Monday, April 30, 2012

Nobody likes the ADA

My colleague from law school was frank enough with me to tell me that he doesn’t like the Americans with Disabilities Act. You can get an injunction- he noted (meaning you can have the Court order somebody to do something or stop them from doing something else) but not a big recovery. And he is right. Some of the disability law allows attorneys to get fees and costs covered but not a large pay out. In a way in makes sense- the point of that legislation is to fix problems and relatively quickly: build a ramp, provide access, put kids in schools, assure accommodations, promote inclusions. It is not designed to penalize businesses or to essentially offer a premium for having a disability and catching a violation. On the other hand it worries me. If it’s not an attractive area for lawyers to go into, how will there will be enough of to help the clients and make them aware that they even have rights? Even accomplished attorneys we have spoken to use disability area as a passion project. They have cautioned us to find actual continuous paying clients before venturing off into that type of practice. And then I remembered how much trouble James Klausner had finding legal representation for parents of kids with Cerebral Palsy negotiating with school boards. He wasn’t able to find able to find more than one with expertise, not only in the immediate area, but this part of the State. And it seems to make sense- if it doesn’t pay the bills, you can sustain a career. The sad thing is- a lot of the civil rights legislation came out off the civil rights movement and litigation.
My law partner and I are now in the process of establishing an ADA- themed workshop, that would travel across Florida to campuses to educate students, hold meetings, presentations and assemblies. To do so, we’ve begun to survey schools for interest: How many students with disabilities do they have, what disability programs, what student groups. The answers are very similar. While the number of students is growing, some schools have not seen groups dealing with this subject since the 1990’s. My old law school teaches disability law only once every two years citing very low interest and again, can you blame them? One thing that I found striking about the class summary is that it’s federal in scope and focused on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). A lot of rights, especially in education  come from other bodies of law, like the Rehabilitation Act (RA ) or IDEA.  To advise anyone on what they’re entitled to and what their options are you need to look into the legal system of that particular state. Florida Accessibility Code  is for example.often much more restrictive than the Federal model. And you can’t have any kind of discussion without analyzing it first. You really need to adopt a perspective like we do teaching Wills and Trusts, Evidence and Family Law.
One other thing I find surprising is that I see law graduates volunteering with professors or firms just to get some experience. Yet nobody seems to be interested in an area where you can really make an impact. 

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