Update on the Cardiff University Legally Disabled project

Debbie FosterCardiff University
Natasha Hirst

Debbie Foster, professor of employment relations and diversity, and Natasha Hirst, independent disability researcher, are leading the Legally Disabled research project.

Since the launch of our report in January 2020, Legally Disabled?: The Career Experiences of Disabled People in the Legal Profession, we’ve been busy working with the Lawyers with Disabilities Division (LDD) to disseminate research findings and raise awareness of its key recommendations.

A range of individuals, groups and stakeholders contacted us after the conference requesting we speak about our research at events.

What heartened us most was that many individuals just wanted to tell us how much they enjoyed the conference, which was for many the first they had attended led by disabled people.

They also expressed the view that the research findings echoed their own personal experiences and, consequently, lessened their feelings of isolation in the profession.

Since January, we’ve received invitations to organise or participate in:

  • roundtable debates and meetings from law firms and the Government Legal Department (GLD)
  • regional Law Society groups in Cardiff, Nottingham and Leeds
  • a ‘Cake and Counsel’ event organised by barristers
  • workshops for the Bar Standards Board

We fulfilled some requests before the current lockdown and others have taken place remotely. For example, Debbie Foster and Jane Burton (chair of LDD) recently participated in a conference call with staff at the GLD.

We’re mindful, however, that we keep the momentum created by the launch of our report going.

To this end, we’ll shortly be posting a brief post conference report on our website and looking at adapting some of our previous planned events, so they can take place remotely.

Enforced remote working may actually bring some positive benefits for some disabled people, who find themselves able to participate more fully.

On the issue of remote working Legally Disabled researchers and the LDD are also planning to launch some video diaries, which will serve to illustrate the possibilities of remote working for disabled people.

Before the lockdown related to COVID-19, a dinner was organised by the president of the Law Society and Lord Shinkwin (disability advocate in the House of Lords), to bring people together from firms to discuss practical measures that could be put in place to encourage and promote talented disabled people in the profession.

Debbie Foster and Jane Burton attended the dinner from the Legally Disabled team and our report was recommended prior reading for attendees.

The dinner has since inspired regular meetings between ourselves, the LDD, the Law Society’s diversity and inclusion team and Lord Shinkwin, to co-ordinate future guidance around best practice in this area.

Below we suggest some short-term recommendations from the Legally Disabled findings that organisations could use to begin conversations around disability inclusion:

  • make sure your organisation understands and uses guidance and services provided by organisations such as Access to Work and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). For example, this guidance on reasonable adjustments may be helpful
  • read the Legally Disabled report to gain a better understanding of disabled people’s experiences in the profession. Use the report and its findings to start debate in your organisation
  • equality impact assess your recruitment, work experience, training, sickness absence, appraisal and promotion processes and practices. Make sure that you consider reasonable adjustments as a part of all these processes and procedures
  • introduce a disability passport scheme and a disability leave policy, if you don’t already have these
  • think about how unconscious bias may be preventing talented disabled people reaching their potential in your organisation. Does your organisation use artificial intelligence in recruitment or performance evaluation? Do they perpetuate unconscious bias?
  • are your policies and practices on reasonable workplace adjustments robust enough? Is there anything your organisation can learn from this period of enforced remote working that could contribute to job redesign or facilitate adjustments for disabled employees in the future?
  • engage senior personnel in your organisation in a new disability inclusion campaign. Identify disability champions among them that can take this agenda forward and who have access to channels of decision-making

We welcome contact from disabled people, staff groups, HR teams, stakeholders or leaders in the profession wanting to take the disability inclusion agenda forward.

The Legally Disabled team are also happy to give talks about our research or provide further advice so feel free to email either Debbie Foster or Natasha Hirst.