Graphic stating Not All Heroes Wear Capes

Not All Heroes Wear Capes

By Samantha Coyne, Assistant Director of External Relations

The very best part of my job is working with our students. Helping them to meet professionals in the area, coaching them while prepping for an event and just being around their enthusiasm-it is all tremendously rewarding. I often speculate where their Law School education will take them, and I think of all of the hardworking, compassionate attorneys I have worked with. Do students know what a profound impact they can have on the lives of their clients with their advocacy? Because I do. I needed legal advice so many times while raising my daughter, and I was, and continue to be, deeply grateful that the work I do gave me access to a caring network of legal professionals.

When my daughter was born with a disability, two things became clear straightaway: We were going to need a bulletproof sense of humor to navigate our new world (got that), and I was responsible for being her advocate (needed help). We bustled along nicely through Hadleigh's infant and toddler years. She was funny, smart and loving. If I had been able to hand-pick a child, that child would have been Hadleigh. Certainly I had to stand up for her needs with doctors, nurses, physical therapists and insurance companies, but I could handle those situations.
And then she started school.

Let me preface this by saying that I live in what is considered a good school district, and most of Hadleigh's teachers and aides were genuinely caring professionals. There is, however, a bewildering bureaucracy in school districts, and I did not anticipate how frequently I would have to intercede on her behalf to ensure she received the supports she needed to succeed. Our school district had never encountered a student with a physical disability who did not also need learning support, and it was largely up to me, and later on, Hadleigh, to bring attention to services that were not being provided, or being provided in an unacceptable manner.

This is where my attorney friends and colleagues stepped in to (unofficially) help me advocate for Hadleigh. There are a bazillion laws about special education and I am not a lawyer. When I disagreed with the district, I could turn to the lawyers I knew for direction. Was the district required to provide transportation for my daughter in her scooter? If not, then were they required to provide another wheelchair to get her on the bus, and buy a scooter for her at school? Was the school's entrance ADA compliant when the button to open the door was two feet above a wheelchair user's head? What about gym class? Was the district responsible for providing adaptive equipment and inclusive activities so that Hadleigh could participate? A lawyer assisted with all of these questions and more.
Hadleigh had an individualized education plan, which meant frequent meetings with school district personnel. The situation can be intimidating because you and your child are typically outnumbered. Parents and the school district often want vastly different outcomes at these meetings. My frequent thought in many of these meetings was, "Oh my goodness, if I am ready to cry, swear and call people names, and I am armed with an understanding of the law, what do parents do who don't have these things? What happens to their kids?" I know I wouldn't have been as strong a champion for her rights without legal advice. Legal advice that was given with compassion and generosity.

All of us working at the Law School want to see our students enjoy success. We pray for their happiness and always try to lead by example. There is so much for them to learn, and being an attorney is not an easy vocation. There is so much I want to tell them. I want to tell our students that someday they will be in positions of influence, if not power. They will know people who could use some legal advice, and I want to tell them to offer to help. I want to tell them that this is what Duquesne lawyers do, and they do it with a kindness that is humbling. I want to tell them that their education and experience will someday have an enormous and lasting effect on someone's life. And I want to tell them that they can be superheroes. Capes encouraged, but not required.