Chapter 1: Early Career
01:46:36:18 - 01:46:55:21 Lisa: Thanks. Um, and we are here today at Temple University interviewing Ilene Shane on December 9, 2011 also present in the room is our videographer, Lindsey Martin and Ilene, do we have your permission to begin the interview?
Lisa: Thank you very much. Welcome.
Ilene: Thank you.
01:46:56:14 - 01:47:42:01 Lisa: Ilene, one of the first questions I want to ask you, is why it is that you decided to go to law school and what kind of career you envisioned for yourself?
Ilene: Uh, actually before I went to law school, I was in graduate school in, uh, microbiology and then developmental biology and I was actually working on my PHD and I found two things which is why I didn't do well in a lab. It requires a lot of very technical hands on work and I'm not very coordinated and second of all, I became much more involved in social issues during that time and, uh, decided that I wanted to do something that would allow me to do something for people who were disadvantaged. More social issues and so I actually quit graduate school and went to law school.
01:47:42:04 - 01:47:58:26 Lisa: When you say you became involved in social issues, were there any issues in particular that you were drawn to?
Ilene: Um, it, they were not disability issues specifically, it was more issues of poverty, uh, back then, Varieties of issues but disability in particular was not something I was, uh, focused on.
01:47:59:20 - 01:48:23:09 Lisa: Um, I believe when you were in law school, you took a research job at The Western Center.
Ilene: Well at my first, my first experience with anything involving people with disabilities other than my personal experience, uh, was I went to work at The Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic at WPIC and there began to first learn about mental health law which is really where I started.
01:48:24:04 - 01:49:02:26 Lisa: And so was that your involvement with people who had mental health issues. Was that what kind of pointed you on your...
Ilene: That, the field was interesting to me and I learned a lot but that still didn't get me to where I was working with people or issues, the kind of issues I wanted to work with. What happened was, I graduated law school and at that time, legal services decided they wanted to start a mental health clinic or mental health legal clinic and that was in the actual fit so I went and began working for legal services which was what I wanted to do to begin with and then I brought to legal services this special expertise and for the next, about two years I worked for legal, at legal services doing mental health law.
01:49:03:05 - 01:50:25:18 Lisa: You'd said that when you had left law school you had joined a firm but you were only there for two weeks. Can you tell us that story?
Ilene: I, I wanted to work to, I went to law school to work for legal services. I wanted to do poverty law. I wanted to work with people who were disadvantaged. Uh, unfortunately I was also at that time fairly poor and so I needed to work and legal services didn't pay very much so I got other jobs that paid a lot more. Um, I did very well in law school so I thought its ok, I'll work my way through law school. I'll make the money I need to make to live and I'll do well in law school and then when I finish, I'll go work. I'll go apply for legal service. I couldn't get an interview because their, their, their thinking was if you weren't serious enough to work for legal services before you graduated law school, they didn't want to consider you so, um, there I was graduating law school and didn't, as I said didn't get an interview at legal services so I took a job with a firm and I absolutely hated it and about two weeks into the fall when I passed the Bar and I started working there, I ran into Tony Wettick on the street. Now Judge Wettick and he was at that time the executive director of legal services and he said to me. I'm really interested in starting a clinic in mental health law and I understand this is something you know something about. Would you be interested in coming to work for us and I said, absolutely so I quit my job and went to legal services that day or maybe within a week.
01:50:26:26 - 01:51:41:04 Lisa: What were some of the early cases you were involved in, the types of work you were doing at legal services?
Ilene: Well, things were very exciting back then because, uh, at least in the mental health area. This notion that people with mental illness had rights was just beginning. Uh, the notion that you didn't just hospitalize people on the consent of a psychiatrist was only, uh, sort of determined right around then. Um, David Ferleger did a lot of incredibly, uh, progressive work at that time and he was someone I had the fortune, good fortune to work with and to learn from. Um, and so, uh, there were a variety of challenges. If you take sort of The Mental Health Act, the 1966 MHMR Act and you go section by section. Almost every section was declared unconstitutional. Back in those days, you could commit someone to a mental hospital, really forever based on the opinion of two psychiatrists and until those two psychiatrists felt you were ready to leave. You didn't or a psychiatrist, you didn't leave. There was no hearing, there was no process, there were no lawyers and, uh, that was. All of those concepts began to be challenged right around the time that I began to, uh, to work in that area so it was a very exciting time.
01:51:42:12 - 01:53:07:22 Lisa: When you left legal services to go to Pitt, The University of Pittsburgh. Can you tell us a little bit of what took you there?
Ilene: What happened was Pitt, The University of Pittsburgh, uh, Law School got a grant, uh, which was one of five grants from the developmental disabilities administration. The idea was to seed law schools to develop lawyers who were interested in disability law or had a background in disability law and this happened at the same time that the DD Act was passed and the protection advocacy systems were just being set up, so...
Lisa: Can you tell me what year that was?
Ilene: '77, well the act passed, I believe in '75. This was '77. Um, I think it was '75. I'm not positive. Anyway, so I went to Pitt, um, and set up this developmental disabilities legal clinic and at the same time I became much more interested in disability law and it wasn't then just mental health law. It became, I began to learn about developmental disabilities, uh, I met a lot with people from The Arc in Pittsburgh, uh, then called The Association for Retarded Citizens, long, long ways back. Learned a lot from them, learned a lot from people at UCP, United Cerebral Palsy and became more and more interested, um, in the variety of issues that affected people with disabilities and, uh, that sort of really what, when I began working in disability law.
About Ilene Shane, Esq.
Born: 1948, Philadelphia, PA
Retired. Formerly CEO, Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania; and Executive Director, Disabilities Law Project
ADA, Carolyn Clark v Cohen, Disability Rights Network, Disabilities Law Project, Education Law Center, Embreeville, Families, Helen L. v Didario, Olmstead, Pennhurst, Pennsylvania Protection and Advocacy, Philadelphia State Hospital (Byberry), Western Center