updated on 13 July 2021
Finding a law firm that is tailored to your career interests is relatively straightforward. From a quick glance on a law firm’s website, it is easy to see which sectors the firm practices in. However, finding a firm that can demonstrate it is also inclusive of disabled people feels like entering a labyrinth.
As a student, disability was rarely spoken of, and I didn't know where or how to find an inclusive firm. I remember using Google and searching “what law firms are truly inclusive of disabled people?”. I place emphasis on the word 'truly' because it’s important that firms don't just pay lip service to disability but instead work towards improving inclusion for their current and prospective disabled employees.
When researching firms and looking at their diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives, often, disability is given only one sentence or abandoned altogether. Even though many law firms omit disability, there are firms in the legal profession doing brilliant work for disability inclusion. It is just about finding them, which is where I hope my article will help.
Factors to consider
I have been told previously not to pick a law firm based on whether the firm is disability-inclusive. I partly agree with this statement. For instance, I would not choose a brilliant firm in disability inclusion that practices family law if I want to be an employment solicitor. However, my disability is part of me and, from previous experiences, I understand how important it is to be supported by your team. It can be difficult advocating for your rights as a disabled employee in an unsupportive environment when all you want to do is train as a lawyer. For myself, it is crucial to work in a firm that has the right culture and supports my disability. Therefore, I believe both should go hand in hand. Disabled people should be able to pick their desired career, knowing that their employer will support their disability.
Below are some tips on the methods I would use when choosing the right firm for my career and disability.
Create a shortlist and research D&I strategies
First, I would use the latest version of The LawCareers.Net Handbook to find what practice areas I am interested in. Then I would highlight the practice areas and firm names in the Training Contract Directory tables to create a shortlist of firms. Using this list, you can then research each firms' D&I strategy.
To find out more about a firm's D&I strategy, always start by looking at its website. Most firms now have a dedicated page, which outlines its D&I strategy, recent events and internal employee networks. As mentioned above, sometimes disability is not mentioned, whereas other protected groups are. This highlights that disability has been missed from the firm’s D&I agenda and raises a red flag. I then ask myself questions such as: 'How does the firm support its disabled employees?', 'Does the firm have any disabled employees?' and 'If there are disabled employees, is it a safe environment where the disabled person can tell their employer about their disability?'.
If the firm does mention disability on its website, look to find whether any of its employees have given testimony. If so, I would be inclined to message the person on LinkedIn and kindly ask them about their experiences working at the firm. Not only would this allow you to discuss the firm’s disability initiatives, but you could use this opportunity to find out more about the types of work undertaken at the firm. This will also develop your networking skills and connections to the firm if you choose to apply.
Further, find different groups to meet other disabled people, such as The Lawyers with Disabilities Division of The Law Society of England and Wales. I have found it incredibly beneficial to speak to other disabled people about their experiences. By making connections in the industry and attending disability-related events, you can see which law firms are engaged in disability inclusion. For instance, if there is an event discussing disability and a law firm partners with that event, this would indicate that they are interested in disability inclusion.
I remember attending a law fair in my second year at university and, without having a better understanding of disability in the legal profession as I do now, I innocently asked firms whether they had disabled people working for them. I received a mixture of responses – some were incredibly positive, while others were just negative and unsupportive. On reflection, I now realise that a positive response would indicate that D&I is at the heart of a firm and its strategy. For instance, trainees giving a positive reaction would suggest that the firm ensures its newest recruits are aware of D&I and will embed it into its recruits and culture.
Contact graduate recruitment
Finally, if the firm is silent on its website and it is your dream firm, you could always contact the graduate recruitment team. Compose an email asking them how they support their disabled employees. My reasoning for this advice is that even though a website can be silent, the firm may be working on disability inclusion in the background, but has not made the information public yet. The firm could be working on disability sick leave policies, part-time working or creating a disability passport. No one is perfect, and I would rather work at a firm that I know is working towards greater disability inclusion than one that is doing nothing at all.
This may be a strange way to conclude – however, I hope that in future this article becomes redundant. I hope that disability inclusion will become embedded in all law firms' D&I strategies. Disabled people should be able to choose any law firm without worrying whether they will be supported as disabled employees.
Demi Rixon is a diversity assistant at Freeths LLP. She is also studying the LPC at BPP University Law School and is a committee member of The Lawyers with Disabilities Division of The Law Society of England and Wales. You can follow Demi on Instagram and LinkedIn.