May 30, 2013

June 2013: Michael Steven Stein


Lawyer Battles “Double Discrimination” Domestically and Abroad

Attorney Michael Steven Stein specializes in disability discrimination, with an emphasis on the legal rights of individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, like him.  After graduating from Harvard Law School in 2006, clerking with the Honorable William G. Young, and serving as a Skadden Fellow with the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), he went into private practice with his partner Mary Vargas, forming a firm, Stein & Vargas, LLP (www.steinvargas.com) that is dedicated to a disability civil rights caseload.  This work often involves remedying the unique “double discrimination” that persons who are deaf experience.  “A deaf individual experiences discrimination on the basis of disability, and then is unable to find a lawyer willing to take on a deaf client, much less provide the necessary accommodations to communicate effectively with him or her.  Deaf and hard of hearing individuals are underserved by the legal community due to language barriers.”  

By serving the legal needs of clients who are deaf, Stein is in turn able to educate courts and other counsel in effective communication, which means legal services may over time become more available to this population.  “Courts and bar associations are usually not aware of their obligation to provide accommodations such as real-time captioning, but once their legal obligations are explained to them, they are usually happy to comply.”  

Stein isn’t content to limit his focus on access to justice and legal services domestically for persons who are deaf.  After completing his fellowship with NAD, he spent several months in Chile working with the deaf community there.  “Although Chile signed the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and recently amended its disability laws, deaf individuals continue to have few real rights.  In many cities, deaf people cannot drive.  Employment is difficult to find.  Interpreters are few and far in between.” 

In response to what he experienced in Chile, Stein founded Deaf We Can (www.deafwecan.org) and has partnered with the legal services organization Fundación Pro Bono to provide legal services to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.  “As in the United States, this population is underserved by the legal community due to language barriers. I am working to increase the provision of legal services to deaf individuals that will help them advocate for their legal rights as full-fledged members of society.”  

Stein rounds out his advocacy work as a lecturer at Rochester Institute of Technology, where he experiences the joy of sharing his profession with college students considering law school themselves.

 � oe��� p� an interactive process no one wins in the end.  Open communication on both sides is key to success in the workplace.” 

Fritz hopes to convey the importance of targeted outreach to young lawyers with disabilities as part of any meaningful diversity strategy.  “There is power in reflecting the community in which you serve.  We are a unique niche in the legal market.  It is important to never forget that employers and institutions can be stronger with our membership.” 

As for other recent law graduates with disabilities, Fritz suggests candor, and to view disability experience as an advantage.  “My disability makes me a unique applicant, and if anything a stronger one.  Having a unique approach to life situations is often a strong attribute in any job setting.”