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Disabled law students: what to consider for your career in the legal profession
Our Lawyers with Disabilities Division (LDD) committee has attended several virtual open days at universities to speak about disability within the legal profession.
We looked in detail at the landscape for disabled people pursuing a career in the sector, including:
- challenges faced and how to overcome them
- tips and tricks for standing out
- engagement and networking
Disability representation in the legal profession
The UK government’s Family Resources Survey (2019) estimates that 3.7 million people or 19% of working adults are disabled.
“[The above statistics] undoubtedly disguises the real number of disabled people in employment who choose to conceal their impairment as a consequence of negative stereotypes, or fear of discrimination.” Legally Disabled Research 2020.
In 2019, we conducted a survey of our members about their working lives. Of the 1,664 who completed the survey, 16% of solicitors reported a long-term physical or mental health condition or illness lasting or expecting to last 12 months or more.
The legal industry has made significant efforts in increasing equality, diversity and inclusion within the profession.
However, most initiatives do not include disability and the profession still has a long way to go to be fully inclusive for disabled legal professionals.
Read the research reports we produced in collaboration with the Legally Disabled? team for more information on disability in the legal profession and the obstacles and opportunities for disabled people aspiring to a career in law.
Accessing the profession as a disabled student: challenges and how to overcome them
Firstly, know what reasonable adjustments you can ask for and consider whether these will help you in your role.
The government's guidance on reasonable adjustments includes information on what you’re legally entitled to request and gives an overview of what's expected of employers.
Being familiar with the law can help ease anxiety when requesting adjustments.
It's also worth remembering that reasonable adjustments can also be made during the recruitment process.
Contact the HR department to discuss what adjustments the organisation can put in place for you to ensure you’re afforded an equal footing to other candidates.
The government run a scheme called Access to Work which supports disabled people in work with grants that can pay for specialist assessments and recommended adjustments.
These assessments can be invaluable, especially if you’re still learning about your condition and need more information about what adjustments can support you. You’ll need to apply for the scheme yourself on offer of employment.
Reasonable adjustments can enable you to do your job better and fulfil your potential within your role. They do not make you a less favourable or difficult employee.
Disclosing your disability on application forms can be quite daunting and it’s always a personal decision.
You're not required to disclose your disability or condition to your employer even if you request reasonable adjustments.
Disclosure can help to build your confidence in the organisation you’re applying to.
For example, if the organisation makes it easy to provide reasonable adjustments at interview stage, you may feel like you’re being supported from early on. This can be reassuring to you in that the organisation is more likely to support you and your disability throughout your employment.
How to make yourself stand out from the crowd
When writing your CV, try not to focus only on your disability. Instead, think of other things you’ve achieved despite being disabled.
Your disability is not your whole identity and it’s important to point out your strengths and relevant experience.
For example, if your disability has affected you during your studies, think of the skills your disability has given you like:
- time keeping
Consider also adding your hobbies and interests to your CV to show firms your personality.
Do not worry if your hobbies are not related to law – firms like this as it shows something different about you.
Whilst studying, create a LinkedIn profile. This will help you keep up to date with the latest news and updates within the legal profession.
LinkedIn will also give you the opportunity to connect with legal professionals virtually. Remember to send a personal message when connecting with people, linking it to an article they may have written, work they have done or a time when you’ve met them.
Our LDD has a dedicated LinkedIn group which you’re welcome to join.
Getting legal work experience will allow you develop the vital legal skills that are necessary for a lawyer. It also gives you the chance to network with other lawyers.
Work experience can help to build your profile and make you feel comfortable in the legal environment and confident on your application forms in that you can demonstrate your eagerness for a career in law.
Do not worry if your conditions meant that you could not attend vacation schemes. Think of non-legal experience you may have gained that's taught you skills transferable to a legal role.
Many barrister chambers and law firms have been offering virtual legal work experience during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
If this continues, this is a great opportunity, especially if you're unable to attend certain offices for work experience.
Engaging with legal networks
It’s incredibly important to engage with legal networks while at university. It can be insightful to know how these networks can help you at different stages in your career.
Before the founding of our LDD committee 30 years ago, there were no formal means by which disabled lawyers could find each other or network.
The LDD has grown in both size and remit, meeting regularly and running events and initiatives designed to support disabled lawyers.
LDD members come from a wide range of backgrounds and include:
- law students
- LPC graduates
- retired solicitors
- law lecturers
- practising solicitors
You do not have to be a lawyer or identify as disabled to become a member – anyone supporting greater disability inclusion is welcome.
Members of the LDD have a wide range of impairments, including:
- visual and other sensory impairments
- impaired mobility
- invisible conditions such as epilepsy, dyslexia and mental health issues
Create a free My Law Society account to join the LLD under ‘Account settings’ and receive communications from us and the committee.
There are many other opportunities and networks that are worth looking into.
The Law Society Diversity Access Scheme
Our Diversity Access Scheme is a scholarship with a difference, providing awardees with funding for up to the full cost of your LPC fees, professional mentoring and work experience placements.
EmployAbility work with disabled university students and graduates easing the transition from education into employment.
The EmployAbility team can offer free support, advice and guidance throughout the entire recruitment process.
City Disabilities is an organisation that supports professionals in London who have disabilities or long-term medical conditions that affect their working lives.
City Disabilities also supports students who would like to join the profession in London. They offer a free mentoring scheme.
The Business Disability Forum
The Business Disability Forum is a not-for-profit membership organisation that exists to create a disability smart world by linking businesses, disabled people and government.
Justice first was established by the Legal Education Foundation in 2014 to support the next generation of specialist social justice lawyers.
Its aim is that the fellowship is a route to a long and rewarding career using law as a tool for social justice. The fellowship offers a two year fully-funded training contract in a specialist social welfare law agency.
Evenbreak created an accessible job board for companies to attract disabled candidates and for disabled candidates to know which employers are inclusive.
Association of Disabled Lawyers
The Association of Disabled Lawyers exist to create a community and network for disabled lawyers. They want to make it known that you can practice law and be disabled. They have a platform for sharing ideas for positive change.
Interlaw Diversity Forum
Interlaw Diversity Forum created its ENABLE (dis)Ability Network in 2017 to support those with disabilities in the legal sector, as well as their allies and supporters.
Members can share best practice, hear inspirational stories and create informal mentoring relationships.
Law Care provide information and support to anyone in the legal community experiencing mental health and wellbeing problems.
Aspiring Solicitors Disability Scholarship
The Aspiring Solicitors Disability Scholarship 2021 is for aspiring solicitors with a disability in any year of academic undergraduate or postgraduate study.
The scholarship will provide financial support, careers advice and legal work experience to ensure aspiring solicitors with a disability or long-term health condition have the best possible start to their legal careers.