As a disabled student wanting to get a job in this competitive sector, you may feel disadvantaged by having a disability. We have collated some insight from people who work in the profession to hopefully make this a little easier.
Zoe Allen-Robinson, Solicitors Regulation Authority
“I think law is a very challenging area to get into, and has historically had issues around lack of diversity for example in relation to social background, gender and race. Having a disability, is potentially another barrier to getting into the competitive legal world.
For me, I have struggled to acknowledge I have a disability as it is not a visible one, and one I can manage without colleagues being aware of the impact it has on me. On reflection, I regret not disclosing my sight condition during my law degree, as having the extra time, different sized print and other adjustments may well have helped me achieve the grades I felt I deserved. Instead, potentially as a result of my own stubbornness, I made my journey into law more difficult that it needed to be. My first tip, would therefore be for students to be honest, both during their degree, and also in the recruitment process for legal jobs and training contracts – to make sure they get the help and support they need.
Secondly, I would give the same piece of advice I give to all students that ask me this question, and that is to be prepared to work hard in any role in a law firm/legal function of a business, whether that be in the post room, as a secretary or paralegal. As all these roles will teach you valuable skills and give you the ability to showcase your potential and open the door to other opportunities such as qualifying as a solicitor, if that is your desired outcome. Plus with the coming introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam removing the training contract requirement, there is the potential that time spent in any paralegal setting may count toward the two years of qualifying experience you require to qualify.”
Zoe Allen-Robinson is a qualified solicitor who works as a Regulatory Manager at the Solicitors Regulation Authority and is Chair of the SRA’s Access Ability Network. She is also a Trustee of Focus Birmingham, a specialist charity providing expert support, advice and information to anyone in the Birmingham area affected by sight loss or other disabilities as well as enabling them to lead independent and fulfilling lives in an inclusive society.
Anna Fletcher, Director at Gowling WLG
“I would recommend doing your research. Look at websites, see if there is any mention of a disability network and ask questions of the recruitement team about the firms’ policy on attracting disabled talent, track record on recruitment and success stories. Many firms are very proud of what they are doing in this space so it’s unlikely they won’t want to share that information. Look at registering with a specialist recruiter. We use a company called EvenBreak. Stick at it and don’t give up!”
Anna is Director at Gowling WLG, where she helps clients solve a wide range of employment issues ranging from workforce planning to dispute resolution. Anna is also a leader of Midlands Ability, a network of employers committed to increasing opportunities for disabled people in the workplace.
Sakil Suleman, Diversity Partner, Reed Smith LLP
“At Reed Smith we firmly believe that diversity of our workforce is integral to the success of our business. We need to attract the best talent and for that we have to recruit from the widest talent pool. We have a strong focus on recruiting from diverse groups, including the disabled community. We have had a number of success stories with this approach which has made it easier for the firm to continue and expand on our efforts, including making the right investment in our people to ensure employees with disabilities are given the help and support they need to feel comfortable in the workplace and work to their full potential. The legal sector is great as it offers such a broad range of opportunities, including different areas of the law but also a vast range of support functions. The breadth of roles on offer gives great opportunities and I would strongly urge students from the disabled community to consider a career within the legal industry. Like Reed Smith, more and more law firms recognise and better appreciate the benefits of diversity in their business, so I would hope you will find that you are pushing against an open door.”
Sakil is a partner in Reed Smith’s EME Corporate Group, and his practise focuses on handling corporate and commerical matters. Sakil also leads the firm’s UK Diversity Committee.
“…the key to success is to have no inhibitions and reservations about yourself and your ability, because only then can you dispel the reservations that others may have about you. [Others] may not be able to solve the problem completely but can prepare you to face it with confidence… It is often hard to say whether a company feedback is genuinely based on your performance or a way for them to mask their own insecurities regarding the effect your disability will have in the workplace…
My path in life has been full of trials and tribulations but it has also given me the confidence to never fear failure and continue to prove to people even today that having a disability does not inhibit you. I’m not saying that I have always been successful in this task, as I too have faced difficulties and obstacles and still do today and probably will always. But, what I have learnt from my experiences is that it is important to have a good support system around you to keep your spirits high. It is also important for yourself to remain upbeat and positive about what you can achieve.
As I enter the legal profession, I know I will face obstacles and will always need support to do certain things and will need to put in a lot of effort which may be difficult. But what I have learnt is that life is a journey and it is best to enjoy the adventure despite the ups and downs, challenges or disappointments. One must always keep learning and developing oneself because trust in oneself and in one’s ability will help to face any challenge that come along the way.”
Excerpt taken from EmployAbility, an organisation that supports disabled and dyslexic students and graduates with finding employment. The full article can be read here, and EmployAbility’s website can be found here.
Kyle, Paralegal at Dennings Solicitors
Originally taken from the Department for Work & Pensions ‘Disability Confident: downloadable and video case studies’, which can be viewed here.
- Christian Jameson-Warren