Speech therapy helps Edinburgh solicitor achieve his dream

Joe Boyd is promoting Stammer Awareness Day as someone who has prospered despite having a stammer. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Joe Boyd is promoting Stammer Awareness Day as someone who has prospered despite having a stammer. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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Having a speech impediment has failed to stop the likes of A-listers Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt and Samuel L Jackson from reaching the top and an Edinburgh lawyer has shown his stammer is also no barrier to success at the bar.

Solicitor Joe Boyd has struggled with a stammer since he can remember being able to speak.

“One of my earliest memories is being in Primary 2. In order to speak at all, I had to make a prolonged “ahhh” noise for several seconds before leading into what I wanted to say,” Mr Boyd explained.

But at 11 years old, an American courtroom comedy movie ,My Cousin Vinny, sparked Joe’s desire to be a lawyer and set him on his path, through hard work and determination, to graduate from Edinburgh University with a LLB Honours and subsequent law diploma in 2009.

“My Cousin Vinny is the best courtroom film I have seen and is one of my all-time favourites. However there is a lawyer portrayed near the beginning of the film who had a stammer, and was sacked by his client due to stammering uncontrollably in court.

“I had mixed emotions from watching this.

“I desperately wanted to be Joe Pesci, who played the main lawyer. But the effect of the stammering lawyer was not lost on me and I think this gave me the motivation not to allow my stammer to stand in the way of what I wanted to be.”

From early in his career, Mr Boyd sat with junior and senior counsel in High Court trials, an experience which he described as amazing and 
palpable.

He said: “A number of people who speak ‘normally’ regularly comment to me that they don’t know how I can do the job I do.

“The thought of standing up in a court and speaking in public terrifies them, never mind if they had a stammer too.

“Essentially, in order to do what I do, I need to be continually focussed on a number of things, including the way I breathe, my articulators, maintaining eye contact with those I am speaking to and not allowing myself to be pressured into speaking quickly.

“But I love what I do! Every case and every day is different.

“Like anything else, there are good days and bad, and it can be hard to consistently find the time and the motivation to carry out the exercises to keep it at bay.”

Mr Boyd admits that it has not always been so straightforward for him and as well as years of speech and language therapy he has had to learn physical and mental tools to manage.

“Having a stammer used to embarrass me greatly. I can’t recall experiencing anything more frustrating than knowing exactly what I have wanted to say, but not being able to say it.

“I have lost count of the number of tricks and avoidance strategies I have developed over the years to try to continually conceal my stammer. For example, adding ‘filler’ words to sentences to ensure that I can smoothly carry on into the next part of what I am saying.

“However, I had to come to terms with the fact that I can’t always do this and, on occasion, I have to ‘show my stammer off’ in order to speak eloquently, if not fluently.”

Ahead of International Stammering Awareness Day on October 22, the British Stammering Association aim to raise awareness and understanding of what stammering, or stuttering, is and the different ways it can affect people.

Chief executive of British Stammering Association Norbert Lieckfeldt said: “While stammering is still too often a barrier to professional success as people who stammer face discrimination and prejudice on a daily basis, we know that people who stammer often bring qualities and skills highly prized by employers, such as resilience, empathy, creativity and, yes, communication skills.

“Once we realise that it’s OK to stammer at work, we can use all our talents and skills and be ourselves at work.”

Stammering affects people in different ways and can vary according to the situation in which the person finds themselves including who the person is talking to, how they feel about themselves and their speech in that moment and what they want to say.

Stammering can vary from adult to adult and child to child in its manner, frequency and severity – but is also highly variable for the person who stammers and can effect confidence, self-esteem and their interactions with others.

The association estimates that around one per cent of the adult population has a 
stammer.

fiona.pringle@jpress.co.uk