Q: In another life you were a pharmacist?
A: Before I was injured I had completed pharmacy school. I had graduated, had taken the boards and had pretty much done my internship, 1900 of the 2000 internship hours.
Q: Did you decide to go to law school before or after the injury?
Q: What happened?
A: All the pharmacy students petitioned for me to be given my license. I got my license. I could still practice but I really thought I needed to look for something else. I didn't see pharmacy as a good career for a quadriplegic at that time.
I was hurt on Labor Day of 1979. On September 3rd. A diving accident that occurred up in the mountains with some friends. I dove into a river. First dive was ok. Second dive I must have hit some type of obstruction.
Q: Did it knock you out?
A: No, I was conscious. But I immediately was paralyzed and realized I couldn't swim. I could see my arms drifting in front of my face and that was unsettling. Luckily there were enough people up there that somebody pulled me out. And I guess I scared them and they dropped me again. I think there was a little confusion. And then I was pulled back out again. They made a stretcher and carried me up to the road, maybe a hundred feet. People drove down the road right after it happened, found a sheriff and got a phone to call Flight to Life.
I was airlifted to St. Anthony's Central Hospital in Denver. I stayed there for about a couple of weeks. Then I went to Swedish Neurotrauma Center and then to Craig Rehabilitation Hospital.
Q: When did you decide you wanted to go to law school?
A: Of course it was a traumatic event. I thought about it at Craig a lot. I was discharged from Craig right before Christmas and decided I was going to take the LSAT (Law School Admission Test).
I went into pharmacy because I enjoyed chemistry, I enjoyed helping people, and I enjoyed talking to people about their health care and making recommendations. But I ended up as a pharmacy intern realizing that pharmacy is pretty much clerical work, dispensing medications ninety nine percent of the time. Count and stick, lick and pour, type. I enjoyed the clinical end of it, the patient interaction. But I didn't get any of that really.
Before the accident I thought, "Now what?" I'm not going to be satisfied doing this all my life. I thought of medical school. I thought of law school. I wasn't sure which one to do. I wanted to do something more difficult and more challenging.
After the accident I was pretty much forced into the decision. I wasn't happy just sitting around at home watching soap operas. I had to do something. I was very anxious. I was young and at that point twenty-four years old and had my whole life in front of me. I had to make a decision. And I decided to take the LSAT.
I took the LSAT and I applied to DU (University of Denver) and CU (University of Colorado).
Q: How did you take the LSAT?
A: I took it verbally. They gave me a little bit extra time. They gave me a proctor. I had an assistant to write equations on a blackboard, to take verbal instructions, and to circle my answers. My brother was my assistant
The last possible LSAT they would accept was February 1980. And that was five months after my accident. But all I did after being released from the hospital was to study that LSAT review book. I worked on that a lot.
Q: How did you do something as simple as turning pages?
A: Back then neither of my arms would work. I was driving a breath control wheelchair. I was being spoon fed my meals. I had a mouth stick, a little device that had a rubber tip on the end of a tube, and I could use that to turn pages. I could use it to push buttons on a Speakerphone. I got set up with a speakerphone, a tape recorder and a book stand on a special desk that was shoulder high.
Q: You applied to DU and CU?
A: I was turned down at CU. At DU I wasn't an automatic accept or reject. I was on a wait list. It was down to three names the week before law school started the fall of 1980. I was one of them. I had a gal pulling for me on the admissions committee. I had some good letters of recommendation. I had a couple of interviews.
Q: Were they concerned about you being able to handle law school because of the newness of the accident?
A: Not so much. I went to Hawaii in May. I wouldn't let anything stop me. I think they saw that I was determined. My grades were above average. My test scores were above average. I was the only quadriplegic pharmacist they had seen. I got admitted. But I swear it wasn't until the week before or a couple days before classes started that I was "for sure" in.
Q: You started out in the evening division.
A: I thought full time would be a little much. My care back then was taking a fair amount of time every morning. For me to get down there at 8:00 a.m. or 9:00 a.m. would have been just too much.
Q: How was law school?
A: I found it challenging. A lot of reading. I was still a newly injured person. I was still figuring out how to adapt to my disability.
Q: Was it frustrating?
A: Oh, extremely. Not necessarily law, but daily life as a quadriplegic. Being unable to scratch your nose when you need to scratch it. Being unable to deal with your personal needs. And barriers. Back then it was common not to have a ramp or an elevator. It was before the ADA. That was frustrating.
After about a couple years I psychologically got over the difficult anger and denial phase.
Law school distracted me. I guess law school was a positive distraction. A lot of the course work was difficult.
Q: How did you take law school exams?
A: I had to dictate to a person who would just write it down. I was pretty much on the honor system. Jack Long (a fellow classmate) was my assistant. I think he helped me do a lot of the quizzes. But the final exam, I can't remember who assisted. It might have been my wife, who was my fiancee at the time.
My fiancée got a job in the library shelving books, which was convenient. She could drive me to law school, do her job, and then take me home.
Q: Did Jack volunteer being your assistant?
A: He applied for work-study. I was his work-study. I remember meeting him in the bookstore. I don't know if he had seen someone as disabled as I and I had never met anyone like Jack. He turned out to be a good friend and is a good friend today.
Q: How did the faculty treat you?
A: I felt really good. I felt I was accepted as a student. I didn't ask for any special treatment. The faculty let the administration deal with that. If I needed a little help I would always ask for it. But all I had to do was give Jack Long carbon paper. He was a smart individual who understood what to write down. He helped me by organizing the notes well.
Q: You graduated what year?
A: I graduated in 1983. I went to law school year round. I couldn't think of anything else to do in the summer. Law school was my career at that point.
Q: How did you take the bar exam?
A: I took it verbally with a note taker, my brother. I think they put me in a room with a proctor to watch the interaction between my brother and me. They didn't give me extra time but they gave me extra breaks.
Q: Then you passed the bar exam?
A: Actually, I missed it by one point. I found there was an appeal procedure. I looked at my answers. Three of them I thought they had misgraded. I petitioned and I appealed. People reviewed it. I studied over again and took the review course again. And then it turned out I had won my appeal. I didn't have to take the bar exam a second time.
Q: What was the thought process in deciding what to do with your license?
A: I got a resume and sent it out to three hundred different law firms. I had an internship at the district attorney's office in Littleton and I thought I wanted to do something in court. I applied for a job there and they said I finished second to somebody.
I got about three interviews. I went on those interviews. I guess I looked good on paper but not in person. They always claimed that I had finished second. I think people were afraid of the wheelchair. I got a little frustrated.
One day I went to Seventeenth Street and started applying and dropping off my business card. But that got a bit discouraging too. I applied for a district attorney job in Fort Collins and I was second to somebody who wasn't a lawyer. And I said, "Oh my God. I think the courthouse is inaccessible."
So I figured I was going to have to start my own practice. I got everybody I knew, everyone I could think of, and sent out an announcement and business card and offered free consultations.
I found an attorney who was willing to trade rent for work. He was doing immigration work and had an overflow. I would help his clients with other needs for rent. And that worked out well. My mom was my secretary. I couldn't afford to hire anyone except a part time assistant. I didn't make enough money.
Finally after about two years in that situation I was making money. Before that vocational rehabilitation had put me through law school, I was in public housing, and I didn't have to worry too much financially.
I found out about an attorney who was very busy doing personal injury actions. His firm was running a television commercial and the firm didn't do workers compensation or social security disability. And I did those. They offered me their cases. I'd do work for them and I started to make a living. Eventually the firm decided to hire me as an employee, but by then I'd enjoyed independence so much that I didn't want to do it. I kept the cases, started running my own advertising and did ok.
Q: Did your disability draw you towards practicing workers compensation law?
A: I wanted to get into a situation where I was advising other people. I had a little background in that.
Q: Do you think they listened to you better than they would have listened to another attorney?
A: I don't know. They can see someone who has been through it before. And I was a pharmacist so I was used to advising and helping people. I knew the social security benefits from the inside out. It was pretty natural for me to get into that area of the law.
Q: Do you enjoy practicing law today?
A: Oh, yeah. I really do. I enjoy helping people. It seems to be a good career. I feel good about what I'm doing. I feel really positive.
Q: Tell me a little about your family life.
A: I married Claudia, my fiancee. We were high school sweethearts. She stuck through it with the disability. We saved our money and got a house. And we decided we wanted to adopt a child. So we adopted Nathan. That was thirteen years ago, the autumn of 1989.
Nathan was from Vietnam. He was almost three years old. He had a lot of developmental delays because of living in an orphanage, being restricted to one room the first three years of his life, and being denied medical care. He was really a challenge. Now he's fifteen. He's going to be an Eagle Scout and plays the violin. He's a good kid.
All along I had my mom as a back-up secretary. In 1993 she was killed in a car accident. That was very devastating to me. Before that we had decided to adopt another child. We adopted Casey in 1993.
Casey was also from Viet Nam. He was three months old, a baby, when we adopted him. I was very despondent over the loss of my mom. It was really a hard year. I didn't bond with Casey much. He had some health problems that took the full time attention of Claudia. He was on home IV's. He bonded well to Claudia.
Nathan and I spent that time together a lot. It made our relationship stronger.
I grieved the loss of my mom and then moved on from that. Now that Casey's a big boy we are able to do things together. We're very close now. But the first year was a little rough. He's a sensitive kid, kind and caring, and verbal. He's in Scouts and plays piano. He's just a boy. He's nine years old now
The last ten years everything has been going fine.
Q: You think you have a good balance between work and family?
A: Oh, yeah. It's just about right. I wouldn't want to work any more and I wouldn't want to have any less time at home.
Q: It sounds like you figured things out.
A: It just fell into place. I don't know how, but it did.
Q: Any goals for the future?
A: Continue my practice as long as I can. Be a better father. Pay down my mortgage a little bit.
Q: Medically has anything helped you?
A: After about two years my arm strength got back to the point where I could use my arm. I can feed myself and drive my chair. Instead of a mouth stick with a little rubber tip on it I have something that I can put in my hand brace to dial the phone. I use a secretary, a full time paralegal and a part time paralegal.
Q: Kevin, what you have been able to do is inspiring.
A: Well, now there are a couple other attorneys that are quadriplegic. There are always a few of us out there. I don't think I was the first. There's no magic road to follow. You go through it like everyone else goes through life.
Doors open. Doors close. And then another one opens.