Hearing Loss Success Stories of Lawyers
Peer Mentor to Attorneys with Hearing Loss
“Hearing loss for a lawyer means losing control and that, among many other things, can be very isolating and disorienting…it helped when I learned to accept life as an adventure, never knowing what the next moment might bring…” - Homer Mullins
Born and reared in Macon, Georgia, Homer Mullins stood out academically early on, attending college and law school at Emory University. He earned his JD degree in 1971, graduating in the top 15% of his class. He later joined the U.S. Air Force as a member of the Judge Advocate General’s Department where he rose to the rank of Major. He served one 12-month tour in the Republic of Korea and the balance of his active duty at various California bases where he completed training for and earned his commercial pilot’s license. After leaving the service, Mullins later began a very successful practice specializing in general business litigation. He served as a Counsel for King & Spalding, an Atlanta-based international law firm with more than 800 lawyers. In 2006 Mullins was made a Fellow of the Atlanta Bar Association.
Homer Mullins grew up with chronic Otitis Media, the effects of which included frequent ear infections, periods of hearing loss and never-ending trips to the doctor. In 1995, Mullins developed a right, middle-ear cholesteatoma requiring surgery for its removal. Following the surgery, an Auditory Processing Disorder, dormant since birth as he would later learn, was activated. APD adversely affects how the brain interprets what it hears. People with APD are frequently delayed in responding to information presented orally, not recognizing the subtle differences between sounds in words, even though the sounds themselves are loud and clear. This condition can also result in misinterpretation – sometimes no interpretation – of conversation due to the brain's struggle to make sense of the sound and process an appropriate response.
About 7 years after his cholesteatoma surgery, Mullins saw Dr. Jay Hall, the Chairman, Clinical Professor and Audiologist in the Department of Communicative Disorders at the University of Florida. Dr. Hall, a pioneer in the developing field of electrophysiologic diagnostics for auditory disorders, diagnosed Mullins as having a "moderate to profound unilateral hearing loss compounded by APD." Mullins was advised that his hearing loss and the cognitive effects of APD would not improve and most likely worsen over time.
Effects of and Personal Experiences from Hearing Loss
Though present and at times inconvenient, the effects of Mullins' hearing loss were inconsequential until after his surgery in 1995, when he realized that his deteriorating condition could adversely affect his career. In ridding his ear of all traces of the cholesteatoma, it had been necessary to remove and replace the torn ear drum and cleanse the affected area which essentially neutralized the functionality of the tiny hearing bones in the middle ear. His overall hearing loss at that point measured in the moderate to severe range. Assisted by a more powerful set of digital hearing aids, Mullins was able to temper the effects of his hearing loss and resume a relatively normal existence at home and in the office.
Two years later, however, his situation worsened and early in 2006, further signs of hearing loss were detected. The day to day effects and experiences included missing parts of conversations, being easily distracted and hampered by the effects of operating memory loss. Some of these symptoms mimic those of ADHD (inattentive type) which initially confused some clinicians as to his diagnosis. Mullins reports that he had lost confidence in his brain's ability to correctly interpret speech which gave rise to anxiety, self-doubt and fear of judgment from friends and colleagues, plaguing his thoughts each day.
Mullins initially reacted to his APD diagnosis with relief and optimism. Despite the negative prognosis thathis hearing loss was progressive, he was happy to finally have a medical name and explanation for his communication difficulties. According to Mullins, he felt "liberated" by the knowledge that his hearing loss and cognitive difficulties were not the result of some personal failure. Rather, they were rooted in an organic condition, possibly hereditary. He realized at that point, there would be a different future ahead of him, one where he would have to acknowledge and seek help to work around his weaknesses and take control of his hearing loss by succeeding in an area that would not be hindered by it.
Mullins decided to help other lawyers whose careers and home lives are continually challenged by hearing loss and attentional dysfunction. He completed coach training through the American Coaching Association in Philadelphia followed by an extended learning course offered through Harvard Medical School, "ADHD Through the Lifespan." He is currently enrolled in a two-year program at Gallaudet University, Washington, D.C., which leads to a certificate in Peer Mentoring for Hearing Enhancement. Educated by this training plus a lifetime of relevant compensatory experiences, Mullins works with his partner, also hearing impaired, to fulfill his goal of helping lawyers and their families, friends, employers and co-workers to cope with late-onset hearing loss and other conditions involved with processing and attention. They also serve this population by writing articles, making speeches, conducting workshops and giving presentations to affected groups across the country.
"I urge all attorneys to consider the impact of untreated hearing loss on their effectiveness as advocates for their clients, not to mention its adverse effects on quality of life issues. The legal profession requires above average communication and listening skills especially in the courtroom. If you have, or suspect that you have, any condition which is adversely affecting your hearing, have it checked immediately by a hearing health professional. In some cases, you may be needlessly hampered by a condition which is totally correctable. In other, more complicated cases, your loss can be minimized and further deterioration slowed, through the use of hearing aids and other assistive listening devices, augmented in appropriate cases by emerging advances in Bluetooth technology. By far the worse decision you can make is to ignore the signs of hearing loss and do nothing. By so doing, you could not only be placing your clients at risk for unwanted outcomes, but also subjecting your career to unnecessary stress during its peak period of development, with significant civil and professional implications for yourself and those with whom you practice. In cases of clear liability where obvious signs of hearing loss have been ignored for long periods of time, the specter of bar intervention can become an issue."
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