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How Would Stephen Hawking Have Fared as a City Lawyer?

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The professor’s arrival would have delighted a corporate law firm PR team, but management may have been less enthusiastic, writes LegalAware

Unfortunately, Professor Stephen Hawking was too unwell to attend his 70th birthday celebration at Cambridge University last week, but a recorded version of his speech made for interesting listening.

In it, the professor admitted he had worked for just an hour a day while an undergraduate at Oxford, but said that news of his condition, coupled with his engagement to his first wife Jane, spurred him on to complete his PhD and become an academic.

Apart from being a ‘celebrity’, Hawking has had an outstanding career in mathematics. I cannot help thinking how fortunate it is that his brilliant brain was not ruined by a career in corporate law. I am sure that he would have been able to perform well on the SHL verbal reasoning test or the Pearson Watson-Glaser critical reasoning test, but of course there is the danger that if he did not reach the 80th percentile he might not have been called even for interview.

If he did feature in that top percentile, though, and, as unlikely as it may seem, was a mature candidate applying now, the law firm would have been obliged to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate him. But clearly the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics is too good for corporate law, and I dare say that his idea of fulfilment is not to be stuck in a soulless office late on Friday evening drafting an international due diligence report.

Anyway, back to the realm of the theoretical. I am sure Hawking would have happily filled in the question that reads, “Do you have a disability which is recognised by the Disability Discrimination Act (1995)?” However, I worry for what would have happened once he arrived at interview today.

Of course, the partner and the managing associate would hate to admit it, but some would think, “How will our clients respond when Stephen attends for a meeting with his client?” Possibly, this wouldn’t be a problem as some disabled corporate lawyers are known to do everything by e-mail. However, corporate law firms in my experience are especially worried about the perception of the physical health of their trainees – but I only come to this conclusion after informal conversations I have had.

Could you imagine the PR department of that corporate law firm on the unlikely appointment of Prof Hawking as their new trainee? The opportunity for photo shoots would be limitless, sending out a powerful signal that the City did not discriminate against disabled students. Not that one swallow makes a summer…

I am physically disabled, and thinking about the brilliance of Prof Hawking means that either he is in the right job, or I am in the wrong job. And I am certainly no Stephen Hawking intellectually.

LegalAware is the head of the BPP Legal Awareness Society, and a keen and devoted legal blogger.

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