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Pushing Boundaries - Vaibhav Adlakha

In 2017, the SRA published its diversity data in which 92% of law firms took part and reported their diversity statistics. The report includes information from nearly 180,000 people working in almost 9,000 firms, and covers just over 70% of solicitors who hold a practising certificate.

The proportion of people in law firms who reported that they have a disability appears to be lower than in the wider population. Only 3% of all groups working in law firms report that they are disabled. This compares to 10% in the working age population in employment in England and Wales who report a disability. Since 2014, there has been an overall increase of 1% for all groups in law firms reporting disabiliy. In the largest firms (50 plus partners), the proportion of lawyers with a disability is 2% and for other staff it is 4%.

In December 2017, the InterLaw Diversity Forum was proud to launch its ENABLE Disability Network to support those with disabilities in the legal sector, as well as their allies and supporters.  We organise bi-monthly meetings with speakers, workshops, and lectures followed by professional networking.

View our launch event here:

Vaibhav Adlakha is a trainee solicitor at Reed Smith. He has cerebral palsy and visual motor perception and is an ambassador for Aspiring Solicitors and a champion for change. InterLaw Diversity Forum asked Vaibhav to share his career journey to date as well as share his top tips for employers to become more disability confident.

1. When did you realise you wanted to become a solicitor?

My high school experience with Model United Nation Conferences, especially Model International Court of Justice, was my first introduction into law. As an advocate and presiding judge, I worked on real cases that were yet to be presented in the real ICJ. This gave me experience of all the elements that are paramount for the legal profession. I not only enjoyed the advocacy part, but more so, I was fascinated by the variety and the preparatory aspects of putting the whole case together from start to finish. I also enjoyed working in a team. This gave direction to my passion for law and cemented the fact that I wanted to pursue a career as a solicitor.

2. How your journey in becoming a trainee solicitor?

After finishing my schooling (2004) from The American School of The Hague, I completed my University studies from Warwick University (2007) and BPP Law School (2008) in the U.K. I also did the Advanced Masters in Air and Space Law from Leiden University in the Netherlands (2010). The L.L.B and LPC further nurtured my aspirations to become a solicitor. However, this was also the time of my greatest challenge, as entering the legal profession and securing a training contract proved to be a very difficult proposition.

Helped by my strong academic background, I was invited by a large number of law firms for interviews but did not secure any offers. From 2010 – 2014, I worked with the Netherlands Competition Authorities, Unilever, the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment, HiiL Innovating Justice and Global Human Rights Defence. These experiences served as a stepping stone to re-enter the legal profession. With the help of EmployAbility, I was able to secure a training contract with Reed Smith in 2016. The firm focused on showcasing my abilities and on how they could support and adapt to my needs to help fulfil my professional ambitions.

3. What can firms do to support lawyers with disabilities from the recruitment stage to day to day support?

It is very important for firms to be open-minded towards disability. They should not start the recruitment process with any pre-conceived notions and expectations. Firms should focus on helping candidates with disabilities showcase their abilities while having strong internal structures to support and adapt to their needs. Firms need to be confident at providing physical as well as mental adjustments through raising awareness and understanding around disabilities in the workplace.

Reed Smith, for instance, worked with me to ensure that all my special requirements were taken care of. At every stage, HR and seat supervisors helped and guided me so that I could give my best performance. I am given a good level of responsibility and treated like any other trainee with the same expectations of delivery with precision and perfection. Reed Smith worked with Access to Work, even before I joined, to put the necessary adjustments in place. For instance, I have a personal assistant to help with the trainee tasks that I might find difficult, such as bundling of documents and printing. I have also been given Dragon Naturally Speaking and Read & Write Gold software to help speed up the creating and reading of documents, where required.

However, the biggest accomplishment the firm has achieved is the ‘mental adjustment’ that my colleagues and supervisors have been able to make when working with me. They have displayed an innate understanding of the fact that things may take longer for me so, wherever possible, have gone out of their way to adapt to my needs. Obviously, if things do require a quick deadline they still expected me to meet it. From time to time, I have been provided with advice and guidance about how I might be able to improve and work more efficiently. This has helped provide a comfortable environment for me to grow and develop.

The prospect of qualification and shaping a career can be a daunting task. At every stage of the process, the HR team and partners at the firm have advised and helped me explore areas that cater towards my interest and strengths as well as also taking account of my shortcomings. During every seat, they have worked with me to bring out my best while helping me to reach my full potential.

4. What has been the biggest challenge in your career so far? How have you overcome this?

The biggest challenge for me has been to continually prove to myself that I am equally capable of being a contributing member to this profession. At times, it has been a struggle but I have pushed my own personal boundaries and tried to achieve small goals which lead to bigger successes. This has enabled me to build my confidence and reassure myself that every success is possible.

5. Who has inspired you the most in your life and why?

Every person, parents, teachers, colleagues, friends who has been willing to take a chance to go the extra mile and think outside the box have been a source of inspiration to me. At every blockade they have stood by me and have been my guiding light by showing confidence in me, even where I may have faltered. It is their confidence in me that allowed me to embark on my journey from “Disability to Ability”, which has not been an easy one. My journey has been their journey.

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