updated on 14 March 2023
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In honour of Neurodiversity Celebration Week (13 to 19 March) and increasing diversity in the legal profession, the topic of social mobility should be open for discussion. In particular, I want to draw attention to the barriers affecting ADHDers, given the growing social media awareness relating to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Social mobility is about removing the socio-economic barriers that make accessing the legal profession difficult, and creating equal access to opportunities and potential for growth.
It’s estimated that 2.6 million people in the UK have ADHD. ADHD affects the development or function of a person’s cognitive abilities and is formally regarded as a disability in the UK; therefore, ADHDers can face social mobility barriers.
Equal opportunities in education
ADHD became a recognised condition in the UK in 2000, with adult ADHD being formally recognised in 2008 (England and Wales). As a result, the number of people receiving a late diagnosis is increasing. This means that for many, the symptoms had previously been missed or overlooked throughout their educational life.
A vital starting point to removing social barriers should begin at the foundational level. That is, raising awareness within schools to better support pupils and recognise the symptoms of ADHD.
The barriers that students with ADHD face can disadvantage these pupils in more ways than imaginable. For example, if someone is a first-generation aspiring lawyer, they might not be aware of the various routes to qualification, and which of these routes might best suit their neurodiverse needs if it’s not explained in an accessible way in schools. This can ultimately hinder an ADHDer’s potential for growth and accessibility to the legal industry because they might struggle to navigate their own mind or way of thinking in the first instance.
I think a good starting point is to ask as many questions as you can, to anyone you can. Identify your strengths and research areas of uncertainty. Know that you don’t have to fit in and finding the process tough is ok, and completely natural, but ask for help when needed.
Diverse hiring strategy
Law firms across the board are increasingly realising the importance of diversity in the workforce. Many have started introducing various strategies, such as:
These strategies can all improve the prospects of diversifying the talent pool in law firms.
The work that’s ongoing at some firms is amazing to see and can make us feel heard and welcomed. That said, there’s still room for improvement.
Read Amelia Platton’s ‘Neurodiversity in firms: acknowledging the benefits’ for further insights.
Lack of opportunities
ADHD bias unfortunately remains prevalent in society. Given that legal jobs are difficult to obtain in the first instance, this bias further limits an ADHDer’s ability to:
To connect with firms, applicants are encouraged to engage with them via law fairs and open days, for example, before submitting applications to demonstrate a genuine interest in the firm. However, it’s not taken into account that when attending these events, ADHDers may often mask to fit in – which can be incredibly exhausting.
In addition, we’re also seeing the emerging use of e-learning platforms that work to bridge the gaps in knowledge and opportunities, enabling people to view more structured and accessible information, but at a financial and neurological cost. If you have ADHD, you may find it hard to motivate yourself or find the time to do such courses alongside other commitments.
My advice would be to make the most of every free resource you have. It’s important that you can identify why you want to pursue a career in the legal industry and use that as your motivator alongside your strengths.
‘How firms can better support neurodiverse employees in the workplace and during recruitment processes’ – read Phil Steventon’s thoughts via this LCN Says.
Standard training contract applications
To secure a training contract or vacation scheme, a person has to go through numerous stages, including the application, telephone interview, in-person interview, and tests, for example. Deadlines often clash with other firm deadlines, university assessments or work/school commitments, which can result in ADHD paralysis. This makes it difficult for ADHDers to know what to prioritise or where to start (eg, with their applications), which can result in no action being taken at all.
The aptitude tests used by some firms to find out how well a candidate can assess verbal logic may impact ADHDers differently from their peers. These tests are often time-pressured and lengthy, which can affect the attention and performance of an ADHD applicant, particularly when the results of the test determine whether you move onto the next stage in the recruitment process.
The wording of certain questions or scenarios can often be unclear, which makes it increasingly difficult for an ADHDer to digest and respond. These processes are inherently unfair as they require ADHDers to put in significantly more time and practice to improve their score, simply because our brains work differently.
This can be overwhelming and can lead to rejection-sensitive dysphoria, masking and burnout.
I think working out how to prioritise is key. If you can’t get your applications submitted during this application cycle, it’s ok to plan for the next one. Take some time to research, practise and improve your applications.
Try to create sustainable goals by breaking down each week or month into smaller manageable chunks. This way you’re more likely to hold yourself accountable.
ADHDers often speak about the lack of workplace support from their employer as a reason for leaving a job. Social mobility strategies and inclusivity aren’t exclusive for just accessing a legal career, they’re also required to help sustain individuals' legal careers and support the growth of junior lawyers. Therefore, genuine reasonable adjustments must be put in place for ADHDers – pre- and post-recruitment.
Read LCN blogger Phil Steventon’s article on why reasonable adjustments can benefit the whole firm.
I believe the onus should be on the employers to ask and listen to the needs of their neurodiverse employees, so the employer can better guide them to the appropriate help and resources. It can be incredibly difficult to advocate for yourself at times. Genuine support from employers will make ADHD employees feel valued and more motivated to perform well.
Overall, removing these barriers is a long-term investment. Society, as a collective, is responsible for diversifying and driving forward a prosperous legal industry.
Being aware of such obstacles and knowing how to mitigate them is key. Therefore, amplifying the voices of ADHDers is vital – listen to our needs and implement them. Diversity is the ultimate strength.
ADHDLegal is an LLM graduate and aspiring lawyer. You can follow ADHDLegal on Instagram.