KatMacfarlane

What does it mean to be a lawyer? Navigating disability and unexpected physical demands.

I was a scrappy lawyer. I always had enough energy to write another motion. I was a tough negotiator, willing to endure my adversaries’ insults and bullying.  I was versatile. Well, if that's what you call taking a depo in a Jiffy Lube employee break room because it's the most convenient place for the deponent to appear. Like so many of my peers, I prepped witnesses on weekends and took calls at all hours. I was never off limits. The job wasn’t always easy on my body, but when it came down to what I needed to do to win, I…

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KatMacfarlane

Pushed & Pulled: The Kavanaugh Effect

It was not an easy week, last week. I don’t have it in me to tell you how my disability affected my work, because though it certainly did, as it always does, I was pulled in multiple directions by something else. I was both teacher and witness, professor and person. It was not an easy week to be all of those things. It was not easy to decide what to do on the day of the hearings. Should I cancel class, encouraging my students to watch history unfold, a history that speaks to their future as members of the legal…

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KatMacfarlane

Owning Up to My Reality: I’m Disabled, and I Always Will Be

I struggle with calling myself disabled. It’s much easier to write “I’m disabled” than it is to say it out loud. I use an endless list of euphemisms instead. “I need to sit down.” “I need extra time to board.” “I’m just not feeling up to it.” "It's going to be hard for me to make that walk." I’m not sure I’ve ever said the words “I’m disabled.” I’ve had countless conversations about my need for reasonable accommodations, and my volatile health, but generally avoid claiming my status.  Which is ridiculous. I've spoken at legislative hearings about the tremendous impact…

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KatMacfarlane

Obtaining Accommodations at Your New Law Job

Now that the bar is over, many of you will soon head off to your first post-law school job. Congratulations! You’ll be making choices about healthcare, retirement savings and life insurance. If you’re disabled, it’s never too soon to start thinking about the accommodations you’ll need to work efficiently. What follows are some tips to help ensure that your accommodations are in place as soon as you need them. Don’t Wait to Ask for Accommodations To qualify for reasonable accommodations at a new workplace, you’ll often be required to fill out a stack of paperwork and obtain medical documentation of…

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KatMacfarlane

Doctors v. Lawyers

Because of my disabilities, I spend an inordinate amount of time with doctors. It’s not unusual to have four medical appointments in one week. As frustrating as my illnesses are, the interactions I have with doctors are often more demoralizing than the conditions they treat me for.  And I think that my law degree has something to do with the horrible way I feel after each doctor’s office visit. The common assumption is that because I have a law degree, doctors are more cautious with my care because they fear I will sue them. My experience has been quite the…

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KatMacfarlane

Disability & the Summer Associate Gig: To Disclose or Not to Disclose?

During my 1L year, I was thrilled to receive a summer position at an employment rights firm that represented plaintiffs in anti-discrimination suits. I’d convinced the firm to waive its practice of hiring only rising 3Ls for summer law clerk positions. I entered my summer job with high hopes about the extraordinary cases I’d be a part of, and an understanding that, as a rising 2L, I’d need to prove myself. I knew that the firm’s associates worked around the clock, but for summer law clerks, the hours were reasonable. Feedback on my research and writing was strong, and it appeared that…

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KatMacfarlane

When the Law Empowers: Learning Disability Advocacy by Helping Yourself

In the past few months I’ve written about how disability makes a difficult profession even harder. But now, I want to tell you about how your legal knowledge empowers, especially when it comes to disability. I primarily teach first year law students. But I also teach a small seminar open only to upper division students. The difference, after just one year of law school, is striking. By students' second year, each thought is better supported, and the once shaky voice is newly willing to stake out a controversial position and stick to it. After just one year of law school,…

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KatMacfarlane

Controlling the Conversation About (Your) Disability

I’ve been thinking about the ways we control women. How we dictate the terms by which their identity is defined, discussed, and policed. When it comes to my identity as a disabled woman, I want to write the script. Still. I've been forced to talk about my disability when all I wanted to do was chat about the weather. I have so many conversations that detour from a random comment about the rain to an intrusive question about my joints. Sometimes, I want to talk about my disability, but the person I’m talking to decides he or she does not, and…

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KatMacfarlane

Can a Disabled Lawyer Achieve Work-Life Balance?

As I write this, an IV is pumping Remicade into a vein in my right elbow, on the fleshy, inner side. Remicade, a chemotherapeutic agent, treats my Rheumatoid Arthritis as well as the chronic inflammation in my eyes. I’m told that the 22 gauge needle used for the infusion might be more comfortable in another vein, like the big one on the back of my hand. But if the needle’s on the back of my hand, it will be harder to type on my phone. And I have work to do. I’ll be in the infusion center for about 3…

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KatMacfarlane

Making Peace with Testing Accommodations

I dreaded law school exams, but not because of the exams themselves. I received testing accommodations in law school, which meant that I took my exams in a room far away from the place all of my classmates took theirs. They noticed my absence. “I didn’t see you in the Contracts exam,” my classmates would tell me. Over the course of three years, I told only one friend about the accommodations room.  My testing accommodations were a closely guarded secret. I was ashamed that my testing experience was different, and afraid that my good grades would be attributed to the…

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