How did you get started in your career and what drew you to the organisations you have worked for?
In the final year of my English degree I attended a graduate recruitment event for disabled undergraduates interested in city careers. The event was immensely helpful, as I was able to talk to a wide range of persons with disabilities who worked in high-calibre professional roles. It showed me that it wasn’t just possible for people with disabilities to have satisfying and empowering careers – it was normal.
I applied for law firm training contracts because I wanted a career which would continue to engage me and challenge me throughout my working life, and thought commercial law would be a good match.
Linklaters hired me on a training contract starting in March 2014 and I qualified as a solicitor with the firm in March 2016. The work has turned out to be just as engaging as I had hoped!
How do you manage your disability at work?
I try to be as straightforward and up-front about my disability as possible. I have a chronic pain condition which occasionally severely limits my mobility and I am also dyspraxic, which means I have very slow handwriting.
When I started at Linklaters I met with the HR department to discuss my disabilities and how I was going to manage them. Having had limited experience of working in an office prior to joining, I wasn’t sure how my disabilities would affect my working life. However, we discussed the issues and settled on a few common-sense solutions.
For example, as a trainee solicitor I knew it was likely I would have to take meeting notes and that my handwriting speed would probably be an issue. I raised this with Linklaters and asked to be able to use a laptop for such occasions. The firm provided me with one and I’ve been able to take meeting notes without issue.
I also ensure that whenever I join a new team I make a point of discussing my disability with my colleagues to address how it may affect my work. My teams are therefore forewarned that there may be days where I may feel unwell and may have difficulties getting into work.
How has your employer helped you to do well at your workplace?
Aside from the example of the laptop, Linklaters’ approach to flexible working has also been very helpful. It has been very straightforward for me to work from home on days where my mobility is limited and my colleagues have always been understanding about how my disability can affect my ability to get into the office. Although I might not be in the office in person I am able to access the same key facilities from home and be just as effective.
What advice or top tips would you offer?
The decision on whether to share information about your disability to a potential or current employer is an important one and each person will feel differently about it. However, in my experience, it has been the best course to be as open and straightforward about it as possible.
Disabilities come in varied forms and while my colleagues may have experience of one type or another, it is unlikely that many of them are going to be aware of my particular conditions and their effects. Just as if it was a particular point of law I had researched, it’s therefore up to me, as the person with the most applicable knowledge, to inform my colleagues as best I can about my circumstances.
It can feel uncomfortable to discuss your personal circumstances with colleagues, and indeed colleagues may themselves feel uncomfortable about how best to respond. I’ve found it helps to be as low-key as possible when first discussing my disability, and to invite discussion and questions.
What qualities or skills have you acquired as a result of having a disability and how have these helped you in your career?
I averaged around 15-40% school attendance in my GCSE and A-level years due to my pain condition and ended up staying back a year. I knew that in order to achieve what I wanted in life I had to pass my exams despite my absence from school, so I did a lot of independent study to keep up with my peers. The process taught me self-reliance and self-motivation as well as a healthy measure of optimism and independence of thought. This experience of independent study set me up well for university and my legal training and ensured that I got the most out of both.
I also used this example repeatedly when applying for jobs. Due to my pain condition, I didn’t have as much work experience as other candidates and I needed to show the skills and capabilities I developed as a result of my disability instead. When a potential employer asked for a time where I had shown resilience or independence I was able to talk about the experiences and challenges I have faced with my disabilities.
How have you been involved with your organisation’s disability network?
I have been involved in disability-focused graduate recruitment sessions a few times now and it’s been great to be able to discuss my experiences with students who are in similar positions to the one I was in when I started looking at careers. It has been very rewarding to be able to assist with exactly the sort of events that originally helped to guide me towards my career.
More recently Linklaters has started an internal “VisAbility” network focused on disability and mental health in the workplace and I’m looking forward to continuing to be involved with the network in the future.