I’m an associate solicitor at Reed Smith and have worked in the firm’s Entertainment and Media group since 2019, specialising in litigation. I trained at Reed Smith 2017-19, securing my training contract in 2015.
When applying for training contracts I was completely open about being on the autistic spectrum, but I used the opportunity of disclosure to share not just the areas where I might face challenges but also the strengths autism has brought me – from determination and focus (both on my job as a whole and to specific areas of interest which have helped me build up legal specialisms) to developing problem-solving skills and often approaching matters from a different angle (which helps to ensure that points we might want to make in legal work, and counter-arguments to these, are robustly challenged – which is very important in litigation to ensure that our finished work product represents a strong and considered case).
One of the first adjustments offered by Reed Smith was to allow me to visit their offices, look around and meet members of the graduate recruitment team in advance of my initial interview – autism can cause uncertainty in new situations, but visiting beforehand allowed me to be put at ease during my interview so I could focus on answering the questions put to me rather than acclimatising to the new environment. The firm also has a strong disability network (LEADRS, which my immediate supervisor in Entertainment and Media is the co-chair of) which puts on awareness-raising talks/events (including an annual Disability Summit). The firm’s culture very much encourages openness and learning, and fee-earner involvement in LEADRS or other DEI work is very much supported and encouraged (with 50 hours of DEI work counting towards our annual targets, and 140 for pro bono work which can also include DEI/disability projects).
In addition to those mentioned above, another strength I’ve also found from being open about my disability (and as an advocate for disability and autism inclusion) has meant that clients have, from time to time, asked me to advise on or otherwise support their own DEI initiatives, from informal chats to speaking on panels and even helping found networks. As well as furthering disability inclusion more widely, this has also helped provide added value to clients in an area of real interest to them, as well as expanding my own network within the industry – none of which would have happened without being open about my autism.
I would encourage disabled students going through the recruitment process to think carefully about the kind of firms they want to apply for. It’s important to consider the areas of law in which you are interested and to consider which firms are best-placed in those areas, but alongside this the culture of the firm is also really important because it will impact the way you work day-to-day. I would not want to be prescriptive in saying that being open about disability is always right for everyone because it will depend on a number of factors (including your own preferences), but I can say for certain that I have certainly benefitted from being open about my autism (which also allowed me to assess potential firms’ inclusion efforts, and ensured that I ended up at a firm with a strong and genuine commitment to inclusion in which my autism very much is ‘my plus’).