Challenging us with a different mindset
♫You raise me up, so I can
stand on mountains
You raise me up
to walk on stormy seas
I am strong when I am
on your shoulders
You raise me up
to more than I can be... ♫
– Music, Lyrics by
B. Graham, R. Lovland,
recorded by Martin Hurkens
What does it take to practice law successfully? That list of abilities would be as diverse as the spectrum of lawyers out in practice today. Many of us would wish for a photographic memory combined with an intellect that allows that large amount of data to be assimilated and processed. That is exactly what Haley Moss, a lawyer in Florida, does. Joseph Zumpano, the co-founder of the law firm Zumpano Patricios, that employs Haley Moss, said he believes Moss is the first “openly autistic” lawyer to be admitted to the Florida Bar. Moss gives his business an edge in complex areas of law, Zumpano says, because of her “extraordinary” capacity for analysis and information processing (bit.ly/bt0619p14-3).
Of course, not every person with autism possesses a photographic memory or has a capacity for deep analysis. People with autism have a range of abilities and challenges. Employers such as SAP, JPMorgan Chase, EY, Microsoft and others recognize this diversity and are part of the Autism at Work program, which seeks to benefit from this range of abilities by employing more than 160 colleagues in 13 countries (bit.ly/bt0619p14-1).
There are more attorneys with autism than people realize, according to Shain Neumeier, an autistic lawyer from Massachusetts as reported in the ABA Journal (bit.ly/bt0619p14-5).
The ABA Journal continues: “I think people are becoming more willing to be out of the closet because some of the stigma is gone. It’s not just a bunch of people who are sitting in corners banging their heads; we are fully functioning,” says Michael Gilberg, a special education and disability rights attorney in New York, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome when he was 18. He graduated from Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University in 2007 and is admitted to practice in New York and Connecticut.
“I want to see us being meaningfully included and have opportunities that are aligned with our skills,” Haley Moss stated, “as well as what we’re capable of.”
The goal would be for all individuals to be recognized for their strengths and abilities that they bring to a workplace, not just for how they are challenged. According to StatsCan, 22% of Canadians have at least one disability, which represents 6.2 million people (2017) (bit.ly/bt0619p14-4).
Employers, particularly law firms, have a deep role to play by advocating for the rights of those with differing abilities and challenges. They can also be leaders in recognizing and employing individuals with amazing attributes and strengths to help them build meaningful careers.
The views expressed herein are strictly those of David Bilinsky and do not reflect the opinions of the Law Society of British Columbia, CBABC, or their respective members.
David J. Bilinsky is the Practice Management Advisor for the Law Society of British Columbia
(presently on leave).