Thirty-one years ago, the Americans for Disabilities Act (ADA) became law. Yet, the progress towards including People with Disabilities in our workforce has been discouraging. Disabled professionals remain highly marginalized, both in our profession and within the job market as a whole. In our industry, the statistics are staggering - according to the National Association for Law Placement Inc. (NALP), only 0.38% of all lawyers in law firms are disabled. And as this recent New York Times article details, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit People with Disabilities especially hard. Though the article focuses on workers in clothing stores, food services, and hospitality, there are many parallels to the legal industry.
The ramifications of disclosure or discovery of a disability often are severe. They cannot only diminish the perception of a person’s ability to perform a job but also one’s job security and prospects of securing employment.
To change things, we first need to create a safe environment for “disclosure without stigma.” The next step is to focus on increasing accessibility, implementing accommodations, and reshaping attitudes about disability.
One might ask, "Why is any of this important?" Beyond the obvious (i.e., doing what the ADA requires), it matters from a business perspective. Legal and Compliance professionals with disabilities are just as talented as people without disabilities; it would be foolish to overlook this cohort of talent. By creating an environment of inclusion, they can exercise their full capabilities to benefit the organizations they serve. Moreover, an inclusive approach makes organizations (law departments, law firms, legal service providers, legal technology companies, etc.) richer because a diverse workforce fosters resilience and a work ethos borne from adapting to and overcoming adversity every day.
We talk a lot about technology and services that can “democratize access to the law and justice.” This is empty rhetoric unless we can also “democratize access to the profession.”
We talk a lot about technology and services that can "democratize access to the law and to justice." This is empty rhetoric unless we can also "democratize access to the profession."