Disability Cause Lawyers

By Waterstone, Michael E.; Stein, Michael Ashley et al. | William and Mary Law Review, March 2012 | Go to article overview

Disability Cause Lawyers


Waterstone, Michael E., Stein, Michael Ashley, Wilkins, David B., William and Mary Law Review


ABSTRACT

There is a vast and growing cause lawyering literature demonstrating how attorneys and their relationship to social justice movements matter greatly for law's ability to engender progress. But to date, there has been no examination of the work of ADA disability cause lawyers as cause lawyers. Similarly, despite an extensive literature focused on the ADA 'S revolutionary civil rights aspects and the manner in which the Supreme Court's interpretation of that statute has stymied potential transformation of American society, no academic accounts of disability law have focused on the lawyers who bring these cases.

This Article responds to these scholarly voids. We conducted in-depth interviews with many of the nation's leading disability rights cause lawyers. What we found makes three novel contributions. As the first examination of the activities of these public interest lawyers and their advocacy, it brings to light a neglected sector of an otherwise well-examined field. In doing so, this Article complements, but also complicates, the cause lawyering literature by presenting a vibrant and successful cohort of social movement lawyers who in some ways emulate their peers and in other ways have a unique perspective and mode of operation. The Article also forces a reconsideration of academic critiques of the efficacy and transformative potential of the ADA because it demonstrates how disability cause lawyers have effectively utilized the statute to achieve social integration in the shadow of the Court's restrictive jurisprudence.

INTRODUCTION
I. DISABILITY CAUSE LAWYER INTERVIEWS
   A. Backgrounds
   B. Type of Office and Financing
   C. Relationships with Clients and the Disability
      Rights Community
   D. Cases and Litigation Strategy
   E. Other Forms of Advocacy
   F. Disability Cause Lawyers and Other Civil
      Rights Communities
II. DISABILITY CAUSE LAWYERS AS CAUSE LAWYERS
   A. Unique Political and Legal Landscape
   B. Comparing and Critiquing
      Disability / Cause Lawyers
      1. Court-Centered
      2. Resource-Diverting
      3. Elite Cooption
III. DISABILITY CAUSE LAWYERS AND
  DISABILITY LAW
  A. Beyond the Supreme Court
  B. Circumventing Buckhannon
  C. Pursuing Justice, Daily
CONCLUSION

[W]e've been filling a void that for decades has been out there and [we have been] able to really have a fundamental impact on the lives of millions of people with disabilities. It has been an immense pleasure ... to use law as the instrument for social change that I think it was designed for. (1)

INTRODUCTION

Extensive scholarship has explored the significance of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for creating social change. These examinations have largely focused on the ADA's revolutionary civil rights aspects and the manner in which the Supreme Court's interpretation of the statute has stymied potential transformation of American society. Yet, despite considerable academic analyses of the ADA, no study has focused on the lawyers who bring these disability civil rights cases. (2) This is a significant omission from an otherwise vast cause lawyering scholarship demonstrating how attorneys and their relationship to social justice movements matter greatly for law's ability to engender progress. (3) In a companion piece, we began to explore the role of disability cause lawyers. (4) We noted that they differed from predecessor movement advocates by eschewing Supreme Court constitutional litigation in favor of lower federal court public accommodation cases that generated settlements and rulings affecting large numbers of people with diverse disabilities. (5)

This Article builds on our initial and unique research on the work performed by disability cause lawyers after the ADA. We interviewed the most active and nationally prominent disability rights attorneys to gain a deeper understanding of their daily practice, motivation, and self-awareness as leading advocates of the disability rights movement. …

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