Firms should reserve training places for disabled applicants, a study by Cardiff Business School recommends today, arguing that ‘radical intervention’ is needed to tackle the bullying and discrimination disabled lawyers face.
Over half of disabled solicitors and paralegals surveyed for the ‘Legally Disabled?’ report believed their career and promotion prospects were inferior to those of their non-disabled colleagues. Meanwhile 60% said they had experienced ill-treatment at work, with the majority believing this was related to disability. Among barristers, 45% reported ill-treatment.
The study also found that lawyers are unlikely to disclose disabilities on job applications and those that did were disadvantaged when applying for training or employment. The accessibility of offices was a major concern, and less than 1% of solicitors said they found it ‘very easy’ to find out about the accessibility of a prospective trainer or employer. 60% expressed concern that inaccessible working environments limited their career opportunities.
To combat discrimination, the report recommends that firms reserve work experience and training places for disabled candidates ‘at least in the short term’ in order to ‘challenge negative stereotypes and misconceptions’. It adds: ‘We believe only a radical positive intervention can begin to address the current uneven playing field that disadvantages disabled applicants.’
The report also calls for an end to billable hours, stating: ‘Where billable hours had been totally replaced, or used as a threshold for a bonus rather than a hard target, we found evidence that disabled people found it easier to request and secure appropriate adjustments.’ It also suggests the profession should introduce disability pay gap reporting.
The report concludes that ‘disabled people in the legal profession face – on a daily basis – rituals, practices and attitudes that exclude or undermine them in their roles as trainees, advocates and employees’ and that 'a significant proportion…have experienced forms of ill-treatment, bullying, or discrimination’.
The report, which analysed the responses of 288 disabled lawyers, was written by Professor Deborah Foster of Cardiff Business School and Dr Natasha Hirst, an independent researcher. It was commissioned by Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning.
On positive discrimination, Professor Foster said: ‘A lot of employers are wedded to the liberal concept of equal opportunity. But disability isn’t about the liberal concept of equal opportunity. [Firms] need to do something different to try and level the playing field.’ Lawyers who were surveyed expressed ‘mixed reactions’ to the idea of positive discrimination, she said.
Simon Davis, president of the Law Society, said: 'Everyone should feel comfortable bringing their full self to work and supported in asking for any reasonable adjustments. The legal profession should take into account the research’s findings and strive to create more inclusive work environments.'