FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – At 3, Haley Moss was diagnosed with autism and doctors thought she may never be able to work a minimum wage job or live on her own. Last month, she became the first openly autistic person to be admitted to the Florida Bar.
Moss graduated from the University of Miami School of Law and has also published books, lives independently and works at a top law firm in Miami, though like many of us, she still sometimes forgets to do her laundry.
A few weeks into her legal career, she has already seen how some of her strengths and struggles affect her work.
"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."
Joseph Zumpano is a co-founder and managing shareholder of Zumpano Patricios, the Coral Gables-based law firm founded in 2003 that offered Moss a job before she passed the bar exam. He said his firm's practice areas, which include anti-terrorism and managed care law, are "intrinsically related" to his decision to hire Moss.
Zumpano's firm's notable victories include a 2004 lawsuit against the Cuban government for the killing of an American pilot flying missions for the CIA.
"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."
For Zumpano, the decision also comes from a personal place of understanding and a desire to increase diversity among his firm.
"I have a child who is severely autistic," he said. "He is largely nonverbal, he will speak a few words, but he is an angel, and it's been my honor and my wife's honor to have him in our lives, and we raise him and we love him and we hope for a day when there's a better future for what we would consider neurodiversity in our country."
Moss and Zumpano offered a few points of advice for potential employers of people who may be living with autism or other diagnoses.
"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."
To those who may be reluctant to increase neurodiversity among their employees, Zumpano says "get ready, here we come."
"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."
They also encouraged people seeking jobs to never give up and capitalize on their strengths, rather than be limited by their weaknesses or perceived weaknesses.