Disabled lawyers report discrimination across profession

updated on 24 January 2020

Solicitors’ firms and barristers’ chambers should reserve a proportion of training contracts and pupillages for candidates with disabilities in order to counterbalance the discrimination against disabilities pervading the legal profession, according to a new report.

Research commissioned by Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning and conducted by Cardiff University found accounts of hostility and discrimination at work from disabled people working across the legal profession. Legal Futures reports that across 55 interviews with disabled lawyers and 300 survey responses, researchers found evidence of discrimination, including hostility to requests for ‘reasonable adjustments’ (which employers are legally obliged to provide), demeaning language and bullying.

Of the lawyers surveyed, 60% of solicitors and paralegals and 45% of barristers reported ill-treatment in the workplace which they believe was related to disability. Many told researchers that they hid their disability when applying for jobs and did not feel confident enough to report incidents of ill-treatment at work. Over half of the solicitors and paralegals surveyed felt that their disability was a barrier to career advancement.

The research found that “rituals, practices and attitudes that exclude or undermine” disabled people permeate the legal profession. The report said: “Examples of ill-treatment suggest the legal profession has a long way to go to address poor behaviour and those on the receiving end of the ill-treatment need to feel confident that they can report it…Our research found some extreme instances of ill-treatment but more prevalent was a lot of what is classified as ‘unconscious bias’, which in reality is usually unquestioned behaviour that is often ignorant, inconsiderate and offensive.”

Among the report’s recommendations are that employers should reserve work placements and training positions for disabled candidates, and re-design roles and working practices to accommodate lawyers with disabilities.