Lawyers with disabilities

My journey as a disabled senior leader

In this interview marking Disability History Month, we speak with Mark Blois, partner at Browne Jacobson and member of our Lawyers with Disabilities Division.

He shares his experience to partnership, offers advice to fellow senior leaders and discusses the necessity of embracing disability inclusion and diversity.

I have been fortunate to work for a firm, Browne Jacobson, that has long been committed to diversity and inclusion. 

When I started at the firm in the mid 1990s, this commitment was not embedded into the culture and infrastructure of the organisation in the systemic way it is today. There have been some challenging times, particularly when my medical condition has caused me to become hospitalised.

At those difficult times not all colleagues have always allowed me the space to focus on necessary medical interventions or given me the latitude to continue working even while I have been unwell if it was my wish to do so. 

However, on the whole there have been ethical and inclusive people in key leadership positions within the firm who have been supportive and flexible towards me and who have been keen to understand how my disability has the potential to impact me in the workplace and what they can usefully do to mitigate those impacts.

I have been very privileged. I know that many disabled lawyers, and those who have ambitions to become lawyers, have not always had the positive experiences I have.

I have always been inspired by people who refuse to be defined by their disabilities and who have been responsible for significant achievements in their professional fields notwithstanding the challenges they face secondary to their disability. There are many examples of this.

Historically, I would refer to Franklin D Roosevelt who once said “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though chequered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”

A more recent example would be Professor Stephen Hawking who once commented “My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit as well as physically.”

Disabled role models for me are disabled people who, as Professor Hawking recommended, stubbornly refuse to be “disabled in spirit” and who, as FDR encouraged, “dare mighty things”.

Overall, I would say that my disability has positively impacted my career. In saying that I do not want to sound glib as there have of course been times in my career when my disability has been a source of challenge and unhappiness.

However, I am conscious that my disability has played a significant formative part in the person I am and has influenced the qualities and attributes that I have brought to my employment that have enabled me to be successful.

As such I think my disability has played an important part in enabling me to enjoy a full and rich professional life and I am grateful for that.

As a partner I do try to positively impact diversity and inclusion, and disability diversity and inclusion in particular, and I take this responsibility seriously.

I am a member of Browne Jacobson’s Diversity & Inclusion Group where, in collaboration with a colleague, I lead on disability diversity and inclusion. I am also a member of the firm’s Partnership Committee.

This board is responsible for overseeing partner performance, remuneration and promotions, all issues where it is important that there is awareness of and commitment to diversity and inclusion issues.

Outside of the firm I am a member of the Law Society’s Lawyers with Disabilities Division which promotes equal opportunities for people with disabilities within the legal profession and I am also a trustee of the National Association for Special Educational Needs.

The recent Legally Disabled report usefully highlighted that disabled lawyers can bring a range of very positive characteristics to the firms they work in.

Forward thinking law firms should today be recruiting people from all walks of life and bring their strength and expertise together so that they are best equipped to tackle the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century legal services sector. As such, they should be recruiting and promoting not for ‘culture fit’ but for ‘culture add’.

Disabled lawyers have much to offer both law firms and their clients and they should be actively recruited and included and then nurtured and developed as valuable assets.

Do not settle for less than you deserve. Believe in yourself both as a lawyer and as a person and value the special things you have that uniquely contribute to the culture and success of a law firm.

There are increasing numbers of law firms who have a genuine commitment to diversity and inclusion.

If you are not working for one of these firms, consider making a move to one that will welcome you, support you and above all let you get on with the job like everybody else.

I would encourage non-disabled senior leaders not to overlook disability as part of their commitment to diversity and inclusion.

While diversity and inclusion is now rightly receiving focused attention in many employer organisations, in my view too often disability is the poor relation in the EDI space.

In the legal profession, non-disabled senior leaders should read and reflect on the summary of findings and recommendations from the Legally Disabled research and seek to make sure that their law firm is one where disabled lawyers do not face overt and unconscious discrimination due to ignorance or prejudice.

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