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A systematic approach to supporting employees with disabilities is helping to create a culture where everyone can thrive at Herbert Smith Freehills.

For partner Daniel Hudson, encouraging greater diversity in the workplace is an open and shut case.

“Our clients expect us to have diversity in our firm so we can understand the issues they are facing,” he says. “The better we reflect our client base, the better we can meet their needs.” He speaks from personal experience – a bicycle accident some years into his career with HSF left him with disabilities.

The company’s Ability Network was set up in 2014.

Ensuring that applicants and employees with disabilities get the support they need from the start is a key part of its remit. That includes sending out a strong message to potential recruits.

As Network co-chair Alison Matthews puts it, “Talent goes across the board, whether you’ve got a disability or not. It’s about making opportunities accessible to whoever is the best person for that particular role – and then making sure we create an environment where people feel comfortable to tell us what they need.”

Fellow co-chair Sarah Ries-Coward – who herself has dyslexia – believes that people with disabilities often have something extra to contribute to the firm.

“If you have a disability the chances are you won’t have had an easy life. People with disabilities are tenacious and determined. In this working environment, that refusal to give up is a valuable quality to have.”

HSF is now in the process of developing an adjustment policy to cover any changes people need at work, whether permanent or temporary.

Openness and communication is key.

“We recognise that to get the best out of our staff we need to work with them,” says Daniel. “You can’t help someone to reach their potential unless you really understand the barriers they face.” Sarah agrees. “I’m happy to ask for what I need. We sort it out and we move on. As a result, my disability isn’t an issue for me or the people I work for. That’s what we want to achieve for everyone.”

Daniel believes the Ability Network is also having a positive impact on attitudes across the company. “The awareness campaigns and events we’ve run are definitely having an effect,” he says. “People are more willing to talk about their issues. We now have a really positive culture for people with disabilities.” This is borne out by results from the annual staff survey, which show a significant increase in the number of people disclosing a disability.

Personal stories have proved a particularly powerful tool for increasing understanding and stimulating discussion.

“We’ve had colleagues volunteer to talk to a group of their peers about their disability, what it is, how it affects them and what adjustments they need,” says Alison. “I know of one group of colleagues who attended one of our awareness raising sessions. They’d been having lunch together for years but it was only after that session that they realised three out of the four of them had a hidden disability. The impact really has been phenomenal.”

Tips from the top.

Daniel Hudson has some advice for potential applicants:

  • Research the organisation to see if it’s right for you – talk to people at the firm. Be honest and realistic – there are no prizes for getting a job you’re not suited for.
  • Try to relax as much as you can.
  • Be open about your disability so you can do your best and the firm can support you to maximise your potential.
  • Dealing with disability on a daily basis speaks about skills and character that you may take for granted, but that could be very valuable to an employer. You should aim to share those sorts of experience in an interview.
  • First impressions are important. It’s tough to recover from a negative start so always go in positive.
Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) is one of the world’s biggest law firms, with 26 offices spanning Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the US. HSF prides itself on offering world class professional services, supporting its wide client base in their most important transactions, disputes and projects.

About Us

Diversity and inclusion is a critical component of the firm's past, present and future and is one of the values which shapes us. In return, a strong diversity and inclusion programme helps us to attract and retain the very best talent, engage with our people, foster innovation and meet the needs of our diverse clients.

Takeovers and mergers. Arbitration and litigation. We’ve got it all. And because we’re one of the world's leading law firms, we also work with some of the biggest international organisations on some of their most ambitious projects.

Thanks to the quality of our international network, we’re able to offer our clients both domestic and cross-border services, which means you get the chance to work in a truly global way. Our work is incredibly varied. We provide top quality tailored legal advice to major corporations, governments and financial institutions as well as different types of commercial organisations. We’re proud to be a full-service firm and we’re proud to be able to do more for our clients.

Herbert Smith Freehills is a place where you won’t just experience everything, you’ll be a part of it. So if you’ve got the drive and ambition to become a brilliant lawyer, we'd like to hear from you.

The graduate recruitment team work with the HSF Ability Network across the year. For example, for the annual disability mooting competition in partnership with Oxford University and in building links with Ability Networks at universities across the UK.

Visit our graduate recruitment site to find out more information about opportunities with HSF: https://careers.herbertsmithfreehills.com/uk/grads/

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Did you know?

Our clients expect us to have diversity in our firm so we can understand the issues they are facing. The better we reflect our client base, the better we can meet their needs.

At Herbert Smith Freehills we recognise and appreciate all of the differences that make each of us unique. Upholding a culture of inclusion that fosters these differences is imperative for our business and the diverse clients and communities in which we live and work. Embracing a diversity of views and experience means we attract and retain the best talent and provide our clients with the most considered and innovative advice.

Accessibility Awards

Recognised in the Stonewall Top 100 Employers Index consecutively since 2008. In 2017 Herbert Smith Freehills was ranked 21st

2017: Times Top 100 Graduate Employer

2016: The Times Top 50 Employer for Women


  • Vacation Schemes Our vacation schemes are a great introduction to life at Herbert Smith Freehills. You’ll get first-hand experience in a leading global law firm. During your placement, you’ll sit in the same room as a partner or an associate and be given real work for real clients. You’ll be involved in workshops and presentations – giving you a chance to gain a real insight into the depth and breadth of our practice areas. You will also work as a team on a project related to our pro bono and citizenship work.

    On top of that, you’ll be invited to a range of formal and informal social events where you’ll have the opportunity to network with vacation scheme students, partners, associates and trainees.

    Length: 2-3 weeks
  • First Year Workshop Each spring, we run two-day workshops at our London office. These are designed to give you an idea of what life at the firm is really like. You'll hear from leading lawyers, take part in interactive projects, discover the variety of the law we practice, and shadow one of our current trainees.


  • Training Contracts Our two-year training programme gives you the opportunity to develop skills across a range of practice areas - rotating through four six month seats. All trainees spend time in corporate and dispute resolution. You may also choose to sit in finance, real estate or a specialist practice area like employment, pensions and incentives, competition, regulation & trade, tax or intellectual property. You will benefit from an individually tailored seat allocation and development plan to help you gain the skills and knowledge to build a fulfilling career.

    Applications open in October and June each year.

Additional Opportunities

  • Open Days Herbert Smith Freehills runs two open days each year. These are focused on our Disputes and IP practices. Find out more information and how to apply via our website.
  • Campus Manager Our coveted campus manager positions are open to first-year students who wish to perform the role during their second year at university.
  • Roger Leyland Memorial Excel Scholarship Roger Leyland Memorial Excel Scholarship has been developed by Rare and Herbert Smith Freehills to provide exceptional black and minority ethnic students with a high level of financial support and unique access to work experience opportunities.

Tips for applying

Have a look on the Herbert Smith Freehills websites to see more hints and tips for applying - https://careers.herbertsmithfreehills.com/uk/grads/join-us#hints_and_tips

  • Be open about your disability This will enable us to provide support and adjustments to maximise your potential.
  • Share examples of skills developed as a result of managing your disability Dealing with a disability on a daily basis will have led you develop skills that could be very valuable in the workplace.
  • Be positive First impressions are important; always be positive when you go into an interview.

Your Plus

You don’t need to study law to be a brilliant lawyer. In fact, we recruit from a whole range of academic backgrounds. The only thing we’re looking for is exceptional people with the desire and ability to become truly brilliant lawyers. And there’s more to that than just a great academic record. There’s fantastic perception skills. There’s confidence. There’s empathy. There’s an international mind set. There’s diligence. And there’s the drive to not only experience everything, but to be a part of it.

  • Enhances the Client Experience Commercial awareness is very important to succeed as a trainee. You can demonstrate this by showing an interest in the commercial aspects of a legal career and the commercial world.
  • Contributes to Building the Firm Students can demonstrate this competency by effectively dealing with work pressures and being able to successfully adapt to change.
  • Contributes to the Team’s success Communication skills are critical for trainees, think about examples where you have been able to get on with colleagues and make a strong, positive impact on others.

Recruitment Adjustments

Talent goes across the board, whether you’ve got a disability or not. It’s about making opportunities accessible to whoever is the best person for that particular role – and then making sure we create an environment where people feel comfortable to tell us what they need.

The below are the typical examples of reasonable adjustments that we have made in the past. We recognise that different people need different types of reasonable adjustments and we encourage you to speak to us about your individual needs. You may like to refer to the following webpage telling you about our assessment process, including the test and the assessment day, here: https://careers.herbertsmithfreehills.com/uk/grads/join-us

  • Extra time We can provide additional time for our verbal reasoning tests and extended preparation time for other parts of the assessment process.
  • Separate room for preparation We can provide a private room for preparation away from other candidates.
  • Software If you use particular software to read documents, please let us know; we have experience of accommodating this.

Workplace Support

Our success depends on your skills, knowledge and ideas. That is why we will invest heavily in your development. Through formal training, pro bono opportunities and the chance to work with inspiring people who are leaders in their fields, we will help you grow personally and professionally. You will be part of a working environment that is supportive and open, and allows you to be yourself.

MyPlus Graduates