Today’s blog article has kindly been provided by Natasha Hirst, of Legally Disabled, a research project that will investigate and map out the negative and positive experiences, choices and views of qualified disabled people working or seeking to work in the legal profession.
Natasha writes: Why are disabled people seemingly unexpected in the legal profession and what can we do to create a culture of inclusion and access?
These are the questions that the Cardiff University based “Legally Disabled?” research team are setting out to answer. The researchers held a series of focus groups around the UK with disabled legal professionals to identify the key issues that they experience in trying to get into the profession and then progressing their careers once there. They are now looking for individuals to participate in one to one interviews that can explore these issues in more depth.
Disabled people working in IP professions may not necessarily have arrived through a career in law. However, as professionals, disabled people who work within the IP sector may well experience similar barriers to career entry and progression as those in the legal profession. We hope that the findings of this research will be transferable to other occupations.
We believe that disabled people seeking employment or working in the legal profession are an untapped resource with strong ambition, tenacity, determination and excellent problem-solving skills – all qualities that bring great benefits to employers.
However, our findings suggest positive experiences of support, good attitudes and appropriate reasonable adjustments are something of a lottery.
Entering the profession
- The profession is generally poorly equipped to anticipate reasonable adjustments to accommodate disabled candidates who apply for a training contract or pupillage. Lack of part-time training contracts is one such barrier.
Disclosure and seeking reasonable adjustments
- A large proportion of focus group participants reported instances of discrimination associated with their impairment. Coupled with a poor understanding of reasonable adjustments and how impairments and health conditions can vary, this creates a reluctance to disclose an impairment or health condition which in turn prevents individuals from accessing support.
Working culture and expectations
- Inflexible, often outdated working practices and the absence of imaginative job design, limits opportunities for disabled people and career progression.
The good practice
- There are early indications that examples of good practice are influenced by sector of the profession, size and location of firm and the role of equality clauses in procurement contracts.
- Strong role models, supportive senior colleagues and the presence of mentors and networks are important factors for enabling career progression.
How to get involved
If you are (or were) a disabled legal professional and would like to contribute through a one to one interview, you can find out more on our website or contact the researchers by email.
The independent research is funded by the DRILL programme (www.drilluk.org.uk) and works in coproduction with the Lawyers with Disabilities Division of the Law Society. However, the research is independent of any professional association, regulator or employer and your anonymity is assured at all times.