IM this article to a friend!

July 18, 2003

It's a sign: Called to the bar, deaf lawyer is set for the job

From: Toronto Star, Canada - Jul 18, 2003

Osgoode Hall grad one of a handful of signing legal eagles Interpreter makes any of the profession's duties possible


Being "called to the bar" is the time-honoured expression used to describe the moment a lawyer enters the legal profession.

In Jennifer Jackson's case, it is also ironic. Jackson, 26, is one of 220 new lawyers called to the bar during a ceremony at Roy Thomson Hall yesterday, but the only one who didn't actually hear her name called as she was presented to the treasurer of the Law Society of Upper Canada and admitted as a barrister-at-law.

Now a full-fledged lawyer who happens to be deaf, Jackson shared her excitement with her sister, Lucia, 24, who is also deaf, as they sorted through last-minute details in sign language before the ceremony.

In a basement dressing room, Lucia helped Jackson fasten white tabs to the shirt of her formal court attire for the first time. Although clearly delighted, Jackson downplayed the occasion.

"I'm a proud older sister," she said, noting that her sibling is studying to be a teacher. In the deaf community, being a teacher is "often considered the most respectable position" one can hope for, said Jackson, adding that many people thought she should become one, too.

Although she considered it, "I had to see whether I would cut it as a lawyer."

So far, things are going swell.

Jackson, who was born and raised in Toronto, graduated from Osgoode Hall Law School and articled at Bereskin & Parr, a downtown law firm that specializes in patent and trademark law. She helped draft court documents, conduct "discreet investigations" aimed at busting cyber-squatters, and appeared in front of various tribunals.

While popular theory dictates that, in the courtroom, a person's tone of voice is important when it comes to asking and answering questions, Jackson believes her own personal sound-barrier is no barrier.

"For one thing, people aren't stupid; they can tune in with visual and facial expressions," she said yesterday, adding that sign-language interpreters can help her draw attention to any aspects of her legal arguments that she wants to emphasize.

Jackson said she is a beneficiary of a 1997 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that ordered the British Columbia government to provide sign-language interpreters to hospital patients, saying their equality rights were violated by the failure to do so.

Either the federal or provincial government will provide an interpreter when she appears before a court or tribunal, Jackson said yesterday, adding that the province also picked up the cost of an interpreter in law school.

Jackson says she became a lawyer "by accident."

"I did not know what to do with my B.A.," she said. Neither her father, Rod, nor mother, Mary, who are also deaf, are lawyers, she said. "I played around with different ideas, and getting into law school was one."

"The rest is history."

Nearly 900 lawyers are being called to the bar in ceremonies in Toronto, Ottawa and London this week. Despite her unique status as one of only a handful of deaf lawyers in North America, Jackson said she despises "being put on a pedestal."

"What if I make a mistake and end up being a bad representative?" she asked, adding that "the pressure" can be too much. She said she can only be upfront about her strengths and weaknesses, but "I want to say that a deaf person can do anything except hear.

"Just give us a chance."

Copyright 1996-2003. Toronto Star Newspapers Limited. All rights reserved.