Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 39

MEMBER SPOTLIGHT

Charles Mitchell

Breaks Limits On & Off the Ice
By Sarah Kellogg

F

or patent attorney Charles "Charlie"
W. Mitchell, being diagnosed with
a degenerative vision disease in
his 20s wasn't the end of his career
in the law but, rather, the beginning
of something more as he transformed
his private adversity into personal and
professional achievement.
"If you look at it from the outside, you might
think it's so sad that a person is losing his
vision," says Mitchell, an associate at Finnegan.
"I'm not saying it hasn't been hard, but now that
I feel like I've come out on the other side, it has
made me a better person."
Mitchell's vision likely started to fade as a youth,
and he has progressively lost more and more of
it as an adult. Today, he retains 10 percent or less
of his vision. He can no longer drive, and he
walks with a cane.
But what may surprise many is that Mitchell
has a successful patent practice at Finnegan.
He also plays hockey (defenseman) for a local
team of blind and visually impaired players, and
in 2019 he was selected for the USA National
Blind Hockey Team. If his skills hold up, he could
go to the 2026 Winter Paralympics.
"I think something like this obviously changes
your perspective on everything," says Mitchell,
31. "It makes you think about what's important
in life and what your goals are and how you
prioritize things. I've said in a lot of ways that
this has been a gift, and I know that might
sound crazy, but it's opened me up to these
incredible experiences. There's a lot of fruit that
has actually come out of the whole situation."
That's not to say Mitchell wasn't in denial about
his diagnosis and his diminishing vision at many
points over the last 15 years. An athlete, Mitchell
was too healthy to be infirm, and so he dismissed
his early vision problems in high school, and
even later while attending the University
of Notre Dame.

Things became more difficult when
he went to law school. At George
Washington University Law School,
Mitchell worked twice as hard
to complete the work necessary to earn
his degree. When he was a 2L in 2013,
the reality of his failing vision set in. In
a 48-hour period a sober Mitchell was
stopped by the police for crossing lanes,
and he lost a racquetball game to his
wife, Katie, because he couldn't see the
ball. The worried couple shuttled
between various vision specialists to
discover his final diagnosis - retinitis
pigmentosa.
Mitchell had an entirely human response:
shock and more denial. Still, he
perservered in law school, graduating in
2015 and joining Finnegan. He excelled
at the firm, but his vision loss was finally
catching up with him. He began to work
longer and longer hours to try to keep up.
At the same time, he was pulling away
from his family and friends. Finally, the
pressure of maneuvering even the simple
activities of daily life - attending a happy
hour with colleagues at the firm or going out
to dinner with his wife - became so intense
that he receded into himself.
"It was a long process. When I got the initial
diagnosis, the deterioration was not at a point
where it was super limiting in terms of my daily
activities," says Mitchell. "Then I went through
a period of denial where I wasn't taking any
affirmative steps to plan or prepare for the
future. That came to an end when I started to
really struggle more in terms of doing my work
and daily activities. When you start walking into
objects and you go through a Metro station like
a pinball bouncing off of people left and right,
you know you have a problem."

RESURFACING AGAIN
Colleagues, friends, and family noticed the
change in his personality and his retreat from
public view. They were worried, but they knew

the decision to break free of the melancholy
would have to come from him.
"I was spending huge numbers of hours at work
to generate the same amount of work that I had
been doing previously," he says. "Finally, some
folks at the firm and my wife encouraged me
to be proactive in addressing the situation, but
I really had no idea what to do. I had to find out
how you practice law being completely blind."
For that, he turned to Angela Matney, an associate at Loeb & Loeb LLP who has been blind
since birth. Matney worked in the same building
as Mitchell, and he sought her advice on how to
manage his new life. She recommended training
for the visually impaired. In spring 2019, Mitchell
spent three months at the Virginia Rehabilitation
Center for the Blind and Vision Impaired in
Richmond to learn how to use assistive technologies such as long canes and screen readers.
"Before I did the training, I was just kind of
shutting down," he says. "My first week back at

JUNE 2020

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WASHINGTON LAWYER 39



Washington Lawyer - June 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - June 2020

YOUR VOICE
FROM OUR PRESIDENT
PRACTICE MANAGEMENT
CALENDAR OF EVENTS
BAR BUSINESS: BUDGET REPORT
MEET GEOFFREY M. KLINEBERG: 49TH PRESIDENT OF THE D.C. BAR
MOVING THE NEEDLE ON LAW FIRM DIVERSITY
THE 2020 JOHN PAYTON LEADERSHIP ACADEMY
JAMES SANDMAN GOES BACK TO SCHOOL
LAW & SERVICE: OAG CONNECTS TO THE COMMUNITY
ON FURTHER REVIEW
THE LEARNING CURVE
MEMBER SPOTLIGHT
WORTH READING
ATTORNEY BRIEFS
DISCIPLINARY SUMMARIES
THE PRO BONO EFFECT
SPECIAL SECTION: UNFINISHED FIGHT
LAST WORD
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - Cover1
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 1
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 2
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 3
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 4
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - YOUR VOICE
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - FROM OUR PRESIDENT
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 7
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - PRACTICE MANAGEMENT
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 9
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - CALENDAR OF EVENTS
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - BAR BUSINESS: BUDGET REPORT
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - MEET GEOFFREY M. KLINEBERG: 49TH PRESIDENT OF THE D.C. BAR
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 13
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 14
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 15
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 16
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 17
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - MOVING THE NEEDLE ON LAW FIRM DIVERSITY
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 19
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 20
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 21
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 22
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 23
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - THE 2020 JOHN PAYTON LEADERSHIP ACADEMY
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 25
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 26
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 27
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - JAMES SANDMAN GOES BACK TO SCHOOL
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 29
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 30
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 31
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - LAW & SERVICE: OAG CONNECTS TO THE COMMUNITY
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 33
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - ON FURTHER REVIEW
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 35
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - THE LEARNING CURVE
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 37
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - MEMBER SPOTLIGHT
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 39
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 40
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 41
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - WORTH READING
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - ATTORNEY BRIEFS
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - DISCIPLINARY SUMMARIES
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 45
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - THE PRO BONO EFFECT
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 47
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 48
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 49
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - SPECIAL SECTION: UNFINISHED FIGHT
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 51
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - LAST WORD
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - Cover3
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - Cover4
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