Lawyers with disabilities

The Lawyers with Disabilities Division summer social

After months of planning and discussions, the Law Society Lawyers with Disabilities Division (LDD) social event went ahead in person for the first time since December 2019.

A diverse group of people stand in front of a blue background
Photograph: Noah da Costa

We started the day with a committee meeting, excited to finally meet again (some of us for the first time not virtually).

The first guests started arriving at 5pm. Committee members chatted with friends, old and new.

We were surrounded by the stunning London skyline, thanks to the generosity of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and our committee member Reena Parmar who leads the Freshfields disability network.

A delegate at the Lawyers with Disabilities Division summer social: asian woman with glasses, sitting at a table with champagne glasses, talking to someone off-camera. She is wearing glasses, a pink scarf and a black-and-white hounds toothblazerPhotograph: Noah da Costa

The speakers began promptly at 6pm, addressing those attending in person and online. LDD members have benefited from the move to online participation, and we are keen that this should continue to ensure full inclusivity.

The LDD chair started the event by welcoming everyone and noting the impact of the pandemic on the disabled legal community.

According to the Legally Disabled? research, before COVID-19 the most requested reasonable adjustment was to be able to work from home – and the most refused. How things have changed!

A group of delegates talking and laughing, while holding drinks - one is seated in a wheelchairPhotograph: Noah da Costa

The lead researcher, Professor Debbie Foster, joined the event online.

Law Society president, Stephanie Boyce, spoke about the need to ensure disabled lawyers were included in the profession. She mentioned Project Rise, which encourages firms to offer part-time training contracts.

LDD member Lizzie Hardy and Law Society D&I adviser Chris Seel worked with Eversheds Sutherland and Osborne Clarke who are now offering part-time contracts, with others joining soon.

Freshfields partner Peter Allen welcomed everyone and explained what the firm has been doing, including working with other organisations.

The panel on the stage started with Dame Fiona Woolf, interviewed by LDD vice chair Yasmin Sheikh.

Dame Fiona is a decorated lawyer and a notable pioneer of gender equality. She is also on her own journey and was proud to come out as a disabled person.

LDD member Sanjay Solanki interviewed Fraser Kane, a trainee solicitor at Freeths.

He dazzled the audience and other panellists with his innovative ideas, ways of working and his positive approach to his disability.

Sanjay explained how his assistive software meant he was quicker than his colleagues and he encouraged disabled people to be open and honest – and to have ambition.

Peter Allen introduces panellists at Lawyers with Disabilities Division summer social.Behind him, Reena Parmar and Mark Blois are listening, sat in panellist chairs.

Photograph: Noah da Costa

Reena Parmar interviewed Mark Blois, who is a partner at Browne Jacobson. Mark spoke about his journey to becoming a senior role model and how he managed his disability and its fluctuating nature in his career, with the support of his colleagues and firm.

After the panel attendees (including other committee members) had the opportunity to network.

The room was alive with conversation and people connecting through the fellowship of disability and allyship.

Online, committee members Rhian Hooton and Rob Camm were working the rooms and chatting with those attending remotely. They included people from all walks of legal life, including Jane Barrett, chair of the newly formed Irish DisAbility Legal Network, joining us from Dublin.

It was a night that will be treasured by many for a long time to come and which has spurred the LDD on to even greater engagement with its members and work on inclusion.

Watch a recording of our speakers below. 

If you would like a transcript, email lawyerswithdisabilities@lawsociety.org.uk.

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