How did you decide what to do after you graduated?
When I graduated university, I had no clear idea of what I wanted to do as a career. As I was interested in research, writing and analysis, I decided to explore a career in law as this married with these skills. I approached the prospect of a legal career with a completely open mind and first gained some practical legal experience through volunteering, attending conferences and open days, and then completing two vacation schemes. These experiences substantiated my view that I was well suited to this type of work and this was thankfully reciprocated as I was able to secure a number of training contract offers. Having attended Slaughter and May’s offices for a two day workshop, I had seen first hand the friendliness of the firm, the high quality of training offered here, and how distinguished it is in terms of disciplinary breadth. For these reasons, I was thrilled to accept Slaughter and May’s offer.
How did you disclose your disability and what adjustments did you ask for?
I disclosed my illness to HR when I first experienced symptoms and it became clear that I was unable to work for a period of time. The onset of my illness was very sudden. I was at work when I was overcome with disorientating and frantic dizziness. I had experienced severe dizziness once before during my law conversion, but this episode had only lasted three weeks and I had experienced no recurrence of symptoms for 11 months. With the onset of a new unexpected episode, it was essential that I inform work. In the initial weeks, even reading just a couple of lines of text could send my head into a nauseating spin for hours. It was frustrating and distressing as the symptoms were relentless and the doctors couldn’t find a clear cause. Nevertheless, with the aid of vestibular physio the dizziness gradually became milder and with time I could read and compute information with a clear head again. My supervisor and HR were incredibly understanding and kept in regular contact throughout my absence, which ultimately lasted six months. I was initially nervous about informing HR that I needed to return to work on a gradual phased basis, but I needn’t have had any apprehensions. They were not only expecting this but were unhesitating in implementing a plan and have fully supported me, as have my supervisors, as I’ve steadily increased my hours to a full working week.
What were your biggest challenges or barriers, and how did you overcome these?
The biggest challenge I have faced was my own apprehension that being on restricted hours meant that I was not fulfilling my “proper” job role. Having discussed these worries with my supervisor, it became clear that my worries about other people’s perceptions were groundless. On a daily basis, I am undertaking research tasks, assisting in the drafting of documents and attending meetings, all of which add value to the firm and further my own development.
How do you manage your disability in the workplace?
Labyrinthitis can increase light sensitivity, so I have anti-glare protection on my computer screens and keep my office relatively dark! I also try to print documents where possible as excessive use of computer screens can provoke or exacerbate symptoms of dizziness. I have recently re-introduced two screens, whereas when I first returned to work this was limited to one. In addition, I try to take regular screen breaks throughout the day. Most importantly, I have a very open line of communication with my supervisor and HR, which has been immensely helpful when I have needed to talk through health concerns. This is particularly important as my recovery has not been linear and the severity of my symptoms can fluctuate. This has meant occasionally adapting my return to work plan and being pragmatic about prioritising tasks and managing my workload.
Tell us a little about the current work you do and what you enjoy the most about it?
I am currently in my second seat in the Dispute Resolution department, which so far has involved working on a range of internal investigations and litigation cases. I particularly enjoy legal research tasks as I always learn something new in the process and I enjoy the exercise of grappling with and reconciling contradictory case law and then applying this to a practical scenario.
What is your company’s approach to disability?
From a personal perspective, I feel that the firm has taken an incredibly supportive and inclusive approach towards my health condition. When I first became ill, I was unaware of the policies that Slaughter and May have in place to support specific needs and was therefore nervous about asking for adjustments. While this was a new experience for me, on the flip side, the firm is well accustomed to catering to different physical and mental health requirements, especially given the size of the organisation. In terms of wider networks and initiatives, Slaughter and May have an active mental health and wellbeing network called Thrive, has recently partnered with a mental health and wellbeing app-supported platform called Unmind, and this month has launched the Inclusion Allies initiative, which is a programme supporting workplace inclusion. All of these schemes demonstrate the readiness of the firm to support employee health on a firm-wide level, which reflects the inclusive approach which I have experienced as an individual.