Neurodiversity in Law Advocate, Haley Moss, Shares Her Thoughts on Extraordinary Attorney Woo

This blog usually encourages you to meditate, but in this post I’m going to make a recommendation that you may not expect: watch some Korean TV. You may have heard or watched Squid Game, but if that’s your only frame of reference you are missing out. Kingdom was a great political period drama but also with zombies. Rookie Historian was a great political period drama but also with the most deliciously awkward romantic subplot I have ever seen. Inspector Koo was a great mystery show but with a female detective so unruly she might make Veronica Mars laugh out loud and blush at the same time.

Even though I don’t really love legal TV dramas, this background compelled me to take note when my lawyer friends started to talk about Extraordinary Attorney Woo, now streaming on Netflix. I’m a school lawyer and have extensive experience with special education matters. One of the neat things I’ve seen evolve during the last decade is the increased attention to disability issues and neurodiversity in popular culture. As the show tells us, Attorney Woo is about a young attorney starting her practice in Korea but she’s an attorney who was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.

The show is entertaining and it definitely has some of that delicious awkward romantic tension I loved from Rookie Historian. Critically, though, it also educates and advocates at the same time. When I saw this, Haley Moss immediately came to mind.

I have never met Haley, but I was supposed to in March, 2020 when we were both honored by Ms. JD. Unfortunately, the awards ceremony was the same week that states of emergency relating to COVID-19 began rolling out and so I never met Haley. Fortunately, though, I stayed connected with her and watched her work progress.

Haley is a leader on disability inclusion, autism and neurodiversity in the workplace, the author of 4 books, and, upon her swearing in, she became Florida’s first documented openly autistic attorney in 2019. At this point, she’s also an unofficial expert of Extraordinary Attorney Woo because she has been busy lately talking to numerous Korean press outlets about it.

I reached out to Haley to get her thoughts on the show. Here’s my brief interview with her:

Q: You’ve expressed a favorable reaction to Extraordinary Attorney Woo in past interviews, what about the show is exciting to you? 

A: The show definitely pushed some boundaries in a good way, although it isn’t enough and it’s a trend that needs to continue. I love how Attorney Woo has “main character energy” and gets to grow and learn and be her best self like many nondisabled characters do. She isn’t a prop for someone else’s growth. She has friends, hobbies, family – very “typical” things like any other young lawyer should have.

There is a pivotal moment to me where she represents an autistic person and comments on autism perceptions throughout history and how 80 years ago we weren’t worthy of life apparently and casting doubt on Hans Asperger’s legacy (if you didn’t know: he’s problematic – and Woo calls it out!). The show has slowly pushed boundaries, especially by showing someone in the legal field, a woman no less, and that monologue really got me. 

Q. Most of us know that lawyer TV shows aren’t always the most realistic, but was there anything about Attorney Woo that spoke to your experience as an attorney?

A: I can’t even comment on the realism too much since we know the Korean legal system and American legal system are not the same! But, how Attorney Woo approaches problem solving and is creative with a different thought process than her colleagues is most similar to what my experiences have been. 

Q. In this blog, we focus on mindfulness and mental health topics for lawyers and professionals. What role, if any, does the representation of neurodiversity in popular media have on mental health? 

A. Neurodiversity and mental health go hand in hand. I think that’s something that gets lost a lot in both the mainstream neurodiversity conversation and the mainstream mental health conversation – especially for lawyers. 

Mainstream neurodiversity has an overarching focus on autism, ADHD, and learning disabilities that may require less workplace support or perceived as superpowers; traditionally this focuses on who society perceives as being more “desirable.” But what media representation we get out of autism, especially in popular media, is limited and often damaging; think Rain Man, a movie that is older than me and lives on in peoples’ minds about what autism is.   

Lawyer mental health almost exclusively focuses on depression, anxiety, and substance use – which leaves out people with more highly stigmatized mental health conditions, and ignores the fact that nearly all of these conditions are forms of neurodivergence. In addition, most “traditional” forms of neurodivergence (for lack of a better word; i.e., autism, ADHD, learning disabilities) more often than not do have co-occurring mental health conditions. 

Q: If the streaming higher powers bring us an American remake of Attorney Woo, what would you like to see done differently and why? 

A: Well, I’d like to consult on it! There are known autistic attorneys in the U.S., so not inviting our perspective would be a massive faux pas. There are also no autistic actors, writers, directors, or creatives involved in the show, which is disheartening. Disability (and autism) representation in Hollywood has always been an inclusion issue that’s poorly addressed. How we’re portrayed also matters.

Q. What other shows, movies or other media (besides your own books which I already plugged) do you recommend for lawyers who want to  learn more about neurodiversity at work? 

A: I love some of the resources from Genius Within CIC, Victoria Honeybourne’s “The Neurodiverse Workplace,” (although it is a little UK-centric), and some big company employee resource groups are really doing great stuff. Unfortunately there isn’t a lot solely dedicated to lawyers but I am working hard to change that! 

Have you watched Extraordinary Attorney Woo? What did you think about it? Leave us a comment to let us know.

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