England: Disabled people in legal profession face severe discrimination

Professor Deborah Foster

Disabled people working in the legal profession face outmoded practices that hamper their efforts to build successful careers, according to a new study by researchers at Cardiff University.

Many of the participants – drawn from across the legal profession – told researchers they hide their disability when applying for training places or jobs.

They also encounter hostility and discrimination at work – including when seeking the ‘reasonable adjustments’ to their working environment or practice they are entitled to under the law.

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

Drawing their evidence together, the report concludes: “Disabled people in the legal profession face – on a daily basis - rituals, practices and attitudes that exclude or undermine them in their roles as trainees, advocates and employees.”

More than half (54 per cent) of disabled solicitors and paralegals involved in the study thought their career and promotion prospects inferior to their non-disabled colleagues. Some 40 per cent either never or only sometimes tell their employer or prospective employer they are disabled. Just 8.5 per cent of respondents who were disabled when they started their training disclosed their disability in their application.

Professor Deborah Foster, report co-author, said: “Line managers and supervisors play a pivotal role in the reasonable adjustment process and in the management of sickness absence, performance management and promotion.

“However, we found the quality of the relationship between line managers and disabled employees often depended on ‘good will’, ‘luck’ or personality rather than a good understanding and professional training.”

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

Tags: Disability

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