Monday, October 22, 2012

Disability and doubt:"You're a real attorney?"

Some friends of mine seem to be really impressed with the fact that I'm an attorney and often use it as a conversation piece even if I'm nowhere near. A couple times I walked into an ongoing discussion only to learn that my name was already brought up and somebody was waiting to introduce me to their circle. Many people often didn't believe me until I give them my card, as if it's seeing it printed, using the most generic template from an online service made it official. A few Saturdays ago I was having a fun karaoke night at a bar  with a couple of drinks while my friends decided to smoke outside. When I went out to check on them introductions begun. He doesn't believe you a real attorney- said my friend a bit frustration, pointing at a man she just man. I didn't care- I was wearing a T-shirt and jeans, I've had a drink or two. I wasn't looking very lawyer-like: no pulled back gelled up  hair or a suit. I wasn't too upset, even if he didn't believe me, I was hoping for a fun night to relax. I wasn't planning on being professional that night. But then I gave him my card, which I use to advertise my blog rather than a law practice and he was really impressed.  I guess it's a well spent 12 dollars (printed front and back) My friends were the ones annoyed, as if I was insulted and they were fighting for my honor. Yes, some of it has to do with be being in a wheelchair, but the more you do it, the less you care what people think. I'm a lawyer because that's my profession. I don't do it as a gimmick or to impress people. I don't need to prove my worth. I worked really hard to get my three law degrees from two countries. Later, many weeks spent on crunching for the Bar exam. Blood sweat and tears if you will to have me license to practice in two American jurisdiction. For me it's a natural consequence of everything I put into this. I didn't just land on my lap, I'm hardly an overnight sensation.

Many years of pushing and fighting with a lot of people doubting if I can do it. Because I'm in a wheelchair, because I'm from Poland. I used to think that it would make me feel so good to show all the nonbelievers  what I have accomplished and how their negativity only fueled me to worked harder. That one day I would say, I'm vindicated and I have arrived, what so you say now? But I don't feel different. Not in the way that makes you get back at people. I'm educated, I'm trained, more knowledgeable, I have better perspectives but being a lawyer is what I do, it doesn't transform me into a different person. One of the things that UF students interviewing me for their journalism project asked me was: Do people that used to dismiss me treat me different now that I'm a lawyer? And the truth is you see it in their eyes. How they go from feeling better than you, because the first thing they see is a wheelchair, to impressed and wanting to hear more. "You're an attorney? A Real attorney"-they say as if there is any other kind. One woman even declared she'll make sure I am by researching me with a Florida Bar. If I pretended to be one I'd be in trouble because unauthorized practice of law is a crime. But I don't practice law to get attention. And I think every person has worth and every profession has a reason. I have friends who are clerks, masseurs, bartenders, waiters, mechanics, artists, actors among others and I don't really understand why some people think I'm allowed to feel better than anyone. And would I chase down the people who were once dismissive to say: Look at me know? Why would I care?

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