Establishing an accessible industry for all
The world marks the UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3rd December, creating a vital focal point to mobilise change to make sure people with disabilities are not excluded. Organisations across the UK will be joining #PurpleLightUp , which celebrates the contribution of workers with disabilities around the world.
So, what is the legal profession doing to make legal work more accessible to those with disabilities?
The rise of alternative working
At Obelisk Support, we’ve been championing the benefits of legal services delivered remotely for over 10 years. When the C-19 pandemic meant the professional services world switched to remote working almost over-night, even more employers realised how remote working, when managed well, can be cost-effective, improve wellbeing and, most importantly, increase inclusion.
“Working with Obelisk on a remote basis has allowed me to tap into talent I simply wouldn’t have come across otherwise”, one legal leader told us.
Taking away the need for everyone to be in the office has meant that this organisation has benefited from working with a lawyer who would not have been able to travel to their offices and has removed an artificial barrier to work.
How remote & hybrid working increases inclusion
Normalising remote and hybrid working presents a substantial opportunity not just for those with physical disabilities but also those whose mental health is adversely impacted by substantial time in an office environment. Continuing to support remote working and tailoring work patterns to individuals’ needs will enable companies to utilise legal talent that might otherwise be lost and help lawyers and paralegals with disabilities to flourish.
Raising awareness: thinking differently about work
Whilst not everyone who is neurodivergent considers themselves to be disabled, conditions such as ADHD and dyslexia are termed disabilities in the UK’s Equality Act (2010). Increasing awareness of these and other conditions is making it easier for law firms and in-house teams to adjust how they work to maximise the contribution the neurodivergent population can make. Even simple steps such as tailoring working hours to recognise that standard working hours don’t suit everyone, designating quiet spaces at work and personalising software settings to accommodate different sensory needs can reduce unnecessary stress and overload.
Similarly, legal employers are increasingly realising the value of organising team meetings and workflow in a way that maximises the creativity and problem-solving of a team that includes both neurodiverse and neurotypical thinkers. Herbert Smith Freehills are one firm that is placing greater emphasis on attracting aspiring solicitors with ASD to their firm. Measures they’ve taken to increase awareness across the firm include coaching them to produce visual guides to team members who will be attending meetings and clear expectations of the roles and contributions of those taking part.
Champions and change-makers
There are an amazing number of talented individuals who are sharing their personal experiences and expertise to help the legal profession become more inclusive of those with disabilities. Here are just some of the initiatives and resources that are available to help legal professionals with disabilities and their allies:
- The Law Society’s Disabled Solicitors Network promotes equal opportunities for disabled people within the legal profession.
- The Association of Disabled Lawyers campaigns for positive change in the legal profession and provides a support network for lawyers and aspiring lawyers with disabilities.
- Becca Jiggens, founder of Just Reasonable and winner of the Next 100 Years Paralegal of the Year 2021, has created a non-profit company that provides compassionate, disability-led representation, especially in employment law.
- Legalnable, founded by Jodiann Gayle, is a support group focusing on helping law students and legal professionals with disabilities to meet their full potential.
- Neurodiversity in Law was set up to promote and support neurodiversity in the law, and to help challenge the stigma that can sometimes be associated with thinking differently.
The road to a truly accessible legal profession
There is still a huge amount of work to do, for example many courts and offices still do not have adequate facilities to support legal professionals with disabilities. However, this December, we are encouraged to see so many organisations and individuals in the legal profession working towards making a career in the law more accessible for all.