Blind Google lawyer shares his story

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When one looks at Jack Chen’s credentials – which include computer science degrees from Harvard and Berkeley and a law degree from Fordham – they won’t be mistaken to think he doesn’t look out of place in a Big Law firm or the legal team of a technology industry behemoth.

However, there’s one thing that sets him apart: Chen was born blind.

That has not stopped him, nonetheless, from applying to and getting hired by top law firm Baker Botts in 2007. Now, he’s an in-house lawyer at tech giant Google.

In an interview with Bloomberg Law, Chen revealed that it was a challenge to join these two organisations but that he actually had different strategies interviewing at both firms.

Being blind, Chen has to rely on the assistance of technologies like screen readers to work.

When he was applying at Baker Botts, his strategy was to downplay his disability, choosing instead to focus on the things others do that he could too.

For Google, however, Chen decided to take a different approach.

“I actually sent them an article that had been written about me in a local paper: I had just completed the New York City Triathlon,” he told Bloomberg.

“I was upfront with them. I was kind of tired of hiding and downplaying my disability. I made that decision consciously.”

And he seems to be happier because of that decision.

At Baker Botts, he always took it upon himself to be perfect and not show any weakness either in work product or interaction. He also revealed that he was never comfortable revealing to clients that he is blind.

At Google, he doesn’t put that same pressure on himself, particularly because he feels that as an in-house lawyer, his team cares more about his substantive work. He also greatly appreciates the support he gets in finding solutions to challenges he encounters.

If there’s anything he wants people to understand about lawyers with disabilities, it’s that they can offer unique insight and grit.

“In fact, people with disabilities often bring unique aspects to projects, including outstanding problem solving skills… they’ve been doing it their whole lives… and great tenacity to get things done since, again, they’ve been practicing that their whole lives,” Chen noted.
 

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