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How law firms can make their vacation schemes more accessible for autistic candidates

How law firms can make their vacation schemes more accessible for autistic candidates

Phil Steventon


Reading time: four minutes

Earlier this year, I attended a vacation scheme at a firm that I’ve come to admire for its values, ethos, the people who make up the firm and the high-quality work its lawyers do.

Proper preparation is key for something as important as this, as a vacation scheme is essentially a week-long interview. However, as an autistic aspiring lawyer, there are other things that I need in order to feel as prepared as I can. But how can firms help with this and make their vacation schemes more accessible?

Detailed agenda of the week

Structure and routine are so important to us in an unpredictable and hostile world, so having a clear agenda of what the week is going to comprise will mean we can prepare accordingly to get the most out of the scheme.

It’s important for the firm’s communications to include information about the start and end times of each day, when lunch will start and end, and when each activity or seat will start and end. That way, we’ll know what we need to do at the time that we need to do it. This will help to alleviate anxiety, allowing us to focus and get as much out of the week as we can.

Locating the office

Being allowed to see the building or office before the week begins, as well as meet people, like the reception staff, is useful because it means we’ll have an idea of what to look for when searching for the building or floor, for example. Buildings where law firm offices are based can be huge. With multiple floors and multiple units, it can be easy to get lost. Couple that with our information processing divergences, which can present as a lack of directional sense then we may panic and get overwhelmed, or overloaded before we start the working day, making it harder for us to function at our best.

So, when distributing information about the week, law firms should include photos of the building and visual directions about how to get to the correct office.

Who will I be meeting?

Knowing who we’ll be meeting when we arrive will reassure us that we’re in the right place and that there’ll be someone there to direct us to where we need to go when we arrive. So, meeting someone such as a member of the early careers team, a trainee, a paralegal or another member of staff, either at the building reception desk or the office reception, means we can be sure we’re in the right place and won’t be standing around looking lost, awkward or panicked.

When the agenda of the week gets sent out, it’s helpful for it to include names, roles, photos of faces or links to LinkedIn profiles. This allows us to match up faces and names before we arrive.

Are networking and after-work activities obligatory?

Chances are that after work, we’re going to be tired. Not just from taking everything in from the presentations, activities and working in the seats we’re allocated, but also from masking. ‘Masking’ means hiding or concealing parts of ourselves to present as ‘non-autistic’ and fit into a neurotypical world that’s historically been very hostile and unwelcoming of us. It’s exhausting, so we need enough time to rest and get ready for the next day of work.

So, if there are any after-work events, such as social or networking events, be clear as to whether these are mandatory.

Will lunch be provided? Is there a canteen?

Some of us have foods that we can’t eat due to sensory aversion. The texture, taste or temperature of some foods can be a challenge for us and so we may go without eating if we don’t feel the food on offer will satisfy our sensory needs.

This may present as being ‘picky’ with food but because we can experience sensory input so intensely, eating or drinking things that we can’t handle can run the risk of overwhelming or derailing us to the point where we won’t be able to function for the rest of the day.

So, if there’s a canteen on site, include menu options in the agenda that gets sent out before the week starts.

Also, if there are no foods on offer that we’ll be able to eat, make it clear that we can find somewhere local to find food and that we can bring it back to eat at the office. Alternatively, make it clear that we can bring our own lunch with us. That way, if some of us have ‘safe foods’, or don’t want to run the risk with foods that we may not know, we can see that we have explicit permission to bring our own lunch with us.

It’s important to remember that these very minor accessibility adjustments will help to alleviate anxiety and bring some predictability, structure and safety, which will benefit everyone. There won’t be a single person attending who won’t benefit from clear directions to the building, photos of the building and the route to the office, an agenda of the week and the food options for the days we’ll be working.