Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 29

FEATURE
retain a high level of sociability and classroom participation, even as my
stuttering began to frustratingly and uncontrollably surface, by (often
unconsciously) substituting or going around challenging words to fluently
verbalize, a covert speech strategy known as circumlocution.
Circumlocution involves the speaker's use of vague or imprecise language
- which runs counter to what law school teaches - in the often
naïve hope that the words are just enough to imply the intended meaning
to the listener. While circumlocution was a failsafe for me, it was not
until I began speech therapy after my undergraduate years that I realized
it was a fight-or-flight response and extremely difficult (though by no
means impossible) to change by adulthood.
Continuing to covertly stutter as opposed to doing so openly would
have been unacceptable not only as a matter of skills development but
also of character and ethical growth. Remaining covert in my stutter
would have sacrificed my competency in legal representation because it
would have led to the replacement of essential words with ones that are
at best analogous in meaning but not as precise or effective.
In addition, hiding my stutter would have displayed a lack of candor to
clients, colleagues, and judicial officers who may misinterpret my words
and misperceive my level of preparation. They deserve the opportunity
to understand and appreciate the different communicative styles presented
by people who stutter, a condition that impacts around three
million Americans.
DESTIGMATIZING WHAT YOU DON'T SEE
My professors and other mentors throughout law school and in my
present work at the Center for Reproductive Rights have reinforced my
conviction that the legal profession, perhaps more than any other, can
benefit from a deeper understanding of invisible and nonapparent disabilities,
and especially of the different communicative styles presented
by people who stutter. A legal culture that encourages diversity in verbal
communication can empower those with speech fluency disorders by
assuring them that they can be effective and transformative advocates
and litigators. All legal professionals can also benefit from increased
competence or diligence when encountering people who stutter (or
a specific type of stutter) for the first time.
The American Bar Association's (ABA) Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Center
aims to help the legal culture shed its stigmatization of or hesitance
to understand people with nonapparent and invisible disabilities. However,
even among organizations like the ABA or other disability advocacy
groups, stuttering remains virtually absent in discussions on disabilities in
a profession uniquely reliant on effective and precise speech.
While this is not necessarily the fault of such organizations and groups
- particularly when stuttering can often remain hidden through covert
avoidance and may be underrepresented in the profession overall - this
oversight perpetuates a cycle. Less discussion keeps the condition highly
stigmatized, leading to covert and avoidant behaviors that exacerbate or
create new misperceptions, leading many to feel they must hide their
condition, which creates less opportunity for exposure and knowledge.
However, my personal experience from law school through my first year
and a half of professional practice at the Center for Reproductive Rights
gives me more faith in the legal profession and its potential to better understand,
accommodate, and value nonapparent and stigmatized disabilities
than the gaps described here suggest.
Preparing for a year of cold calls before beginning my first year of law
school was the first time I had ever reached out to a professor (or employer)
to alert them of my stutter. Beginning my legal education explicitly
acknowledging to my professors that I am a person who stutters was
new and daunting terrain, but it was the first step away from avoidance
and toward embracing my stutter as a part of my identity.
Still, while stuttering can significantly reduce my verbal fluency and may
require me to clarify certain things, I do not require major accommodations
or encounter as strong a stigma as others who stutter. So, although
"
MY PROFESSORS AND OTHER MENTORS
THROUGHOUT LAW SCHOOL AND IN MY PRESENT
WORK AT THE CENTER FOR REPRODUCTIVE
RIGHTS HAVE REINFORCED MY CONVICTION
THAT THE LEGAL PROFESSION, PERHAPS
MORE THAN ANY OTHER, CAN BENEFIT FROM
A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF INVISIBLE
AND NONAPPARENT DISABILITIES.
it may have appeared easy for my professors to accommodate my stutter,
I also knew that ensuring a student with a stutter received the same
quality of legal education - including cold calls and other practical rhetorical
skills - would challenge them, too.
Cold calls during my first year of law school led to an increasing admiration
for the care my professors showed in not placating or reducing the
challenge presented by Socratic dialogue. They prepared and pushed
me just as any other student. Even professors traditionally known for
grilling students treated me no differently than anyone else, leaving me
enough time to speak and pushing me to make more effective and precise
arguments without letting my speech feel like a significant hindrance.
My
mentors and supervisors through different legal internships and externships
during law school were similarly considerate but no less demanding
in ensuring I would be as equipped as possible for a successful
career in legal advocacy. However, treating me equally and with patience
still allowed me to largely conceal the stutter in class. Only in
mock trial and as a student-attorney at my law school's international
human rights clinic did I have to grapple with covert stuttering and its
potential ethical implications.
Although circumlocution is often habitual, I could not rely on it in a legal
clinic where I would be trained in client interviewing, counseling, and
oral advocacy. My clinic supervisor did not shy away from explaining the
challenges I would face in advocacy as a person who stutters, but the
patience, compassion, and encouragement she and my classmates
showed - combined with our work on complex human rights cases
that required a patient and thorough understanding of background contexts
and constant reflection on our potential psychological blind spots
MARCH/APRIL 2024 * WASHINGTON LAWYER 29

Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024

Notice to Members
From Our President
Calendar of Events
Practice Management
Toward Well-Being
Defending Diversity: Rise of DEI-Focused Practices
Will Law Firms Stay the Course on Improving Diversity?
Unlocking the Potential of Diverse Talent
We Belong: Black Students in the IP Talent Pipeline
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor: Her Legacy Lives on Through Us
Get to Know The Appellate Project
Speaking Up for Lawyers With Invisible Disability
Special Section: 25 Years of the Youth Law Fair
Taking the Stand
Worth Reading
Member Spotlight
On Further Review
Attorney Briefs
Speaking of Ethics
Disciplinary Summaries
The Pro Bono Effect
A Slice of Wry
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Cover1
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 1
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 2
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 3
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 4
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Notice to Members
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - From Our President
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Calendar of Events
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Practice Management
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Toward Well-Being
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Defending Diversity: Rise of DEI-Focused Practices
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 11
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 12
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 13
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Will Law Firms Stay the Course on Improving Diversity?
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 15
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 16
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 17
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Unlocking the Potential of Diverse Talent
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 19
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - We Belong: Black Students in the IP Talent Pipeline
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 21
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 22
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 23
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Justice Sandra Day O’Connor: Her Legacy Lives on Through Us
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 25
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Get to Know The Appellate Project
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 27
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Speaking Up for Lawyers With Invisible Disability
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 29
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 30
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 31
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Special Section: 25 Years of the Youth Law Fair
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 33
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Taking the Stand
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 35
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 36
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Worth Reading
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Member Spotlight
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 39
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - On Further Review
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Attorney Briefs
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Speaking of Ethics
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 43
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Disciplinary Summaries
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 45
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - The Pro Bono Effect
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 47
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - A Slice of Wry
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Cover3
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Cover4
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