WIPR Influential Women in IP 2020
Disability in law
The hidden stigma
Diversity initiatives are gaining traction across
the legal profession, but one characteristic has
been left behind: disability. Disabilities of all
kinds are rarely talked about in legal circles, and
much less seen. Sarah Morgan investigates what
can be done.
ould your clients feel awkward if you
turned up for a meeting in a wheelchair?
That’s the question Husnara Begum
was asked when applying for a training
contract at a UK law firm.
For Begum, owner of Husnara Begum Consulting
and a former lawyer, it was an opportunity to turn the
question on its head, and ask the recruiters if they felt
awkward with her being in one (the answer was no).
But it’s certainly not the only time someone with a
disability—either visible or invisible—has had to deal
with uncomfortable questions.
It may come as no surprise then that nearly 40% of
lawyers never, or only sometimes, tell their employer
or a prospective employer they are disabled.
That’s the conclusion of “Legally Disabled? The
career experiences of disabled people working in the
legal profession”, a report published in January by
Cardiff Business School, which surveyed 288 lawyers
(241 solicitors or paralegals and 47 barristers) in the UK.
The data suggests that disability as a characteristic
has been severely neglected in diversity and inclusion
(D&I) initiatives within the legal profession, says
Debbie Foster, the professor at Cardiff University who
co-led the research.
“What struck me was the sheer number of
diversity initiatives in the legal sector and the
significant investment in initiatives, reports, awards,
and celebrations. On closer inspection, however, it
became apparent that disability was rarely mentioned
in these initiatives, even when attention was paid to
intersectional inequalities,” says Foster.
She warns that a “hierarchy of diversity priorities”
You’re in the
if you’re an
unless you’re a
not measured in
co-chair of IP Ability
appeared to exist, with gender at the top and disability
very much at the bottom.
WIPR’s own survey concluded that 72% of
companies with D&I policies covered disability, but
just over half of respondents believed their workplaces
Foster adds: “It appeared that disabled people
were rarely catered for, mentioned or expected. Where
they were it was often assumed they would be the