A litigation associate at Squire Sanders, Dan Matzkin ’06 beat out several hundred other applicants for a clerkship with Judge Adalberto Jordan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
Matzkin also has been blind since birth with a condition called Leber congenital amaurosis. It didn’t hold him back, however, from earning an undergraduate degree with honors, double-majoring in Wesleyan’s College of Letters and Classics or graduating from law school at the University of Michigan. While Jordan had reservations about how someone with such a disability could manage the challenges of legal practice, which include reading hundreds of pages to prepare a judge for argument and conducting legal research, Matzkin came to the interview prepared. His laptop is equipped with JAWS screen-reading software, which translates computer text into spoken word but requires training to absorb.
After inquiring about Matzkin, Jordan heard only positive feedback from his colleagues. Matzkin’s boss, Lewis Murphy, said that he immediately connected with Matzkin on a personal level and trusts Matzkin with important research and client work, while Matzkin’s coworkers said they ask him for help on their own cases.
Andy Szegedy-Maszak, Jane A. Seney Professor of Greek and professor of classical studies, worked with Matzkin throughout his four years at Wesleyan. “Dan was my advisee from his first term on,” Szegedy-Maszak said, “and he went on to be a student of mine, a TA for a freshman seminar called Three Great Myths, and my senior thesis advisee.”
Under Szegedy-Maszak’s mentorship, Matzkin wrote his thesis on “Sight and Foresight: Blindness in Classical Antiquity” for the College of Letters. The project won Matzkin the Spinney Prize for the best original essay on Greek or Roman civilization. “I’m pretty demanding as a thesis adviser, and I had (and have) too much respect for Dan to go easy on him,” Szegedy-Maszak said. “He had to submit weekly drafts, do the revisions, and keep going with research and writing. His thesis is truly impressive: thorough, thoughtful, well written, and well argued.”
Says Matzkin, “I can’t help but think that my time at Wesleyan, the liberal arts education, has helped me excel in the law—and I expect it will continue to do so. Many of my classmates in law school came from a single-track undergraduate major, but COL and classics together encompass quite a few disciplines. On a federal clerkship, all sorts of things come your way—contract disputes, criminal cases, immigration. Wesleyan’s holistic approach has prepared me to take on everything that comes my way.”
Matzkin’s strong work ethic ultimately won him the clerkship, although his often self-deprecating sense of humor and strong connection with his colleagues further supplemented his impressive credentials. Despite being one of several thousand blind attorneys practicing in the country, Matzkin achieved a position that is rare and coveted for all lawyers.
“I went into the field because I liked the prospect of being able to advocate for someone who isn’t able to do so himself. Acting as someone’s voice appealed to me.
“Now, it’s an interesting transition from private practice to a federal clerkship. At a law firm, my job is to come up with the best answer for my client; in a federal clerkship, the point is to come up with the right answer. I’ll see a lot of advocacy here, and I hope to learn from both the good and the bad—from whatever is in front of me.”