Patrick Dennis attends Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon. When he graduates in 2014, he intends to practice disability rights law, although he finds himself increasingly interested in civil rights and environmental law as well.
What skill is most useful to Patrick in law school? His “ability to find the one useful needle in a haystack,” which allows him to identify the key legal issues found within the hundreds of assigned cases he reads.
Patrick is the proud recipient of the Paul Marchand Disability Policy Internship, which funds his current full-time externship placement at The Arc of the United States in Washington D.C. There, he spends his days researching and writing in the policy office, specifically on criminal justice issues for people with intellectual disabilities and the Affordable Health Care Act. He also attends meetings with disability rights groups such as the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD).
After graduating from University of Oregon in 2003, Patrick was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Accordingly, his first experience navigating the accommodation process occurred when he started law school. He reports that there was a learning process. Patrick was ultimately granted additional time and a private location for exams so that he could get up and stretch. Patrick discloses his disability fairly regularly to his colleagues and classmates, since “RA can be hidden on Monday and very obvious on Tuesday.”
What does Patrick see as the biggest barrier for persons with disabilities entering the legal profession? “The able-ist views of other people. A great number of people still see people with disabilities as a liability or more often simply less able to be successful.” In law school, Patrick points out that some students and faculty consider accommodations a way for students with disabilities to “game the system” and receive an “unfair advantage.” He thinks this misperception is driven “by the artificially competitive system of grade curving and ranking still employed by law schools and entry-level legal employers.”