Woman Becomes First Openly Autistic Person to Practice Law in Florida

Mark Pygas - Author

Feb. 18 2019, Updated 12:45 p.m. ET

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Source: Click On Detroit

When Haley Moss was just three years old, doctors thought she had no independent future ahead of her after being diagnosed with autism. Now, some 21 years after that diagnoses, she was sworn into the Florida Bar as its first openly autistic member this January. 

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The Parkland, Florida, native has not only graduated from the University of Miami School of Law and passed the Florida Bar, she has also published a number of books and acts as a youth ambassador for  local autism charity Unicorn Children's Foundation.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Lisa Walsh oversaw Moss' oath at her Jan. 11 swearing-in ceremony, making Moss the first openly autistic person allowed to practice law in the state. 

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“I’m very passionate about things I enjoy and I love to write,” Moss said. “That’s also part of why I went to law school, and I love to be able to help others, so even with writing, I love that I’m able to express myself completely and what I can say has the ability to help someone else.” 

And Moss already has her future sorted. Joseph Zumpano, co-founder and managing shareholder of law firm Zumpano Patricios, offered Moss a job before she even passed the bar exam. The fact that the firm practices anti-terrorism and managed care law among other fields, is “intrinsically related” to his decision to hire Moss, Zumpano said. 

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“When I was introduced to Haley by a former lawyer at our firm, I immediately picked up on the fact that she was obviously brilliant — brilliant and a good person,” Zumpano said.

“As a core value, we wanted to be the first firm to bring in an openly autistic lawyer and make the point that if you align people to their strengths then given the chance, they excel,” he said. “To our knowledge, Haley is the first lawyer that we know of in a substantial law firm in the state of Florida that is openly autistic. There may be others but we haven’t found them.”

Zumpano also has an severely autistic child, who is non-verbal, and hopes that his decision will increase diversity among his firm, and show others that with hard work, anything is possible. 

“To employers, I would say ‘don’t put limits,’ and ‘you’re investing in what someone can do, and you need to look at what people can do as opposed to what they might not be able to do,’” Moss said. “A disability generally is not all-encompassing, it is just part of who someone is, not everything they are. Everyone is unique, everyone has strengths and weaknesses and everyone has talent.” 

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“The advantages that I’m going to have, tactically, when I open up my firm to people with neurodiverse conditions, with strengths that may be overlooked, I’m going to get the benefit, this firm is going to get the benefit and the clients are going to get the benefit,” he said. “Our firm is at a level where we can actually align people with extraordinary strengths to achieve extraordinary outcomes.” 

Moss also has advice for those with disabilities that are looking for jobs.

“My advice for people with disabilities and people with autism that are looking for jobs or anything is don’t place limits on yourself and knowing what you’re good at helps a lot, too."

“Even with parents of young children, I always tell them, ‘you’re going to be amazed at what your child is able to do. Their journey is just beginning when you get a diagnosis. They’re going to be so talented and you’re going to be constantly surprised and amazed,’ and to really embrace that and embrace what makes them who they are, and what they’re good at and what makes them special.” 

While Zumpano added:

“If you’re an autistic individual or a family with an autistic family member, don’t let anybody else’s perceptions of your limitations dictate your own. Haley has broken through this glass ceiling, and the firm is proud to be the hammer that shatters it, there’s hope for everybody.”

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