May 2014: Kathy Flaherty
Kathy Flaherty works as a senior staff attorney at Statewide Legal Services of CT, Inc. She has dedicated her professional life to advocating for the rights of the underserved. A graduate of Kingswood-Oxford School, Wellesley College and Harvard Law School, Kathy has 17 years of experience in poverty law, specifically focusing on housing, benefits, and consumer law.
Kathy lives with bipolar disorder. She makes full use of her work place’s very generous sick leave benefits and a flexible schedule. Kathy was diagnosed her first year of law school after being civilly committed. She was not permitted to return to Harvard until the next fall, at which point the school put conditions on her return.
During her third year of law school, she used the Harvard Law School newspaper as the forum to come out about her illness. Against the advice of the Office of Public Interest Advising, when applying for jobs after law school, she included her position on the council of former patients of McLean Hospital, making her disability fairly obvious. “If someone didn’t want to hire me because of my disability, I didn’t want that job.” Kathy says that she has gotten jobs because she has disclosed.
Kathy shares that her biggest barrier to the legal profession was getting admitted to the Connecticut Bar. Despite the fact that she had already been admitted to the Massachusetts and New York Bars, she had to wait for a year and a half and then was conditionally admitted. For the next nine years, she had to report that she was taking her medication, as well as provide a doctor’s note twice a year confirming that she was in fact taking her medication.
Since 1999, Kathy has served as a volunteer trainer, presenter, and facilitator for Connecticut’s chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI-CT). Combining her personal experience as a recipient of mental health services and her legal background, she is able to speak to issues affecting those living with mental illness from a multi-faceted perspective. Her advocacy work has earned her numerous honors including the Dr. Karen Kangas Advocacy Award from Advocacy Unlimited in 2010. “Winning an award named for someone who is a role model for advocacy and a very dear friend is humbling.”
Kathy currently serves as a member of the Board of Directors of Advocacy Unlimited, Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers-CT, and the Connecticut Alliance to Benefit Law Enforcement (CABLE). She also serves on Governor Malloy’s Sandy Hook Advisory Commission. Her goal for the future? “To continue to do work I enjoy.”