Lawrence ("Larry") P. Stadulis is a Partner and Chair of Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young, LLP’s fiduciary governance group in Washington, DC.
What is your disability?
I am legally blind, which means my vision is below 2200, and I am almost completely blind in my right eye. This interferes with my ability to do many everyday activities. For example, I can’t drive a car, and I have difficulty using public transportation and reading signs in public areas.
What accommodations do you use in the workplace? Have you encountered any obstacles or challenges from your employers, colleagues, or schools in obtaining accommodations?
My accommodations have changed over time. Currently, I use a very large computer screen, software that enlarges the text of what I’m viewing, and reading glasses. I am fortunate to have access to assistive technology and have always been very fortunate in the workplace. However, when I was in college and law school, I needed many more accommodations. I relied on books on tape for textbooks, for example, as digital books did not yet exist.
Do you disclose your disability to employers or colleagues? Why or why not?
Some people have disabilities that are not apparent to others unless disclosed. When I was young, I didn’t want anyone to know about my poor vision, so I hid my disability. However, as I got older, I realized it was practical to disclose my disability.
Individuals with an easily noticeable disability should seriously consider sharing the existence of the disability with their employer earlier rather than later. This sets reasonable expectations from both sides right at the beginning of the relationship. It enables the individual to obtain the accommodations needed to do a good job right at the beginning.
From my experience, admitting a disability also helps strengthen relationships with co-workers. An open dialogue creates friendships and puts everyone at ease.
Why did you decide to become a lawyer? Did your disability have an impact on your decision?
When I was about four years old, I told my mother I wanted to be a sanitation worker, and she said, “You can’t see well enough to drive the truck.” Then I told her I wanted to be a race car driver, and she said, “You can’t see well enough to drive the car.” Then I told her I wanted to be an astronomer, and she said, “You can’t see well enough to see the stars.” My mom told me, “You’ll be a lawyer,” and that’s what I ended up becoming. There weren’t a lot of options available to me at the time.
What type of legal work do you do, and how did you decide on a field?
I represent investment mutual funds, independent directors, and broker-dealers on regulatory matters before the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission. I got into the industry when I participated in a mentoring program for first-year law students. I was paired with a general counsel from a mutual fund company, and ended up working for him during the summer. That program opened the door for me and planted my love of the mutual fund industry and the issues lawyers address.
What advice would you give to fellow lawyers or law students with disabilities?
Be honest. Acknowledge that you have a disability. If you need accommodations, you need to approach others about them, and most people will be happy to help. Be realistic about what you can and can’t do. Most importantly, be yourself.
How do you think the legal profession is doing in creating a diverse and inclusive environment for persons with disabilities? What could be improved?
I believe that it’s difficult for disabled folks to succeed and thrive in the legal profession, not because of the law firm environment, but because law is a profession that is hard to perform. Having a physical or mental disability is a challenge due to the highly competitive environment. The disability group is different from other diverse groups because they have physical or mental impediments, which can create barriers that limit them from maximizing their potential
What are some best practices you think the legal profession should adopt for interacting with disabled people? What considerations should businesses be making for them?
It’s important for firms to have an intentional point person for disabled employees to develop a relationship with and discuss accommodations. This contact can then communicate the employee’s needs to the organization. It’s also extremely helpful and supportive to have someone periodically check in with disabled employees to see how things are going.
What benefits would you say your disability has had for your firm and clients?
Since I can’t see well, I have an extraordinary memory. That is one of the things that I bring to the table. I also bring different perspectives to a representation. I can read people very well. It’s a whole different interaction when you can’t see the person well. I listen, observe and stay aware of cues that others may not have noticed. I also bring compassion and thoughtfulness when dealing with clients.
What lessons have you learned over the course of your legal career?
When I was younger, I was in constant denial that I had a disability. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve accepted that I have limitations, and I am able to perform and work with them. A disability doesn’t have to be an impediment to success. Also, I have learned that if you need help, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for it.
What are your interests outside the firm?
I’m an avid reader, I like video games and have a garden. I also love photography. I started taking pictures a couple of years ago. Photography allows me to see things that I can’t with the naked eye. For instance, when I upload a picture of the sunset to my computer, I can see it in ways that I never could just looking at it from a distance.