Attorney gives her ear to hearing-impaired clients


By Paul Janczewski
Legal News

Whether she’s on the court, or in one, Kathryn M. Cushman has carved out a successful career.

In high school and college, Cushman established records with her play in women’s basketball. And as one of the few attorneys in Michigan able to communicate in American Sign Language with deaf clients, Cushman offers a level of comfort and service to the hearing-impaired community.

“Everyone needs a lawyer they can trust and communicate with in their own language,” Cushman said. “And I offer the environment where clients can come in and we can communicate one on one, and build trust.”

Cushman works for the Troy firm of Hickey, Cianciolo, Fishman and Finn. But playing basketball as a youth may have been the one factor that brought her to where she is today.
She was born in Flint, and her father, Larry, was a youth director at the YMCA, and later became the director.

“It was a pretty great job for your dad to have,” Cushman said. “I grew up at the Y, had a gym at my disposal, and competed in all the activities year-round.”

Cushman, who prefers being called the less-formal name of Katie, said she was not a tomboy, but had a nice balance of “being girly” and athletics.

“I liked bows in my hair and getting dressed up, I had my nails painted, but I was definitely a jock,” she said.

She would shoot for hours on end at the Y, or in the family driveway, as her father patiently rebounded for her. And her dad would make it into a competition for young Katie. She also played ball with the boys at the Y. She was not tall, but learned to get off a fast shot, and “I could run all day.” Playing with the boys, Cushman learned to play a little rougher.

And her dad would “do silly things to try to get into my head” to help her free-throw shooting, like putting a towel over her head and making her shoot blindfolded, or waving his hands and yelling to try to distract her.

“I realized once I got into high school that there was nothing anybody could do in a gym that my dad or guys in the gym hadn’t tried before.”

For her high school career, Cushman earned many honors, including first team All-State from 1992-94, Honorable Mention All-American in 1994 by USA Today, and was Powers all-time leading scorer with 1,413 points, although that record has been broken.

But as a sophomore, Cushman also decided to enter a career in law after taking an American Justice class and participating in Law Day events at the Genesee County Court on a mock jury trial.

“I thought it was so cool,” she said. “That’s what opened my eyes to law, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do, that was my goal.”

Cushman was recruited by colleges to play basketball, but chose Madonna University in Livonia, and a full scholarship, so her parents could watch her play and because she could play all four years. It paid off – Cushman led the Madonna Crusaders to its first 20 win season, still holds the all-time school career scoring record with 1,752 points and all-time career free throw percentage of 90.5%, and was the 1995 NAIA Division II Free Throw champion with 90.5%.

“It was real exciting and we had a real good time,” she said. “It was hard work, but I got to play and go to school.”

But attending Madonna gave her something else, too. The school had a large population of deaf students, and it opened her eyes to that culture. Year earlier, Cushman had been exposed to deaf kids at the Y when many from the nearby Michigan School for the Deaf attended programs. Madonna had several unique programs in sign language, so Cushman received two degrees from Madonna – a bachelor of arts in sign language, and a bachelor of science in criminal justice.

“I found it to be very interesting and something that was really intriguing to me, and something that I felt as a lawyer would be really a neat thing to assist the deaf community,“ she said.
After graduating from Madonna in 1999, Cushman was accepted to the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. Even though women’s professional basketball was the choice of some elite college players, Cushman decided law school “would be a better investment.”

During law school, Cushman clerked at several firms, including Hickey, Cianciolo, Fishman and Finn. She was hired there after graduating and promoted her idea to cater to deaf clients.
“This is a great firm,” Cushman said. “And since day one, they have been very supportive and flexible in allowing me to create this niche with deaf clients.”

She handles family law, toxic exposure and occupational disease cases and other matters for the firm.

In 2004, she married Damon Tillman, and they have two children.

“I feel like I’ve been blessed in a lot of ways,” she said. “My family, my job, and what I’ve been able to do.”