"My neurodivergence is a benefit in my role"

Meet Arwen Makin, senior crown prosecutor at the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), and member of the Law Society’s Disabled Solicitors Network. Learn how Arwen’s autism and ADHD diagnosis helped shape her career.
Arwen is a white woman with bright red hair. She is standing in a field with her horse wearing a blue vest top and sun glasses on her head. She has tattoos on her right arm and is smiling.

I am a duty prosecutor and shift lead at CPS Direct. When a suspect is in police custody, I am one of a team of dedicated lawyers who review evidence and authorise charging decisions in cases where there is a sustainable remand. Our work is unique in that we review many extremely serious and varied criminal cases under the time pressure of the limited period in which the police can detain a suspect. I work unsociable hours, with overnight shifts, weekends and public holidays.

My neurodivergence is a benefit in my role. While I relish the fascinating and unpredictable challenges of each new case, I also enjoy routine and find that I naturally apply a structured approach. This helps me reach a sound evidential analysis, especially with particularly complex cases, and I find that I naturally pick up on inconsistencies or missing evidential links which should be addressed at a critical early stage.

I am fortunate to work within one of my areas of special interest. My role can be extremely intense with each case following in quick succession, often with traumatic footage and upsetting material. However, criminal law has been an intense interest of mine since childhood, and I feel genuinely privileged to work within a field in which I am truly passionate. The decisions we make have potentially huge impact on people’s lives and my strong sense of justice means that the gravity of our role is not lost on me.

I thrive under pressure. My ADHD means that I struggle to be motivated about something I am not interested in, and my brain actively functions better when under intense pressure. This makes my current role perfect for me – everything is naturally time pressured, the stakes are high, and it is always fascinating to me. My ability to ‘hyperfocus’ and pick up small details and get to the heart of a matter quickly is extremely valuable for my role.

I wasn’t diagnosed until I was in my 40s. Finally, many aspects about myself made sense. Self-reflection and healing followed, and I understood why I had found things such as travel and networking so challenging. I realised why I had thrived in my criminal defence role many years previously, so after 12 years practising employment law in a commercial setting, I decided to return to what interested me the most and joined the CPS.

The courtroom always came naturally to me. Growing up autistic, I had no option but to ‘mask’ for survival to try to fit in, even though I did not realise that this was what I was doing. I became adept at changing my persona and mirroring others. Advocacy was within my comfort zone as it felt like I was playing another role, but happily one I was interested in, plus the adrenaline of being on my feet played to the strengths of my ADHD.

There were aspects of being a commercial lawyer that I struggled with. I enjoy one to one, intense conversations, but networking was not a strength of mine. I could do it, but the unstructured social interaction and sensory difficulties I experienced in large groups of people caused me significant anxiety. Since my diagnosis, my strengths and weaknesses make much more sense to me, and I am more comfortable in my current role, which caters to them.

Growing up I had no idea I was neurodivergent. I grew up in the countryside, was highly anxious, very shy, and was bullied at school. I consistently fell asleep in lessons but fortunately did well at exams due to my last-minute cramming abilities. I never understood why I struggled with things that came naturally to other people. One of the reasons I wanted to work with the Law Society on the Disabled Solicitors Network is to be visible to aspiring neurodivergent lawyers. I recognise that I am in a position of privilege to do this, as I have a truly supportive and inclusive employer.

Disclosing my disability was the first time I had ever been discriminated against. The recruitment process for the CPS was nothing but positive, however sadly this was always not my experience. After my diagnosis, I was directly approached for more than one private sector role. I informed the recruiters that I was neurodivergent to find that suddenly the roles were no longer available. This opened my eyes to the privilege I had previously enjoyed, and the stigma that still exists. I hope to assist in challenging that stigma in a small way.

Reasonable adjustments aren’t ‘special treatment’. Reasonable adjustments instead level the playing field, so that all staff can be their best. By providing this, employers become more inclusive, which in turn will lead to a more educated, and ultimately a happier workforce.

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