A new survey of over 100 disabled lawyers by the Law Society of England and Wales in partnership with the Legally Disabled Research Team based at Cardiff University, has found that working from home during the COVID-19 outbreak has enabled the majority of respondents to manage their disability more effectively.
Of those surveyed, 70% stated that they would prefer to continue working remotely in the long-term with remote working increasing flexibility making the legal profession more accessible.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, many law firms, legal businesses and in-house teams began working from home for all staff – a reasonable adjustment which many disabled lawyers had requested before the pandemic. One respondent said:
“It’s easier to work from home, as everyone is doing so, which is useful for me. Because everyone is asking for adjustments, it normalises it for those with disabilities who need them.”
However, some aspects of remote working did not prove as beneficial. Experiences of remote job interviews and work experience were varied, with many citing technological glitches and the accessibility of online tests as barriers.
Another key issue raised was reasonable adjustments – 19% of respondents found it easy or very easy to request reasonable adjustments during the period surveyed, compared with 18% who indicated they found it difficult or extremely difficult and 17% did not know what adjustments were available to them.
Only 52% of respondents said they already had reasonable adjustments in place prior to COVID-19 whilst 9% and 19% disclosed a disability to their current employer and colleagues respectively for the first time during lockdown. Many reported finding colleagues more supportive than employers – possibly due to shared experience of the COVID-19 lockdown.
Law Society president David Greene said:
“Our research clearly shows that increased remote and flexible working have the potential to make the legal profession more accessible to disabled solicitors. We hope firms will take this into account when making future plans for remote working” .
“However, it is concerning to see that 17% of respondents did not know which reasonable adjustments might benefit them.* Everyone should feel comfortable bringing their full self to work and supported in asking for any reasonable adjustments.
“The most commonly requested adjustment which was not provided was disability awareness training for colleagues.* Firms and legal businesses should ensure adjustments which seek to change to their culture and attitudes – not just physical or remote working adjustments – are considered in their long-term diversity plans.”
The figures and quotes are taken from The impact of COVID-19 on the employment and training of disabled lawyers in England and Wales: opportunities for job-redesign and best practice, a survey co-designed by the Legally Disabled team with the Law Society’s Lawyers with Disabilities Division (LDD) and diversity and inclusion team.
The survey ran from 23 July to 16 August 2020 and asked 108 respondents questions relevant to their work during the period from lockdown in March of 2020 to July/August of 2020. It was restricted to disabled lawyers in training or employment or actively seeking training and employment, who saw their professional body as the Law Society of England and Wales.