Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Monday, June 19, 2006

SOLOSEZ is a listserv set up by the ABA's GP Solo and Small Firm Division. The list is a great resource for solos like myself. Today I sent the following email to SOLOSEZ to troll for suggestions on how to deal with an issue that has been nagging at me for some time:

I was born with congenital nystagmus that causes my eyes to shake (yep, just like the police look for in the field sobriety tests, lucky me). The nystagmus does not really limit me physically, so I have never called it a "disability", but I am pretty self-conscious about it.

My practice is currently centered in transactional law, but there's only so much of that work to go around. I want to explore other areas but don't know how my physical condition may limit my possibilities. (I want to say "not at all" because I've never been one to let my nystagmus determine what I can and can't do, but I also know I will never be an astronaut or a commercial pilot because of my condition and I'm OK with that.) I'm usually fine one-on-one and in group settings, but the shaking gets worse when I am nervous so I am a bit concerned about how I would look in court, especially in front of a jury. Can a new lawyer build a successful practice without making court appearances? Would it be acceptable to handle everything up to the hearing stage, and then associate in another lawyer to handle the litigation? Or are there some areas of law where I might make a living without having to go to court?

I am glad I finally wrote this note, but I thought about it a long time before I could click the "send" button and let it go. I almost never talk about nystagmus because I don't like to draw attention to it, so actively soliciting advice in this area is a big step for me.

Last month I traded emails with a hearing-impaired lawyer, who confirmed some of my fears about this profession: "It's hard to deal with a disability and be an attorney. Somehow as if society expects attorneys to be perfect." Attention world: I'm not perfect. Neither are my prospective clients, but unfortunately they get to scrutinize my looks and demeanor in deciding whether or not to hire me. Sometimes it is difficult for me to maintain eye contact, which some people perceive as a sign of dishonesty or weakness. As a result I sometimes overcompensate so people will know I am competent, trustworthy, and strong enough to manage. Nevertheless I will not be surprised at all to lose a prospective client over this, and I can't say I would totally blame the client. They may not even be aware of the reason for their uneasiness. Hopefully I will get some good feedback from SOLOSEZ so I can figure out how to construct my practice. But more importantly, I would like to get it through my head that this isn't a big deal and I shouldn't worry so much about it.

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