Legal Recruitment from Ten-Percent Legal

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Disabled students and the legal profession

We received an email from a disabled student yesterday asking what to do about revealing her disability to potential law firms. She explained that she was concerned that people would consider the practical and not want to employ her or interview her as it would be too costly for the law firm. She wondered whether it was appropriate to tell firms that she had a disability and to explain what it was from the date she first made contact. My advice would be to consider each firm carefully. If you are applying to a large London practice or regional commercial firm, you would probably find they would actively encourage you to apply formally as most are very well equipped to cover access in wheelchairs. I have been in quite a few of the London firms and regional firms. I have to say that most have lifts and disabled access. There are also quite a lot of disabled lawyers. I think for example of a barrister who was in a wheelchair and regularly was in court dealing with cases with no problems at all. I also think of solicitors I have seen over the years in wheelchairs or blind or deaf. It does not follow that the disability should prevent you from practicing as a solicitor but there are a couple of issues you may want to consider on the practical side.

There are a lot of high street firms who will not be able to accommodate a wheelchair, and regardless of the rights or wrongs of whether they ought to make an effort, the fact remains that if you are a high street practice with, for example, a training contract to offer, and you are on the first floor of an office block with no lift access, it is very unlikely that a, you would be able to employ a wheelchair bound trainee solicitor or b, the wheelchair bound trainee solicitor would actually want to work at the firm as there would be very little mobility in such a building for them. It is a matter really of considering the firm in question. If they are only a small practice, they are not going to want to spend a lot of money enabling you to have access to their offices. Therefore, if they have 100 applications and the other 99 are not disabled, it is very likely that the partners would consider the other 99 before they would consider a disabled applicant. I do not say this to actively encourage employers to ignore the disabled applicants as each applicant ought to be taken on an equal footing, but I realize the practical issues affecting a small business owner and whether it would be feasible for a firm to either change offices to accommodate a disabled lawyer or install equipment.

There is no reason why the applicant can not consider where they are applying and targeting their approaches accordingly, I haven’t even mentioned local authorities or government institutions who are very well set up to deal with disabled applicants, and to make sure that access to a particular firm is going to be possible.

Jonathan Fagan is Managing Director of Ten Percent Legal Recruitment, international recruitment consultants for lawyers and legal executives. You can contact the company at or telephone 0207 127 4343.

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