Feature

Disability in the City: the disconnect between diversity-friendly legal recruitment and the reality on the office floor

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We spoke to top lawyer Robert Hunter, himself profoundly deaf, about his charity City Disabilities

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Making it into the City as a disabled lawyer, you might think, is the easiest it’s ever been.

In recent years, a profession-wide shake up of recruitment practices means ‘diversity’, ‘inclusivity’ and ‘social mobility’ are the buzzwords of today. Graduate recruitment teams delight over their firm’s open-arms approach to students from all backgrounds — traditional and non-traditional — and are at pains to encourage applications from the widest possible pool of candidates. Gone are the days of the old boys’ club legal profession, right?

The picture is improving, but — having spoken to disabled lawyer Robert Hunter — it seems there is still a long way to go.

Hunter is a former partner at top City firms Herbert Smith Freehills and Allen & Overy, and now spends his days at boutique outfit Edmonds Marshall McMahon. He is an authoritative voice on disability rights issues: he is profoundly deaf himself. This is what he has to say about the reality of life as a disabled lawyer:

I was struck by the disconnect between the appearance some law firms were presenting regarding their disability-friendliness and the reality on the office floor.

Law firm PR/recruitment, he tells Legal Cheek, is often very disability-friendly, but the people doing the PR/recruitment are not the same people who work alongside disabled lawyers day-to-day. In many ways, disabled lawyers become “poster boys and girls” for the firm, yet once the PR guff is over and done with and it comes down to ensuring disabled employees are fairly treated in the workplace, “there is nowhere near the same enthusiasm”.

You’re unlikely to find a person, lawyer or otherwise, who will admit to being prejudiced against disabled people, and that’s because few believe they are. It’s more subtle than that, unconscious even, says Hunter, and often manifests itself in “hasty assumptions from non-disabled colleagues about a person’s disability and how this will affect their ability to work”. Because of this, it’s common for disabled lawyers to be sidelined into non-fee earning work, something Hunter is quick to condemn.

In an attempt to combat, or at least mollify, this, Hunter set up an organisation called City Disabilities about three years ago.

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This registered charity acts as a network for disabled professionals, including people with long-term medical conditions and mental health issues, working across the City. Those with similar disabilities are matched up via a mentoring system, giving them the chance to share anecdotes and advice in a mentor/mentee set-up. This buddy system also helps combat the feelings of isolation and marginalisation some disabled people feel.

As well as this, the City Disabilities team spends time speaking to employers about what is sometimes termed ‘disability etiquette’, as well as going into universities to speak to disabled students.

On this, Hunter tells us there is a “huge” concern among aspiring lawyers that their disability will hold them back in their career hunt.

It can be difficult for students to choose between firms; as Hunter explains, the way firms describe themselves is sometimes no help in determining how the reality of life at the firm is going to be. “Don’t be discouraged if a firm doesn’t advertise its disability policy”, he tells us. “Many firms are fantastic with disability, but because they see it as a question of basic decency they don’t make a big deal of it.”

Ultimately, students wanting to make it big in the City need to trust their skills and their judgement:

Disabled students have years of experience in dealing with their disability and other people’s reactions to it. Have faith in yourself and your own judgments of the people you meet. Be wary of hype.

Hunter wants concerned students to know that being a disabled person gives you a whole host of skills through life experience alone, skills that non-disabled persons often don’t have. They are very weathered by the very fact of being the odd one out; the ability and confidence to stand up and question the norm rather than going along with the pack is vital for good business. This “independence of mind” is missing in the City.

With pro-diversity initiatives popping up left, right and centre, Hunter is confident the picture is improving for disabled people, but at what cost? He continues:

The diversity scene has become heavily commercialised. Firms will pay to be at disability open days or sponsor events, but that just buys appearance. Some come to believe they can publicise their way out of the disability issues and so fail to tackle the more thorny issue of what happens on the office floor.

Because of this, City Disabilities does not endorse specific firms or seek donations; it is “simply here to help”.

Hunter is determined to get his message across: it’s possible to have a very successful career as a partner with a disability. Some people make an assumption about disabled people, an assumption that they will not be able to perform in a professional setting. This assumption is obviously not correct; Hunter is living proof of that.

30 Comments

Jenny

I’m all for helping the disabled to lead a normal life as possible.

What really grates me though is seeing non-disabled people virtue signal about this when they have no reservations about slaughtering disabled unborn children up until birth.

(17)(19)

Anonymous

People have abortions for disabled children because often it is the right thing to do for the kids sake. If a parent knows that they will struggle immensely bringing up a disabled child then what is the point in having it if they know they will just ruin it’s life. You need to be more open to the reasons why people do it not just using the overall picture to condemn everyone who has abortions on disabled children.

(9)(15)

Jenny

Then why not apply that logic to already born children?

“Come along Timmy, I’ve realised I’m going to struggle immensely bringing you up, there’s no point in keeping you because your life will be ruined, we’re off to the park now where I’m going to throw you in the lake.”

Honestly, what’s the difference?

(11)(13)

Anonymous

The difference is it isn’t born yet.

Let me have my views and you can have yours. Stop thrusting your opinion down other people’s throats.

(9)(9)

Jenny

Yup, because the world never became better by people ‘thrusting’ their opinion ‘down other people’s throats’. Don’t be so sensitive.

The fact that the baby isn’t yet born is arbitrary. Why don’t we also allow parents to kill children who can’t yet speak? Or who can’t walk? Or who haven’t learnt their times tables? They’d be just as justified as killing babies who haven’t been born.

(8)(7)

Jones Day Partner

Sorry, I came to this thread as I googled “thrust” and “down other people’s throats”. Not what I expected. Carry on.

(7)(1)

Huddersfield llb

Hi Mr. Jones day partner. I will be applying for a TC with you soon, can I count in you to put in a good word for me? I have really huge breasts and am constantly horny if that’s relevant.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Once again, it’s a matter of opinion.

“The fact that the baby isn’t yet born is arbitrary.”

Maybe to you it is. Whereas to the majority, it relates to our opinion of when something is truly living. In my opinion, a bundle of cells that has existed for a couple of weeks isn’t living in the sense a born child is.

Does it infuriate you that despite your stamping and complaining on threads such as these, the majority aren’t going to adopt your views?

(4)(6)

Jenny

‘Once again, it’s a matter of opinion.’

A truism.

‘Whereas to the majority, it relates to our opinion of when something is truly living. In my opinion, a bundle of cells that has existed for a couple of weeks isn’t living in the sense a born child is.’

Biologically that is completely false.

‘Does it infuriate you that despite your stamping and complaining on threads such as these, the majority aren’t going to adopt your views?’

Ad hominem. Besides, I’m passionate, not angry, and confident that public opinion will be reversed by future generations.

(7)(6)

Not Amused

Public opinion can reverse when women no longer have to carry the things.

Until then we have to seek a balance between the rights of the foetus and the rights of the mother. As matters stand our balance (the UK) works well except in Northern Ireland where it remains silly and oppressive.

Pro livers would better spend their time developing artificial wombs. It is abundantly clear that we as a society need this tech.

Jenny

What kind of society doesn’t hold an innocent being’s right to lift as absolute, but has to ‘balance’ it with other ‘rights’.

What if the state decided to bump you off because, heck, there were too many people and your name was drawn out of a hat? You wouldn’t find that logic so appealing then.

Anonymous

Lol at saying that being aborted is in
a baby’s best interests. I’m not even anti abortion, but come on dude, that’s literally the stupidest thing anyone has ever said ever.

(6)(2)

Anonymous

This is a great idea

As someone with a speech impediment, I’ve always been told throughout my life by employers/teachers/etc that ‘you can do it’ ‘there’s nothing to hold you back’ cut in reality there is. I think this network is a great opportunity for lawyers to share anecdotes and I hope ut goes well

(11)(0)

Anonymous

I honestly wouldn’t worry about your speech impediment, I have a stammer and am coping in corporate law with it. Sometimes a slight delay to my speech makes me appear more knowledgeable than I actually am.

(8)(0)

Anonymous

I also have a speech impediment and I’m working for a corporate law firm in the City. Increasingly, I feel the only person holding me back is myself. I haven’t come across any real issues with it aside from a partner at one firm (which shall remain nameless, otherwise this post will no doubt get deleted) who, during a TC interview, stated that she “couldn’t imagine the firm putting someone like me before a client”. An ignorant comment, but not in any way reflective of the profession.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Good article. This is real diversity and real issues people face – Not these endless, petty gender/race struggles, perpetuated by liberal media.

I know a few disabled lawyers and these people are simply brilliant and inspiring people.

(10)(2)

Anonymous

Is it so difficult to find staff who are competent, open minded and aren’t condescending? As a disabled person, if a company is unable to provide an environment where I can acheive my best work then I’d rather not work for them.

Normally, disabled people are fiercely independent. It makes no sense to have a diamond in the rough if you cannot or will not make the most of it?

(3)(2)

Anonymous

City Disabilities has been a massive help to me being dyslexic! If anyone needs any help at all I encourage you to contact them!

(6)(0)

Disabled Applicant

As someone with a non-visble disability who is currently in the process of applying for Vacation Schemes at City Firms I sympathise with the sentiment of the article.

I have found it nearly impossible when searching for a firm where I might “fit in” to get any real sense of how people would react to my disability in a day to day office scenario. I have had quite a range of responses when I asked HR at various firms’ events, from disinterest in talking about how the firm deals with disabled applicants, to HR representatives who look far to eager to recruit token ‘diverse’ trainees.

It feels almost sometimes as if firms when they talk about diversity are only truly interested in recruiting those who visually improve the firms image and who will when push comes to shove conform to meet the firms needs – rather than the firm itself accommodating for their differences.

This puts me in a difficult situation when it comes to disclosure, particular because in most situations I can fairly easily hide my disability. However, I have decided to always disclose because I refuse to live my life hiding such a fundamental aspect of myself.

(6)(0)

Dyslexic applicant

Whats your disability?

(0)(0)

Disabled Applicant

Complicated question for me to answer, as all my life doctors haven’t given me a firm diagnosis, but Aspergers Syndrome and ADHD is the work theory.

(2)(3)

Anonymous

I think you need to find the right law firm. Look into Employability. I trained at Mayer Brown: they have an excellent attitude towards disabled graduates.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

As someone who suffers from dyslexia, I find it a little cheeky that some of the above comments are tying to lump dyslexia in with disabilities such as being profoundly deaf…

Dyslexia is annoying. It’s not a disability like being blind or deaf is.

(12)(1)

Anonymous

True but there’s a wide scope of disabilities… that’s just common sense

(1)(1)

Doc Litevsy.

Did you hear about the dyslectic devil worshipping magic circle partner who sold his soul to Santa?

(0)(3)

Tadhg

What about if your name is Tadhg? Is that a disability, coz I notice anyone called Tadhg is blocked.
Are dyslectic Tadhgs allowed?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

What the hell are you on about?

(0)(0)

Benjamin Ben Zion

I find I am treated as if I am disabled just because of my name. Can Jews have a normal life?

(0)(0)

Doc Litevsky

A Saggital Hemi Corporectomy is a good cure for all known disabilities

(0)(0)

A disability discrimination lawyer

Which disabilities would you discriminate for in the work place and which would you discriminate against?

(0)(0)

Comments are closed.