Danielle Liebl - 2nd-Year Law Student, University of St. Thomas School of Law
What is your disability? How does it affect you as a law student (and future lawyer)?
My disability is cerebral palsy (CP). It doesn’t keep me from much, as I have learned to adapt to the circumstances. As a student, it affects the way I take notes and the way that I write long-hand. Because my CP affects my fine motor skills, it is difficult for me to take notes.
What accommodations do you use in law school? Have you encountered any obstacles or challenges from your school, employers, or colleagues in obtaining accommodations?
I typically request a note-taker, permission to use a computer for assignments, tests and any other writing I may need, and double time on tests. I type a little more slowly than a typical law student, and it also takes me additional time to comprehend the question and fully articulate an answer.
Truthfully, I have always been lucky when it comes to accommodations. In a work setting, I have never formally requested accommodations. I usually try to self-adapt first. However, there have been instances such as carrying my lunch plate (which is difficult for me to do), where I have asked for assistance. In these situations, I usually ask someone I have a positive relationship with.
Do you disclose your disability to colleagues or potential employers? Why or why not?
Typically, I do not disclose my disability, unless it is for an affirmative action position. I have always been afraid of conscious and unconscious biases. I never want an employer or potential employer to think I cannot do the job because of my disability.
Why did you decide to become a lawyer? Did your disability have an impact on your decision?
My disability had a tremendous impact on my decision to go to law school. During high school and undergrad, I did a lot of social activist work around inclusion for people with disabilities. I even founded my own non-profit when I was a senior in college. When thinking about what to do next in my career, I wanted to fight for these same issues from a different angle.
Have you decided what type of legal work you will do after graduation? If so, how did you decide?
Despite coming into law school with a focused vision, I have discovered new interests and talents. As of right now, I am open to what the future has in store for me. Ideally I would like to serve as in-house counsel for a company.
What advice would you give to fellow law students with disabilities?
Surround yourself with people who know you and believe in you. Their cheers will drown out the discouragement from others.
How do you think the legal profession is doing in creating a diverse and inclusive environment for persons with disabilities? What could be improved?
Only seven percent of individuals in the legal profession self-identify as having a disability. That is a very low percentage, and there is a strong possibility that even more have a disability that just aren’t reporting it. I think this is partly due to the stigma attached to having a disability, and the stereotype that lawyers are “tough” and work around the clock in a fast-paced environment. For someone like me who physically moves at a different pace, gets fatigued easily, and may need help in certain instances, it could deter me. I think that one thing that could be improved is for the profession to express that it is adaptable and welcoming to those of all abilities and needs.
Tell us about your internship with Microsoft. What types of legal duties and other work did you perform?
I was one of eleven interns at Microsoft Headquarters in Redmond, WA. I specifically worked in the Cloud + Enterprise department. My duties including researching, preparing documents, and assisting in contract negotiations for Microsoft’s Cloud + Enterprise services.
Did you have a mentor in the internship, and if so, what did you gain from that relationship?
I had many formal and informal mentors. My main mentor was Tom Heerey. Tom provided me with insight on the profession and tips and training to help develop my skills and career advice. I still keep in contact with Tom as I transition into the workforce.
Did you find the internship personally and professionally beneficial, and how so?
I grew a lot during my experience at Microsoft. Not only did I enhance my research and writing skills, but I also learned how to conduct myself in a professional setting and how to communicate effectively and clearly. On a personal level, one of the greatest lessons I learned was never to let someone’s expectations of you drive your future. Do you what you love and use your talents fully.
What, if any, challenges did you encounter during your time with Microsoft?
Honestly, I didn’t encounter any challenges, except the positive challenges of learning and growing. Microsoft was truly warming and welcoming. I could not have asked for a better 1L internship.