Accommodating the Deaf Bankruptcy Client in the Real World

06 May Accommodating the Deaf Bankruptcy Client in the Real World

Some bankruptcy lawyers react to an inquiry from a potential bankruptcy client, who is adeaf person, with apprehension. The lawyer might view the prospect of running afoul of the Americans with Disabilities Act, with its requirement of reasonably accommodating a deaf person’s disability, as a frightening thing which ought to be avoided.

This fear can lead to shoot-from-the-hip online searches for legal pamphlets, government regulations and other sources of legal information on whether interpreters must be hired, the cost involved in hiring interpreters, and determining whether interpreters are needed for a multitude of meetings withthe deaf potential client.

It’s easy to quickly become demoralized in the face of conflicting information on an ADAissue with which the lawyer is unfamiliar. Butthe solution is to neither decline representation nor to ignore the potential client. You have someone in need of filing bankruptcy, so you should do what you can to help.

Forget The Problem, Focus On The Solution

When filing bankruptcy, there is no more likelihood of a problem with a hearing client than with one who is hearing impaired. So need to focus on getting the consumer the solution they need; if filing bankruptcy will make their life better then so be it.

Wait, you may ask,what about the ADA? Doesn’t the ADA apply to lawyers as places of public accommodation, and therefore doesn’t the lawyer have to accommodate the deaf person’s disability, unless it places an undue burden on the lawyer? How will the lawyer know if an interpreter is needed for every little question over a period of months, or whether transcription devices (allowed by the ADA) such as texting, emails, notepads or the deaf client’s hearing-and-signing friend, will be sufficient?

Forget the regulations and, once again, focus on the solution to the challenge. Hire an American Sign Language interpreter for the initial consultation with the prospective client so you can build a relationship of trust and understanding. Make sure the consumer understands the basics of what paperwork is needed in connection with filing bankruptcy in the same way you would with any other client.

Come to an agreement about legal fees and how they will be paid, and do the work. Remember, the cost of an interpreter will be a fraction of the fees you’re going to charge. More to the point, the goodwill you will generate by showing you care about your client will far outweigh those costs even if you and the consumer decide not to work together.

Deaf clients are excellent readers and writers of the English language, by necessity. Consequently, they are usually more proficient than the average bankruptcy client at gathering all the paperwork the lawyer needs. These are powerful reasons for the bankruptcy lawyer to treat an initial inquiry from a deaf client as a opportunity not to be wasted.

By paying careful attention to relationship-building and communication during the initial meeting with the deaf client, expectations can be established, communication methods can be determined, and trust can begin to formbetween the lawyer and the deaf client. The use of email, text messaging, instant messaging, operator assisted relay services, and notepad communication can be discussed. Furthermore, the deaf client shouldbe informedthat the Justice Department will provide a sign language interpreter at no charge for the section 341(a) meeting.

Because this article is intended for small-firm bankruptcy lawyers practicing in the real world, ADA requirements are discussed only in passing. The important thing is for the bankruptcy lawyer to treat the deaf client like he or she treats any other client, while anticipating only a small cost for hiring a sign language interpreter.

Image credit:grantlairdjr/Flickr

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Craig W. Andresen is a consumer bankruptcy lawyer in Bloomington, Minnesota, with 22 years’ experience in consumer and small business bankruptcy cases. He is the Minnesota chair of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, and is a member of the Minnesota State Bar Association’s Bankruptcy Section. Mr. Andresen lectures often on the topic of consumer bankruptcy at local and national legal seminars.
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