This is the question Cardiff University based research team, Legally Disabled, sought to answer.
Legally Disabled is a long-standing project, supported by the Law Society’s Lawyers with Disabilities Division, delving into the career experiences of disabled people within the legal profession. The research will be launched at the Legally Disabled conference on 24 January.
Findings shared at the conference will inform the legal profession on how to improve many aspects of the professional and personal lives of disabled people and those with long term health conditions.
Accessibility has long been a hot topic of conversation when exploring diversity and inclusion in the profession. Investigating the barriers specifically faced by disabled people trying to access the legal sector has somewhat faded into the background of that conversation. Legally Disabled has explored this in great depth - gaining first hand experiences from those affected - and has also highlighted the barriers to progression for those already in law firms.
The research has extensively investigated how firms have attempted to, or succeeded in, mitigating barriers such as; bias, inadequate reasonable adjustments, discrimination and lack of disclosing conditions and how they might use this information to improve working environments in the future.
The key findings so far outline the desperate need for change in culture, awareness and understanding within the legal profession.
Fairness in recruitment has been identified as a problematic area for disabled people and much work needs to be done to ensure everyone is afforded equal opportunities. In particular, the lack of work experience offered to disabled people poses significant difficulties in securing training contracts and job offers. There was a large volume of respondents who felt reluctant to disclose disabilities, impairments and health conditions for fear of discrimination and a lack of understanding by employers in terms of reasonable adjustments – often, many experienced outdated working practices that limited opportunities.
The data collected by Legally Disabled suggests that organisations do in fact already employ a significant number of disabled people - although a large percentage have chosen to conceal this for fear that it will negatively impact their career. This means that many talented disabled employees struggle to reach their full potential at work and the profession fails to properly utilise their skills.
Both the Legally Disabled team and the Lawyers with Disabilities Division hope the research and subsequent findings will provide easily implemented solutions not only to improve the lives of disabled people, but also to build a more inclusive profession.
Those with disabilities should feel safe and confident enough to bring their whole self to work.
For those who would like to learn more, the research can be downloaded on the Legally Disabled website from Friday 24 January.