[AI] Combat Law Article by Kanchan Pamnani
kanchanpamnani at hotmail.com
Wed May 14 02:09:14 EDT 2008
Challenges are meant to be tested, faced upto, defied, braved and annihilated. Disability is one such challenge. In this refreshingly positive account, Kanchan Pamnani narrates her personal experiences as a practicing lawyer with a disability
Most might think that Law would be a “challenging” career for a blind Solicitor I disagree.
When I was young my father would say to me “Don’t think of law as a career, it is not for women and definitely not for someone who has bad eyesight”.
Since then there has been a metamorphosis. The gender prejudices that my father had envisaged never hindered my career. The “eyesight”, which he believed would never allow me to practice, actually totally disappeared completely but did not take my career with it. Computers, cell phones, scanners came in along with screen reading software and other little tricks. To help matters, legal practice for many lawyers evolved into new areas and litigation-based practice reduced in importance.
Challenges that need to be overcome every day are akin to those faced by other non-disabled Advocates and are therefore of no major consequence. My vanished vision does bring its own tribulations though. Apart from landing me in some very humourous situations, my lack of vision has been a constant worry while trying to perceive non verbal communication. When waiting to start my barrage in Court I don’t know if the judge is ready to listen to me or is still looking at the title of the matter. The Judge trying to catch my eye to indicate to me that he is not listening is often missed. The raised eyebrows of opposing counsels are always ignored. A gesture, a wave, by acquaintances in the corridors goes unnoticed. Heightened perception, honing auditory faculties, knowing the rules of the game and having an alert companion generally solves my problem.
The deluge of paper that lawyers face has been stemmed by technology. Documents are drafted, edited, tracked with the help of the screen reader “JAWS”. Similarly Bare Acts and precedents are read on the computer, the cause list, board and orders are checked on the internet. Papers when received in decent condition (photocopies without smudges, reasonable quality of paper, and so on) and with a little time to spare can be tackled by scanning and reading after optical character recognition. Handwritten documents are the big menace. And at present can only be deciphered by human readers. The practice of opposing advocates serving Affidavits at the penultimate moment and the government making a habit of serving papers in Court will probably give me a heart attack one day but at present gives me the jitters and gets my hackles up and my Readers frantic calls to bail me out.
Time is the essence of the problem. Time taken to prepare or convert the document into readable format and then time taken to read it is the biggest test of my career. However, this has been alleviated by my ability to grasp quickly and the myriad experience that I have had.
In a city with crowded, broken, potholed, uneven, hawker infested roads accessibility has no meaning. I am sure my so called able bodied colleagues have to be as nimble footed as me while rushing to court. Swarms of lawyers meandering around or lining the corridors and others just packing the courtrooms do cause a bit of anxiety while trying to maneuver into the courtroom and to the bar in a hurry when the board collapses.
To confront and defy the challenges that no vision brings up requires facing up to the reality that I am slightly different and I need to do things in slightly different ways to get the same results as others. Acceptance of the concept of being “differently abled” is the first step. Hard Work, tenacity, Knowledge (of procedures, laws, clients interests, trends and anything else I can learn), attitude never to say die, technology, a dedicated team, the yearning to achieve has shaped my career. Success brings other successes. Satisfied clients are great sources for referrals. Clients in most cases do not have any qualms in being represented or dealing with a visually challenged lawyer. The trust that a client reposes in me is hardly ever shattered.
My career is on an upward spiral however I cannot say the same for other visually challenged lawyers and law students. The study of law is not difficult for them but the break to work for a law firm and to do good quality work during training is a major issue. Firms have to wake up and recognize that visually challenged lawyers can be efficient associates with a little bit of adjustment. Seating arrangements need to be tweaked and the use of a dedicated computer with a screen reader is all that is required to transform the handicapped law graduate into an asset for the firm. In college I was low visioned and could smile my way into a law firm for articleship without any hesitation. Experience of about 4 years and a handful of certificates (LL.M., Solicitor’s and Qualified Lawyers Transfer Test) got me my associateship. Armed with knowledge and skill starting a law practice was not unusual. Subsequent total loss of vision had to be taken into stride as existing clients had to be taken care of. Matters kept coming, technology kept improving and adapting and learning became second nature. Evolution of a Career woman from a disabled woman is still in progress.
Kanchan Pamnani is a practicing Advocate & Solicitor, the Bombay High Court. She specializes in corporate, testamentary and property related matters
Email: kanchanpamnani at hotmail.com
Advocate & Solicitor
9, Suleman Chambers,
Battery Street, Colaba,
Mumbai - 400 039.
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