Happy Holidays!

The following is from my annual holiday update to my friends.

A blue postcard says "Happy Holidays" in the center with white snowflakes and stars. This image is from this link.

A blue postcard says “Happy Holidays” in the center with white snowflake stars. This image is from this e-card link.

I dreaded writing this year’s update. Although I was appointed as co-chair for the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois’ Attorneys with Disabilities Committee and a member of the Statewide Independent Living Council of Illinois (SILC), I haven’t been as productive as I would like to have been this year. I’m so used to doing everything at 90 mph that my slower pace is hard for me to get used to.

Another SILC member I just met worked at the University of Illinois when I was a freshman. When I asked her why we never met before this year, she replied that she saw me but she could never catch me because I was too fast. So perhaps there are benefits to living a slower pace. Please forgive me if I was going too fast to be there for you. I’m definitely here now if you need me.

Last December, I was just ending my pro bono work with the Legal Council for Health Justice, or the organization formerly known as Aids Legal Council of Chicago, which was a fantastic six months of hands on experience with Social Security matters directly from the Executive Director. I was enthusiastic to launch my own law practice, the Disability Law Collective, with the assistance from my legal incubator program. I soon realized that successful self-employment requires more than shared office space, particularly as a person with a disability. I did get my first case through Access Living and am eager to grow my practice.

I see improving independence and employment for myself and others with disabilities as the reoccurring theme of my work and my ultimate life goal. Able Community is the non-profit housing cooperative for people with and without disabilities that I have been working on with a fantastic group of people, who all happen to have disabilities and are all graduates from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Our Able Community members are working towards improving independence for people with disabilities, personal assistants, and their families.

Able Community is not having a fundraiser this year because we are working on our 501(c)3 incorporation; we are extremely close to filing the application. I realize that I’ve been saying this for a while, but we have just submitted our materials to our non-profit pro bono attorneys and our next step is filing the application. We will have more fundraisers once we file for our 501(c)3 status, so we can provide tax deductions. If you still want to donate to Able Community anyway, we would of course gratefully accept your generosity; here is a link to our PayPal info on the bottom of this hyperlinked page. We are incredibly grateful for everything our supporters have done for us already.

(In case you missed it, above is our fundraiser video from last year. It explains what Able Community is and who the members are better.)

I consider myself so blessed to be back home in Illinois, near the city I love and to be closer to the other Able Community members. As someone who pursued a legal career to practice civil rights and fight racial injustices, I am appalled by the recent police brutality incidents. I am conscious that the systematic violence and racial inequalities deeply rooted in our nation’s history call for even greater collective systematic change at the city and national level. I have also come to realize that the everyday injustices are just as important to advocate for as the systematic ones and I hope that my law practice, the Disability Law Collective, will meet the everyday legal needs of the disability community.

(A sneak preview of Disability Law Collective’s animated promotional video.)

I also feel blessed to be back, closer to my friends in Illinois, to celebrate life’s happy and sad moments together. I lost 3 friends this year. While this comes with being a part of the disability community and I have lost schoolmates from an early age, I don’t think I will ever get used to it. I’m sure that my losses do not remotely measure up to what the families who lost their loved ones with disabilities or the teachers and professionals who continuously loose people with disabilities they work with must go through.

Having said that, I believe it is wise to make legal preparations so your loved ones and family know what your final wishes are. This can be done through estate planning, including wills, and medical and financial powers of attorneys. I’d be happy to help you figure out what legal options meet your needs and if for some reason I cannot (I’m only licensed to practice law in Illinois and California), I’ll be happy to help find someone else who can. And please let me know if there is anything else I could help you with, legally or otherwise.

I have been enjoying Chicago. One of the Able Community members would marry football if he could, whereas I would definitely marry Chicago. My sister and I have been doing the touristy things that we never did before, like architecture tours. We’ve also been going to Broadway musicals. I’m really glad that my love of musical started in an early age (thanks to my elementary school music and art teachers). I did subject to my whole law school to this love by making many of the professors and students participate in my law school musical production during my last year.

I’ve also taken up some inherently dangerous adaptive activities, including water skiing and alpine skiing (I’m sure some of you would love to throw me off a mountain). It feeds my rebellious-defying-what-people-say-I-cannot-do-because-of-my-disability spirit. Similar to the teams of people assisting people with disabilities find independence through sports traditionally meant for able-bodied people, I am excited to be a part of teams advocating for the independence for people with disabilities through the Disability Law Collective and Able Community.

(Photo with the crew of volunteers who made sure that I didn’t kill myself my first time skiing.)

I am taking better care of my health with adaptive yoga and horseback riding. I look forward to adding adaptive scuba diving to the list of my inherently dangerous adaptive adventures. Perhaps I am training to be the next James Bond… I know that I am not an attractive British able-bodied man. But how cool would it be if there was a movie with a female spy with a disability who is a person of color?!?

Happy Holidays, but especially a very Merry Christmas and a Happy Hanukkah (showing my Judeo-Christian biases)!

Sincerely,
Esther S. Lee,
Attorney at Law
esther@disabilitylawcollective.com
Disability Law Collective <http://disabilitylawcollective.com>
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Back to Back Disability Conferences: NOSSCR & ADA

Dear Gimpy Law Readers:

I am attending two conferences to better serve the disability community. I just finished attending NOSSCR, a bi-annual conference on Social Security law, and am currently attending the National ADA Symposium. Interestingly, the definition of “disability” is harder to meet under Social Security than under the ADA.

NOSSCR/ADA Conference logos

NOSSCR/ADA Conference logos

I realize that I haven’t posted in a while. I faced setbacks to officially launching my law practice, Disability Law Collective. In particular, I was figuring out office accessibility at my incubator program. There seems to be a fine line when advocating for yourself in an employment-esque context. I also had to think about my clients and future attorneys with disabilities in my program.

Anyway, I will write an actual blog soon. If you want to see a blog on a particular topic, please comment below.

Attorney Profile: Disclosing My Disability

After much deliberation about disclosing my disability on my online attorney profile, I decided to go full monty and disclose a full picture. Perhaps it makes sense for me to disclose my disability, since I am starting a disability law practice. But I am still nervous that some potential clients would be hesitant to hire me because of my disability.

When I was about to graduate law school, I had a conversation about disclosing my disability with my Employment Discrimination Law Professor. She encouraged me to disclose my disability, saying that employers would eventually find out that I have a disability and that I shouldn’t waste my time with the ones that discriminate. She added that I would find the right office that would accept me and my disability. After about six years of agonizing job applications, I have come to realize that no such office exists. But I am hopeful that my potential clients will be different.

Here’s my blurb for my up and coming website for my law practice:

Profile Picture of Esther Lee

Profile Picture of Esther Lee

My name is Esther S. Lee.  I am an attorney with a disability.  My Cerebral Palsy affects my speech and mobility, but not my spirit.  I received honors distinctions from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with a B.A. in English and Rhetoric.  I graduated from the University of California Davis, School of Law, with a focus on civil rights and public interest law.  In addition to being an attorney, I am starting a non-profit housing cooperative for people with and without disabilities, called Able Community.  My extensive background advancing the rights of people with disabilities includes legal work at multiple disability rights organizations and disability policy work at the White House.  I am committed to empowering people with disabilities and underrepresented communities, advancing their rights and quality of life through legal advocacy.

Our office is an affordable, socially conscious law practice advocating for people with disabilities and their families’ every day legal needs.  The practice focuses on Social Security, Special Education, housing, disability, and administrative law; as well as advancing the Civil Rights of all people in Illinois and California.

Experience:

  • Successfully fought apartment management companies and university housing to modify units for increased ADA accessibility.
  • Successfully initiated Social Security applications and assisted with appearances.
  • Successfully resolved fence encroachment matters between neighbors.
  • Successfully reduced and appealed Cook County property tax assessments.
  • Successfully negotiated medical bills in a medical negligence case.
  • Successfully completed mediations, administrative reviews, administrative fair hearings, 4731 complaints for Regional Center disabilities services in California.
  • Successfully completed mediations and administrative review process for Department of Rehabilitation services.

Pro Bono Experience:

  • White House: Engaged in disability policy and outreach to the disability community.
  • Legal Assistance Foundation’s Special Education Pro Bono Panel: Trained to provide legal representation and advocacy in Special Education matters.
  • Access Living—Civil Rights Team (Chicago’s Independent Living Center): Advanced disability rights in housing and community integration litigation.
  • Disability Rights California’s Office of Clients’ Rights Advocates: Advocated for clients with developmental disabilities in Special Education, employment discrimination, and wrote a letter to stop harassing a client who was manipulated into purchasing an expensive household item he did not need.
  • Aids Legal Council of Chicago: Advocated for adults and children with disabilities in Social Security Disability Insurance and Social Security Income appeals before the Social Security Administration and Federal Court.
  • Legal Services of Northern California: Provided legal advice to low-income and elderly clients on topics including landlord-tenant issues, housing, and professional licensing.
  • Coordinated Advice and Referral Program for Legal Services (CARPLS): Assisted clients in creditor, housing, and family law self-help matters on a legal assistance hotline.
  • Civil Rights Clinic: Represented a former prisoner in a medical negligence (personal injury) case against prison personnel.
  • Homeless Action Center: Worked on Social Security applications and appeals for homeless and low income individuals.

Any feedback on this bio or thoughts on disclosing one’s disability on one’s profile?

Happy Fall, an e-mail update to my friends

Dear friends,

After 9 years of living in California, I moved back home to Illinois. I’m in an incubator program that incubates new attorneys into solo practitioners. Yes, my life has been full of detours, twisting and turning my intended direct path. When I was in Pasadena, I met up with my law school friend and mock trial competition co-counsel. As I shared my job search frustrations, she jokingly asked if I was upset that I haven’t changed the world yet. She was right. I remember writing in my law school applications that I’m not naive enough to think I can change the world, but I want to be a catalyst for everyday change. I’ve come to realize that I do want to change the world. Or at the very least, be part of that change.

This mass email will probably be my last update from this address. I plan to launch my law practice for people with disabilities and their families on January 2, 2015! I keep pushing back my launch date, so perhaps sharing my exciting news of my second wind at my legal career will motivate me to stick to this date.

In other fantastic news, Able Community, the soon-to-be nonprofit housing cooperative I’m starting with friends with and without disabilities filed its articles with the Illinois Secretary of State. We’ve been working on it for the past two years and are progressing towards our goal of becoming a 501(c)3. If I am able to leave a legacy, I believe it will be for my work on Able Community, redefining independence for people with disabilities, personal assistants, and their families by improving accessible housing and the dynamics of care to enable reaching our full personhood potential and employment. To find out more about Able Community, please visit: ablecommunitychicago.org.

Stay tuned for more exciting news to come!

This was an e-mail update to my friends. If you would like to receive e-mail updates from me, please leave me a comment below.

Picture of the "at" symbol emerging from an envelope with a blue arrow circling the envelope, representing an e-mail, from this link.

Picture of the “at” symbol emerging from an envelope with a blue arrow circling the envelope, representing an e-mail, from this link.

Blogging on Blogging

WordPress is pissing me off. I find WordPress themes limiting and frustrating, both the paid wordpress.org option that I use for my non-profit, Able Community, and this free wordpress.com Gimpy Law blog. While there are a plethora of themes, many of which are free, these themes are still restrictive in terms of having to pay to change color schemes divergent from the limited color options provided and being restricted to the theme’s layout, features, and fonts. Of course, if I had mad HTML skills, perhaps I could change these restrictions.

Here are the two themes Gimpy Law has tried:

Current truly minimal theme on a laptop.

Current Truly Minimal theme on a laptop.

I’ve been advised to use “responsive” themes that are mobile friendly, easily readable on cell phones and mobile devices. I do like how the Truly Minimal theme looks on my phone, better than on my computer. I have tried to change the header picture to one with better resolution, but am still working on this. I wish the laptop version of the Truly Minimal theme had brief thumbnail summaries and images of each post, so readers could easily find certain posts without scrolling down entire posts.

Fontfolio

The Fontfolio theme with featured pictures and shortened titles that I tried before briefly.

I like the idea of the Fontfolio theme, displaying a featured picture and title of each blog on the main page, so that newcomers to Gimpy Law can easily visualize and scan the different posts without having to scroll down each post in reverse chronological order. But unfortunately, some of the pictures get cut off, like Barbie’s friend, Becky’s head; and longer post titles are shortened and you cannot see them till you mouse over them.

I miss my Xanga blogging days, where everyone’s blog had the same exact layout, but at least we could change colors and fonts as we pleased and even mess around with the template a little. Xanga was popular, apparently among Asian Americans, although my white friends introduced me to it in college.

In addition to my personal Xanga blog, I made an anonymous Shakespeare Xanga, complete with the “What Is a Youth” song  on repeat from Romeo and Juliet (the 1968 film soundtrack) and scarlet red background. I wrote in iambic pentameter/Elizabethan diction on my posts and comments to my unsuspecting friends’ blogs, most of whom were fellow English majors. My friends and I had a good laugh when they uncovered my ghost writing, Shakespeare guised identity. My friends’ Xanga blogs are all dead and gone, eliminating my readership. My Xanga is private and haven’t used it in years.

Here are some paid WordPress.org themes I would consider using for Gimpy Law:

Primo Lite Theme Response

Fluxipress Theme

Fluxipress Theme

The benefits of WordPress are that it is the new Xanga, Myspace, whatever blog; it’s trending and there is a huge base of potential readers. What I especially like about Wordpress is that any reader can leave comments, without having to have a Wordpress account. So always feel free to leave comments. Long story short, Gimpy Law will stay on Wordpress and just be annoyed by the inflexibility in its themes… that is unless Wordpress retaliates against this post.

Any thoughts on Gimpy Law’s layout or theme selection? Feel free to share them below in the comment section.

The Feasibility of My Gimpy Law Practice

Before I spend more money and time on building up my practice, I wonder if I should do a feasibility study (an assessment of what a certain venture should entail, feasibility concerns, and the likelihood of succeeding) on how well my practice will do, which practice areas would be more successful, the likelihood that clients would hire me with my disability, and if clients would want to use a virtual office over a traditional office with in-person meetings.  Any ideas?

A picture of a man contemplating ideas on a huge blackboard from this online image.

Perhaps the only way to really know is to go ahead and do it.  I realized some time ago that since I wasn’t being hired as an attorney (I suspect disability discrimination compounded by the Recession), I needed to start my own law practice to work as an attorney.  I have been risk adverse about this…  I mean law school teaches to think of the worst case scenario.  I have friends without disabilities who have started their own practices; some have been more successful than others.

I have done a feasibility study for my non-profit organization, but I have never heard of a feasibility study for a law practice.  The feasibility study for my non-profit involved sending out a survey monkey to friends with disabilities, asking them questions relevant to service areas that the non-profit seeks to provide, and then interviewing the survey participants who expressed an interest in what we’re doing.  Would a feasibility study for my gimpy law practice be worth pursuing?  What would one look like?  And how would I distribute it?  To whom?  Feel free to share your thoughts in the poll or in the comment section below.