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People with disabilities in legal profession “face outmoded practices”


New research by Legally Disabled has found that disabled people working in the legal profession face “a culture and outmoded practices that hamper efforts to build successful careers”.


The report Legally Disabled? The Career Experiences of disabled people working in the Legal profession draws on focus groups, interviews and surveys with solicitors, barristers, trainees and paralegals.


The Law Society said the study reveals that more than half (54%) of disabled solicitors and paralegals told researchers that they thought their career and promotion prospects inferior to their non-disabled colleagues.


A total of 40% of those questioned never or only occasionally tell their employer or prospective employer that they are disabled – and just 8.5% of respondents who were disabled when they started their training disclosed their disability in their application.


Participants from across the legal profession told researchers that they hide their disability when applying for training places or jobs.


Respondents also said that they encountered hostility and discrimination at work, including when seeking the reasonable adjustments to their working environment or practice that they are entitled to under law.


It is estimated that 3.7 million people - 9% of working adults - are disabled according to GOV.UK data in 2018.

The report says that the real number of disabled people in employment who choose to conceal their impairment as a consequence of negative stereotypes, or fear of discrimination is “disguised” by the data available, however.


“Disability is not a minority issue,” says the research. “The Institute for Public Policy Research in 2003 estimated that one in three people will experience disability during their working life - and MIND estimate that one in four people in will be affected by mental health concerns in their life-time.


“Positive images of aspiring and successful disabled people occupying high status careers are, however, few - employers and disabled people also report
that conversations about disability in the workplace are ‘too difficult’.


“Our research found disabled people in the legal profession entitled to workplace adjustments were often not receiving them because they feared the consequences of making a request. Among those that did, a significant number experienced ill-treatment, ignorance or discrimination from senior personnel, ill-equipped to respond to them.”


The research was commissioned by DRILL (Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning) - a £5 million research programme led by disabled people.


The study was undertaken by a team at Cardiff Business School, working with the Lawyers with Disabilities Division of the Law Society.


The full report is available online.


The Law Support Group covers all areas of recruitment – from support staff to fee-earner level recruitment – for both regional and international banking and law firms here in the UK, Europe and the Middle East.

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