A United Kingdom research project looking at the experiences of disabled people in the legal profession has found some significant barriers for those who are disabled.
The research is funded by Disability Research into Independent Living and Learning. Information and progress is provided on a special Legally Disabled website.
"Disability" is given a wide interpretation for the research, with the "social model" including people with an impairment or health condition being disabled by barriers such as negative attitudes, lack of physical access, poor understanding of the impact of health conditions and impairments, and a lack of reasonable adjustments to support people to do their work. The "medical model" finds that a person is disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on their ability to do normal daily activities.
While the research is ongoing, some initial findings have been made from eight focus groups. These include:
Disabled people people seeking employment or working in the legal profession are an untapped resource. They have often been attracted to law because of a strong passion for human rights and fairness. Lived experience of disability means they have strong ambition, tenacity, determination and excellent problem-solving skills. However, findings suggest positive experiences of support, good attitudes and appropriate reasonable adjustments are a lottery.
The legal profession is generally poorly equipped to anticipate reasonable adjustments to accommodate disabled candidates who apply for a training contract or pupillage. This increases disadvantage and blocks talented disabled candidates from entering the profession. Lack of part-time training contracts is one such barrier.
Discrimination, and a poor understanding of reasonable adjustments and how impairments and health conditions can vary, impacts heavily at the interview stage. This also reduces opportunities for career progression.
There is a reluctance to declare an impairment due to fear of discrimination. A large proportion of focus group participants reported instances of discrimination associated with their impairment.
The legal profession continues to operate traditional working patterns and career expectations. Inflexible, often outdated working practices and the absence of imaginative job design, limits access opportunities for disabled people and career progression.
Profitability and competition drives vast sections of the profession, disabled people feel they are unfairly viewed as not being ‘profitable’, productive or capable of meeting targets. The value added by disabled people can be overlooked.
Legal services workers in New Zealand with a disability
The New Zealand Law Society's monthly magazine LawTalk is working on an article about the experiences of people working in the New Zealand legal profession who have a disability. If you would like to contribute to this, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your contact details.