I was drawn to law five years ago whilst in the first year of a Geography degree at King’s College London. After losing my sight at the age of 18 studying for a medical degree, I decided to radically change direction. I felt that many of the qualities required in the field of medicine translated well to becoming a lawyer.
I knew there was a concentration of lawyers in the city who were visually impaired and set about approaching them for work experience. I managed placements at a Barrister’s chamber as well as a small city law firm, before realising the excitement of working on larger deals was something that attracted me. In my third year, I undertook vacation schemes with a few silver circle firms which allowed me to gain great insight into the inner workings and deals that large city firms get involved in.
After interning at Ashurst, I was offered a training contract with the firm starting in September 2015.
How do you manage your disability at work?
Open and effective communication is key when negotiating the many challenges a visual impairment brings in a law firm. It’s important for colleagues to understand the extent of my vision as well as the accessible software installed on the system. That transparency translates itself in others being able to effectively take your needs into account when allocating work. That is not to say anything is made easier, but instead tasks that may require a higher degree of sight can be delegated to another trainee.
How has your employer helped you to do well at your workplace?
First and foremost, a culture of inclusivity and diversity is one of the key reasons I chose to apply to Ashurst. That culture permeates throughout the firm and in every respect, they have been able to smooth my transition into the office.
Through access to work, they have installed and trained me on accessible software. I use a combination of powerful magnification software and speech software and this has been installed and tested heavily on the firm’s systems. Furthermore, the firm have welcomed a disability awareness trainer to assist with my transition into the firm. The slight social awkwardness a disability propagates has, as a result, been dissipated completely.
How would you describe the diversity culture at your organisation?
Ashurst have a strong track record in hiring a diverse workforce. They have made great strides in the last few years on the front of LGBT, female retention and disability awareness. On weighing up offers initially, Ashurst’s knowledge in the field of catering for a trainee with a visual impairment was the key factor in my decision to train with them.
It’s important to mention that the field of Law in the city especially, is some way behind the more innovative industries of Consultancy and Investment Banking when it comes to disability inclusivity. That said, I’ve personally witnessed a paradigm shift in the last five years when it comes to attracting and retaining top disabled talent.
What advice or top tips would you offer?
At work as in life, it’s important not to take yourself or your disability too seriously. It’s always worth laughing off the painful situation of walking into the wrong room, sitting down and trying to work at the wrong computer.
Secondly, make sure you disclose your disability as early as possible. Gone are the days where a candidate with a disability was a rarity in applying to a city firm. Ten percent of the population fall into the category of having a disability under the Equality Act 2010, therefore, graduate recruitment teams are highly accustomed in providing the reasonable adjustment necessary in helping a candidate with a disability through the application process and ultimately, successfully progress through their career.
Michael has since left Ashurst and now works at Revantage Europe.