Becoming a solicitor as a disabled student

Entry to the solicitors’ profession is open to a wide range of candidates: being disabled does not exclude you. This guide sets out what support is available to disabled students thinking of becoming a solicitor.

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In this guidance, we use the same terminology as in our reasonable adjustments guidance.

The guidance shows what is best practice for reasonable adjustments and is being recommended to firms and other organisations.

Challenging assumptions and overcoming barriers

The journey to a legal career can be a daunting experience for all aspiring solicitors.

As a disabled student, the extremely competitive environment may feel even more overwhelming, with the additional worry of having to overcome barriers often based on assumptions and lack of knowledge.

The good news is that employers have begun to realise they could be missing out on a massive talent pool and are increasingly committed to recruiting candidates who can help shape a dynamic and diverse workforce.

The legal situation has also improved for disabled people since the Equality Act 2010, which makes it unlawful to discriminate against disabled people, including by recruitment and selection procedures.

The move to hybrid and remote working since COVID-19 has also acted to improve access to many disabled people and those with caring responsibilities.

Entry to the solicitors’ profession is open to a wide range of candidates: being disabled does not exclude you.

On our becoming a solicitor page, you will find information on the routes to qualification and advice on entering the profession.

Available support

Teaching institution

Education providers are required to provide reasonable adjustments where people who meet the statutory definition of disability under the Equality Act 2010 are placed at a substantial disadvantage.

You will find that most teaching institutions offer very good support for disabled students and will put in place the support needed for you to complete your studies.

If you are legally entitled to reasonable adjustments, it is ultimately your responsibility to inform your teaching provider of this, if you feel comfortable doing so.

Universities and organisations should have policies on the sharing of disability-related information.

The UK General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will also apply, as this is sensitive personal information.

Reasonable adjustments may include:

  • providing materials in a range of formats, with a particular emphasis on the value of web-based provision
  • timetabling and room provision to suit the requirements of the student
  • provision of study skills tuition
  • special arrangements for exams and assignments including extra time, provision of an amanuensis or special equipment

The above is a non-exhaustive list. What is 'reasonable' will depend on individual circumstances.

It is important that you give advance notice of your requirements to allow for the necessary assessments to be carried out.

If you do not share your disability and any special requirements during the application stage, we recommend you do at least one month before starting the course to make sure adjustments are put in place in good time.

To find out more about the support and policies that individual education providers have in place, contact the provider directly or visit their website.

The Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE)

You can also apply for reasonable adjustments for the SQE.

The process of applying for reasonable adjustments in the SQE exams is distinct from the requirements for support at the education provider.

Students must submit an application to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) for adjustments in the SQE well before the date of the exam.

Find out how to request reasonable adjustments for the SQE

Recruitment process and interviews

During the recruitment process, you are likely to be asked if you require any reasonable adjustments to be made.

These may include adjustments to any interviews, assessment centres or written exercises.

If you are aware of your required adjustments, you should confirm these to your prospective employer if you feel comfortable to do so.

If you do not know what adjustments you may require, we recommend you review our reasonable adjustments guidance where there are examples.

Employer responsibilities

Any employer or prospective employer should have policies regarding the sharing of disability-related information.

The UK GDPR will also apply, as this is sensitive personal information.

It is an employer’s responsibility to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that any worker who meets the statutory definition of disability is not substantially disadvantaged when doing their job.

Adjustments may include:

  • allowing flexibility and part-time working
  • providing specialist equipment
  • moving desks to ensure physical accessibility
  • providing materials in alternative formats
  • reallocating part of a job to another employee
  • adjusting recruitment processes, including interviews and assessment centres

If the adjustments required are not financially feasible for the firm/organisation or beyond reasonable, there are external resources available that can help.

Access to Work is a government scheme which can help employers cover up to 100% of the cost for the adjustments necessary to support you in your job.

The Access to Work scheme is also available to job applicants.

Early contact is advised as at times due to high demand, there can be a delay in responses.

Funding opportunities

Disabled Students’ Allowance

You may be eligible for a Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA) when applying for an undergraduate or postgraduate course.

If you are in financial hardship or would like to apply for a bursary, your university or college can offer financial support to disabled students who wish to stay in higher education.

The amount and who receives it is decided by each university. You should apply to the student services department at your college or university.

You may also be eligible for other government-sponsored benefits to assist with costs involved with having a long-term disability.

To find out more about financial support you may be entitled to, visit the government’s student finance page.

Disabled students allowances are based on your individual needs and paid in addition to your other student finances. They do not have to be paid back.

The amount you receive will be decided once you have had a needs assessment.

Funding and support are available if you are looking for other ways to fund your studies.

Find out more about funding and support during your studies

The Law Society Diversity Access Scheme

The Diversity Access Scheme is a scholarship that each year awards 10 aspiring solicitors from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Each award includes a Legal Practice Course (LPC) or Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) scholarship, a professional mentor and a work experience placement.

The Diversity Access Scheme is open for applications in February each year.

Learn more about the Diversity Access Scheme

Sharing your disability

When applying for positions, it is your choice whether to share information about your disability when applying.

Deciding if and when to share a disability can be a difficult choice.

This is an individual decision, as there is no legal requirement for an employee to disclose their disability.

However, there is no legal requirement for an employer to make reasonable adjustments unless aware of an employee or candidate’s disability (if they meet the statutory definition).

If you are called for an interview and require reasonable adjustments, it would be advisable that you arrange this beforehand to:

  • allow you to equally compete with other applicants, and
  • allow time for the employer to make any necessary arrangements

Requesting adjustments upon arrival can potentially limit your chances if such arrangements are not available.

There may be an advantage in sharing your disability where organisations are committed to equal opportunity policies that reflect non-discriminatory recruitment.

Look out for the Disability Confident logo on job advertisements. This indicates the employer has made a commitment to employing disabled people.

The Disability Confident scheme guarantees an interview to those that meet the minimum requirements of the job.

If you choose to share your disability, there are different ways you can do this.

A cover letter is a much better place to share than on a CV. Keep the cover letter positive, highlighting past achievements.

An employer should not be asking any questions about your health or disability on an application form. There could be a separate monitoring form, which is normally anonymous and would not be part of the decision-making process.

However, they may ask these questions to make reasonable adjustments.

As with the cover letter, an application form can provide a good opportunity to outline the positive aspects of your disability.

It is important that you do not undersell your abilities: focus on the positive rather than the negative.

You should only talk about your disability in terms of its relevance to your performance in the role.

Emphasise how it has enabled you to further develop any skills that the organisation might be looking for.

Use terms that will demonstrate your suitability such as always achieving your goals despite any difficulties that you might face or your strong determination to always succeed thanks to your disability.

With a positive attitude and by making positive statements about your disability, you can help remove any doubts an employer might have about your ability to perform.

Many attitudes and assumptions made by employers are based on their lack of knowledge and experience. Openly talking about any adjustments required can help.

By showing yourself in a positive light and clearly demonstrating your suitability for the role, you can come a long way in removing any doubts about your ability.

Try to anticipate the employer’s potential anxieties and address these in a positive way, focusing on your skills and abilities.

What does the law say?

The Equality Act 2010 provides a legal framework that protects people who meet the statutory definition of disability from direct and indirect discrimination, and harassment due to their disability. 

The law applies to:

  • employers
  • further and higher education institutions
  • career guidance institutions
  • associations
  • vocational training providers

At the time of recruiting, an employer is not allowed to ask questions about your health or disability before offering you a position unless their reasons for asking are to:

  • be able to make reasonable adjustments
  • decide if you will be able to do something that is an essential part of the job

There are several helpful resources contained within our reasonable adjustments guidance.

About the Disabled Solicitors Network

The Disabled Solicitors Network promotes equal opportunities for disabled people within the legal profession.

Anyone can join, whether or not you identify as disabled. You do not have to be a qualified solicitor.

Learn more about the network

The qualification system for solicitors has changed.

In September 2021 the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) introduced a new route to qualifying as a solicitor, the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE).

There is a 10 year transition period until 2031 for those already on the path to qualifying, those candidates can choose to qualify through the LPC route, or choose to do the SQE.

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