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Disabled Lawyers Compete With Tech and Time

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on September 17, 2018 4:10 PM

It wasn't a joke when the law firm sent a yellow school bus to pick up a summer associate for a firm function.

It was just insensitive. Stuart Pixley had cerebral palsy and used an electrical wheelchair to get around.

The office party was two miles away and the firm couldn't figure out how to get him there. That was in the mid-1990s; in some ways, things haven't changed much.

Disability Perceptions

Pixly, a former BigLaw partner and a senior Microsoft attorney, said the problem is that law firms have trouble integrating disabled workers.

"We're still often looked at as a delicate flower or damaged, and that makes it hard to be part of the diverse fabric of the workforce," he told the ABA Journal three years ago.

The Journal reported that it's "hard to determine" the number of lawyers with disabilities, but unofficially it's north of 7 percent. In any case, disabilities are increasing along with the general population.

Perceptions towards disabled attorneys may not have changed much in the past 20 years, but technology has. New tech is making life easier for everybody.

Disabled Lawyer Tech

Historically, disabled lawyers found themselves working for the government, advocacy groups, or small-firms.

But tech has leveled the playing field for many. Smart machines search and read digital documents for the blind; real-time transcripts in hearings work for the deaf.

Voice-enabled devices can take care of many office tasks, from turning on the lights in the morning to locking up at night. Uber to work and back again.

For lawyers like Pixly, it's just a matter of time before people -- including law firms -- catch up.

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