Ashurst LLP is a leading multinational law firm and a trusted adviser to corporates, financial institutions and governments worldwide. They’re also the newest member of our Be the Difference initiative…

Michael Smith started as a trainee with Ashurst and is now a solicitor on their real estate team. He spoke with Able Magazine about their inclusive approach to employment and how they’ve supported him as a visually impaired employee.

When you joined Ashurst was it immediately obvious that they’d support you as a disabled person?

There’s a particular expertise and legacy here. Christopher Holmes MBE (now Lord Holmes, Non Executive Director of the Human Rights and Equality Commission) is registered blind and like me, completed his training contract at Ashurst and worked here as an employment lawyer. He represented Great Britain at four Paralympic Games and is currently undertaking equality related work for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics. There are not that many people in the City working in this area, so to find such a role model was very, very positive and very empowering.

It’s quite difficult to find a firm with a good bank of knowledge, when it comes to reasonable adjustments – and Ashurst is renowned in the sort of law that I was interested in, such as real estate and corporate projects. Ashurst are a firm that are very committed to attracting employees with disabilities and supporting those within the workforce who develop or have a disability, whether that be physical or mental in nature.

What are the challenges for a solicitor who is losing their sight?

Our job is document heavy. But the advances in technology that I’ve witnessed over the last 10 years have been absolutely brilliant. The accessible software programs that assist me on a day-to-day basis are provided by a government fund called ‘Access to Work’, which is a resource assisting disabled people in the workplace. A lot of the stuff that I process is on my screen and that’s just read out to me by a software package. The financial burden is removed from both the employer and employee allowing firms to support disabled candidates.

Law is an industry where sensory impairments are not very common. Law is very client-focused so face-to-face meetings can be challenging to navigate – regardless of the huge advances in technology – but colleagues are always really helpful and you get to know your way around.

Why did Ashurst LLP join the Be the Difference Campaign?

Ashurst, in my eyes, have demonstrated a real commitment to the cause. Success in the City, for people with a disability, relies both on an individual’s perseverance in ensuring that the reasonable adjustments are implemented properly and a commitment from a firm that the workplace will be made accessible through effective communication to its employees. Ashurst have demonstrated this and made every effort in allowing me to do my job effectively.

Before I joined there was a lot of discussion around how I would need to work, and the firm recruited an assistant for me who moves around with me so that I always work with someone who understands my particular requirements. Very early on in my firstseat as a trainee, the partner I worked for suggested developing a ‘checklist’ of things to be aware of (like the fact that it’s no good pointing to things on a screen if I am in the room, as I won’t be able to see this!) to send to each team I worked with in my training contract. It was this attitude to be confident to find a way of working, identifying practical things, and making it happen that made the
difference. Ashurst are genuinely committed to progressing inclusivity within the wider legal industry and give disability in the workplace real thought and engagement.

Based on your experience with Ashurst LLP, do you have any advice for disabled jobseekers?

Yes, I think the main one is confidence… As a disabled candidate you can approach any employer and expect that they know about their Equality Act obligations to help facilitate the adjustments that you may require at an interview or on the job. You should be judged solely by your abilities and skills instead of fearing that you may be defined by your disability. Disabled people are talented people – they may just need some extra thought as to how their talents can best be supported and developed.