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Research examines barriers for disabled candidates seeking jobs in law


The preliminary findings of new research into the experiences of disabled people in the legal profession reveal that disabled candidates looking for jobs in law firms are “an untapped resource”.


Groundbreaking research by Professor Debbie Foster of Cardiff University Business School and independent researcher, Dr Natasha Hirst, asked focus groups of legal professionals with disabilities about their experiences – and found that many of those questioned had been attracted to a job in law because of a passionate belief in human rights and fairness. Such employees were also found to be ambitious, tenacious and determined, with “excellent” problem-solving skills.


However, the researchers discovered that the legal profession was “poorly equipped” to accommodate the needs of disabled candidates applying for training contracts or pupillages – which in turn increases disadvantage among disabled candidates and prevents talented candidates with disabilities from entering the legal profession.


Researchers also found that one of the barriers was a lack of part-time training contracts.


Early findings of the research suggest that good practice is influenced by the sector of the legal profession, size and location of the law firm – and the role of equality clauses in procurement contracts.


Vast sections of the legal profession are also driven by profitability, with disabled people of the opinion that they are unfairly viewed as not being profitable, productive – or capable of meeting targets.


Researchers say that the value added by disabled people can be overlooked.

Lead researcher, Professor Debbie Foster said:


“…disabled people in professional occupations are largely absent in academic literature and are seemingly unexpected.


“Much research and social policy is concerned with getting disabled people off benefits and into entry level employment – there is limited aspiration to support disabled professionals to progress their careers, or return to high-quality work after time out.”


The researchers added that “strong role models, supportive senior colleagues and the presence of mentors and networks” were important factors in enabling career progression.


The Disability Research into Independent Living and Learning (DRILL) is delivering the world’s first major research programme led by disabled people – the preliminary findings are published on the Law Society’s website.


The researchers say that there is research into gender and racial disadvantage within the legal profession – but disability is notable by its absence.


Chair of the Lawyers with Disabilities Division, Jane Burton, said:


“Our members are talented individuals, yet many employers fail to recognise the valuable skills and experiences that disabled people can bring to their workplace.


“Some firms still seem to fear employing disabled people – co-producing this research is a great opportunity to influence culture change across the legal profession.”


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