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Over half of disabled lawyers have experienced ‘ill-treatment’ at work, research finds

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Use of demeaning language and victimisation among issues flagged in new disability report

A significant proportion of disabled people in the legal profession have been subjected to disability-related ill-treatment, bullying or discrimination, new research published today has found.

The report, Legally Disabled? The career experiences of disabled people working in the legal profession, found that 60% of solicitors and paralegals questioned had experienced ill-treatment in the workplace. Of these, 80% believed it was related to disability.

Common experiences included “ridiculing or demeaning language” (40%) and “exclusion or victimisation” (47%), with over half of respondents (53%) classifying their experiences as “discrimination”. Worryingly, 37% of those questioned said they “never” reported ill-treatment.

Researchers also found that the “psycho-emotional” effects of bullying had seriously impacted on the mental wellbeing of some lawyers, resulting in many seeking psychiatric support and counselling. The associated stress further caused relapses in existing illnesses or precipitated new ones.

The report, published as part of the Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning (DRILL) programme, incorporates findings from 55 interviews and nearly 300 survey responses from legal professionals at all levels of the sector. The study was undertaken by a research team based at Cardiff Business School, working with the Lawyers with Disabilities Division of the Law Society.

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In light of the findings, the report says a “zero tolerance policy” is needed to address ill-treatment and bullying of disabled people in the workplace (which is underpinned by a more developed understanding of the ill-treatment that disabled people often experience), as well as clearer disciplinary policies and reporting procedures.

The survey also looked at the career progression of disabled lawyers and paralegals, with over half of respondents (54%) reporting they felt their promotion prospects were “inferior” compared to their non-disabled colleagues. Sixty percent said inaccessible working environments limited their career opportunities, while 85% reported pain and fatigue associated with their disability that could be made worse by inflexible working arrangements and long hours.

Commenting on the findings, Rhian Davies from Disability Wales said:

“Employers must trust and listen to disabled people and exercise the same imagination that most disabled people employ in their everyday lives. They should support disability networks — both in their own organisation if it has several disabled employees — and across the profession. It is also clear that disabled law professionals need to see more people like themselves at the top of the profession.”

In 2018, the Legally Disabled? project published research that found many disabled wannabe lawyers were being blocked from entering the legal sector due to “poorly equipped” recruitment processes — particularly at interview stage.

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21 Comments

Anon

“Self-selecting and self-defining report evidences nothing because of its clear structural flaws but is used to support and push political agenda knowing that the lazy media will parrot its distorted outcomes”. That would be a better headline.

Same goes with the regular churn of harassment surveys etc that flood the legal press and drive regulatory policy.

Someone

The prevention of bullying and discrimination at work is a ‘political agenda’? I would have said it was just being decent.

Anonymous

Using misleading and skewed data sets to achieve legal and regulatory changes is the very essence of a political agenda.

No one

Skewed or not, there’s no denying that disabled people face disadvantages in the legal profession. Even if the results are exaggerated somehow, the legal profession is far too out of date and needs modernising.

Tim

EXACTLY

Anonymous

But using skewed data is a dishonest way of behaving.

Extra large margherita pizza

I know people who got extra time in their exams owing to a disability, but chose not to declare their disability on their pupillage application forms.

It’s easy to see why given this survey.

Realist

Because they made it up for the purposes of their exam? Like in the the US, where getting extra time for ‘disability’ is the new middle-class thing to do?

Anonymous

First thing any exam consultant worth their salt does with a struggling middle class is work through the check list of “conditions” that create exam dispensations. Most can shoehorn themselves into some category with a little imagination.

Tim

So all disabled people are liars? Fuck off.

Anon

Hi Mr Straw Man, you need to master basic English comprehension and logic if you want a legal career when you grow up. You have a long way to go.

Tim

Yeah attack the disabled again. That’s a great look, bully. Hope you’re thoroughly ashamed.

Not ashamed

Seriously, wtf is your gimmick? Make some extreme remark how all disabled people are oppressed and are the victims in any given situation and then turn around and cry bullying when people point out how ridiculous you sound. Yikes.

Tim

People like you are the reason I’m angry. You see a disabled person as an easy target, and like all bullies you only go after easy targets. I’m here to tell you that disabled people aren’t weak, innocent victims. If that’s a “gimmick” so be it.

Anon

Tim, we don’t think you are a twat because you are disabled. We think you are a twat because you are a twat.

Tim

At the end of the day you’re the one attacking a disabled person for defending his rights. I don’t have time for people like that. Have an awful life.

Anon

We are not attacking you for defending your rights. We are attacking you for being a twat.

Tim

I think this survey is wrong. In my experience 100% of disabled lawyers suffer severe discrimination.

Henrietta Smith-Jones

@Tim, as soon as I saw the headline of this article I knew you’d be all over this article!

Tim

Reading the comments above you can see why, right?

A

The comments are about the misuse of poor data sets. You did not address those comments, you just spewed out bile in angry victim keyboard warrior mode.

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