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No assumptions – working with a deaf solicitor

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by Laura Hayward | 26 September 2018

It is not uncommon to see a news article pop up online detailing a story of an individual, firm or organisation who are working with people with disabilities. I actually saw one today relating to an instance where Sainsbury’s have really helped a lady with dementia to remain employed, and the positive impact this has had on her life.

As a legal recruitment consultant it does get me thinking about those I am working and have worked with who have disabilities, and what it is like for them working in the legal profession. The truth is that this can often be perceived as a difficult situation for both for the candidate and the recruitment consultant working with them, however I am really pleased to say that in my experience, this is not the case.

I always refer back to an experience I had with a candidate a few years ago. I started working with a locum solicitor, who also happened to be deaf. This was my first experience assisting a candidate with a hearing impairment, and it was a positive experience that really helped me to consider my approach, my role, and my responsibilities within the recruitment process, especially when dealing with more diverse candidates.

I don’t want to say the word ‘challenge’ because it doesn’t feel quite right, but I would say there were three key areas that I really had to consider when carrying out my role, to ensure that I provided this candidate with the same level of service I offer all of my candidates. The first and most obvious area is communication, which is arguably the most important part of my job. Being based in Manchester but recruiting for the South West of England means a significant aspect of my role is based on the telephone. From registering candidates and keeping them up-to-date about roles, to placing them in assignments. This solicitor cannot speak on the telephone, which means all our communication is via text and emails.

Interestingly, this candidate said that the telephone remained one of the biggest barriers to being a lawyer, something that really struck a chord with me. We take for granted talking on the phone, and as a recruiter it is the basis of my day-to-day, however this experience really made me consider those that don’t have that option and how they handle situations where communication is needed. Not speaking with this candidate on the phone tested my ability to portray my messages in a different way.

Which takes me to my second point, relationship building, which is key to finding the right role for the right person – the majority of which is usually done over the telephone! It is without a doubt the fastest way to get hold of someone, and the easiest way to get to know someone without meeting in person. Fortunately, this candidate was very tech savvy which enabled us to be in constant contact via text and email, and it really surprised me how much you can get to know someone, and the relationship that you can form communicating in this way. Over time we developed a relationship that worked for both parties, and I was able to represent him just as well as my other locum candidates.

The third is understanding, and being 100 percent confident that you understand the needs of your candidate. This covers everything they need for interview, and in their role if and when they secure a position. It was really important to ensure that clients knew about the situation and appropriate measures were in place to make this candidate feel at ease. For example, ensuring that the room was set up in a way that he could lip read, and having documents on hand that he could read if anything became unclear. I also had to make sure that any interviews I organised were in a quiet room with no background noise.

Since working with this candidate I have actually had the pleasure of working with numerous candidates who have had a variety of disabilities. I will always be very grateful to this candidate for really opening my eyes to what is was like to be a legal professional with a disability, and to really helping me learn not to be afraid to challenge organisations on how well they are set up to ensure that candidates who have any sort of disability are able to thrive. If I am being honest, I used to feel really out of my depth working with people who required reasonable adjustments to be made but I now feel really silly about that. In my experience thus far most organisations have the ability and are more than happy to make reasonable adjustments to assist a candidate during the recruitment process and if successful, in their new role. 

If you have a disability and are struggling to find a legal role we would be happy to help. You can contact me directly for a confidential chat at laura.hayward@sellickpartnership.co.uk or give me a call on 0161 834 1642.