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June 06, 2016 Articles

JIOP Alumni Spotlight: Michael Iseri ’13

Michael’s experience fueled a passion for disability rights and advocacy.

By Danielle Dary

The ABA’s Judicial Intern Opportunity Program (JIOP) is proud to highlight the accomplishments of Michael Iseri. Michael interned with Justice Martin Jenkins of the First District Court of Appeals in San Francisco, California, and is an excellent example of JIOP’s mission to provide diverse law students internship opportunities in state and federal chambers.

At the age of four, Michael was diagnosed with dyspraxia, a disorder that hindered his ability to speak. However, through daily speech therapy over the years, Michael found his voice. Michael’s discipline and diligence continued to carry him throughout his life and legal career. As Michael put it, “I was determined to have a voice.”

Michael’s journey is one filled with great challenges and even greater success. Michael learned early on what is his purpose was in life after he suffered a gunshot to the back of the head in high school. Michael transformed a random act of violence and his disability into a life and career of advocacy.

Michael’s experience fueled a passion for disability rights and advocacy. At the University of California at Berkeley, where he did his undergrad studies, Michael became involved in the Disabled Students’ Program. There, he assisted fellow students with disabilities as a peer mentor and aided a blind computer administrator as her assistant at the Disabled Technology Resource Center. Michael graduated summa cum laude from the Legal Studies program and published a thesis on international legal frameworks for state-to-state cyber attacks and cyber warfare.

Initially, Michael faced challenges while applying to law school. The Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) denied Michael LSAT testing accommodations five times even though he submitted childhood psycho-educational evaluations and college documentation demonstrating his need, and took the requested psychological exams. LSAC also denied Michael’s appeals and provided no meaningful explanation that actually addressed his psychological exam results. Michael took the LSAT under normal testing conditions and submitted law school applications for two years but was rejected by each school. At one point, a disability law organization in California told him to stop pursuing a career in law.

Michael persisted. Despite his rejections, Michael continued to help make the legal field more accessible through computers and technology. For example, he interned at the Legal Aid Society of Orange County as a small claims advisor and assisted with numerous technology initiatives. In addition, he created the self-help website of the Superior Court of Orange County and worked on the court’s electronic/digital signature system for judicial search warrants.

After months of preparation and refinement, Michael took the LSAT again under normal testing conditions, improved his score, and applied to law school once more.

Michael was accepted into the University of California, Irvine, School of Law (UCI Law) on his third time applying. Michael’s passion for disability rights and advocacy flourished at UCI Law. At UCI Law, Michael cofounded the Disability Law Society, served as the vice president of the National Association of Law Students with Disabilities and mentored children and teenagers under the Dyspraxia U.S.A. Foundation. As a third-year law student, Michael traveled to Washington, D.C., and advocated on behalf of the Dyspraxia U.S.A. Foundation to the Special Education Unit of the Department of Education.

Today, Michael has overcome his disability and improved his speech so much that people often ask if he is British, Australian, or eastern European because his speech difficulty has come to be replaced by a slight accent. Michael takes this as a compliment because it shows how far he has progressed in developing the means to speak. Michael found his voice and continues to use it to speak out against injustices toward the disabled.

Michael graduated from UCI Law and passed the California bar on his first attempt. He is currently completing a one-year public interest fellowship with Bet Tzedek, where he leads multiple technology initiatives. Most notably, he is creating a mobile app that will allow people with disabilities to fill out legal documents without any assistance, aiming to respect autonomy and self-determination for these individuals. The app will become a mobile clinic traveling anywhere in California and equipped with 10 tablets. The app currently addresses advanced health care directives and will soon expand to other legal areas and languages.

When Michael is not advocating for disability rights, he does East Coast swing dancing and collects and ages high-end loose leaf teas. He plans to host seminars in Los Angeles and develop an app and instruction guide for others interested in collecting high-end teas.

Q&A with Michael Iseri

What was your most memorable experience with JIOP?
One of my most memorable experiences of the externship was when Justice Jenkins took myself and the other externs out to a French restaurant in the suburbs of San Francisco. The highlight was when he drove us around the outskirts of San Francisco and told us about the cultural and societal changes of the city through the years.

What role has JIOP played in your professional development and legal career?
My experience with the JIOP program helped me become an honest and reliable attorney. Having the opportunity to work with a judge on a one-on-one basis allowed me to have a specialized experience of developing my character. Part of my legal training before JIOP was to always be honest and “own” your work product. When I made a mistake on an assignment midway, I was upfront, told the truth, and apologized to Justice Jenkins. Justice Jenkins responded, “No problem, amigo!” It was truly a learning experience.

Keywords: litigation, Judicial Intern Opportunity Program, JIOP, disability rights

Danielle Dary – June 6, 2016