who practice disability civil rights law, he reminds them “you need to be cognizant of the wise slogan: ‘Nothing about us without us.’ Don’t exclude our perspective, and don’t make decisions without our input.” Lastly, to legal recruiters and hiring attorneys, he admonishes them to “look harder for lawyers with disabilities. They are good workers.”