How the American Legal Practice Must Adjust to the Dramatic Increase in Disabled Clients and Staff Post-Covid

The legal profession has a long history of discrimination against disabled people. In the past, disabled people have been excluded from law school and barred from practicing law. Even today, disabled lawyers face significant obstacles in their careers. They are often denied opportunities to advance and earn a decent living.

In recent years, the coronavirus pandemic has dramatically increased the number of disabled clients and staff in the American legal system. This poses a challenge to the legal profession, which has long been reluctant to embrace people with disabilities.

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated these problems. The number of disabled clients and staff in the legal system has increased considerably, but the profession has been slow to adjust. Many law firms are still not accessible to disabled people, when disabled lawyers do find work, they often earn less than their non-disabled colleagues.

The legal profession needs to do better. We must practice what we preach and make our workplaces more inclusive for people with disabilities. Otherwise, we will continue to exclude a group of people who have much to contribute to our profession and our society.

To help the public obtain legal services, law firms need to start making their workplaces more accommodating. The return on investment will pay for itself, but it can be tricky to know where to start. This article will consider several specific methods for attorneys to create a more welcoming and empowering legal practice. 

Focus on the Client Experience

1. Make your office accessible: The first step is to make sure your office is physically accessible to disabled people. This means ensuring that there are no barriers to entry, such as stairs or narrow doorways. It also means providing adequate parking and signage.

2. Train your staff: Once you have made your office accessible, it is important to train your staff on how to best serve disabled clients. This training should cover topics such as communication, accommodation, and accessibility.

3. Create diverse marketing materials: Attorneys should also create diverse marketing materials that are inclusive of disabled people. This can include pictures or videos of staff and clients with disabilities, as well as brochures or website content that is designed to be accessible to people with different types of disabilities.

4. Pay attention to your language: The way you talk about disability can have a big impact on how inclusive your firm appears to be. Avoid using offensive terms like “crippled” or “handicapped.” Instead, use people-first language that emphasizes the individual’s abilities, not their disabilities.

5. Be an ally: Finally, it is important to remember that you do not have to be disabled yourself to be an ally to the disabled community. You can show your support by attending disability rights events, donating to disability-related causes, and speaking out against discrimination.

Successful attorneys in the United States must also consider more candidates for employment that have disabilities. Their presence within the workplace has measurable benefits for staff, clients, and the business at large. Consider innovative methods to welcome and attract the most diversely-abled employees.

Focus on the Employee Experience 

1. Include diverse representation in your recruitment materials: It is important for diverse candidates to feel as though they could see themselves succeeding at your firm. This can be done by ensuring that diverse representation is included in all recruitment materials, such as the website, brochures, and job postings.

2. Use diverse networks to reach potential candidates: Attorneys should also use diverse networks to reach potential candidates. This can include attending career fairs for diverse candidates, posting job openings on diverse job boards, and partnering with diverse organizations. 

3. Actively engage with recruits that provide employment and transition services to diversely-abled people. There are many organizations that provide these services, and they can be an excellent source of diverse candidates.

4. Modify the interview process to be more disability-inclusive: The interview process can be modified in a number of ways to be more inclusive of disabled candidates. This can include providing accommodations, such as sign language interpreters or Braille materials, as well as making sure that the questions asked are not discriminatory.

5. Offer training on disability inclusion: Once diversely-abled employees are hired, it is important to provide training on how to create a more inclusive environment. This can include topics such as how to use people-first language, how to provide accommodations, and how to be an ally to the disabled community. 

6. Offer flexible work arrangements: Many people with disabilities need flexible work arrangements in order to accommodate their needs. For example, a lawyer who uses a wheelchair may need to work from home on days when snow makes it difficult to get to the office. Or a lawyer who is deaf may need to have access to sign language interpreters. By offering such accommodations, you can make your firm more attractive to disabled lawyers and law students.

7. Provide mentorship and networking opportunities: disabled lawyers often face discrimination in the form of isolation and exclusion. One way to combat this is to provide mentorship and networking opportunities specifically for disabled attorneys. This can help them connect with other professionals who understand their unique challenges and can offer guidance and support.

Law Firms Benefit Enormously with a More Diverse Staff

People that are diversely-abled include those that are neuroatypical, such as individuals with autism. There are many ways hiring neurodiverse and those who have autism can help your organization increase its return on invested capital, like its employees. Some of these benefits include the following: 

1. An increased ability to think creatively: People who are neurodiverse often have unique perspectives that can be invaluable in problem-solving.

2. Improved focus and attention to detail: Many people with autism have exceptional focus and attention to detail, which can be a major asset in fields like law.

3. Increased creativity: Neurodiverse people often have creative mindsets that can lead to more innovative solutions.

4. A deeper understanding of human behavior: Many people with autism have an uncanny ability to read people and understand their motivations. This can be extremely helpful in the legal field, where understanding human behavior is key.

5. Improved communication skills: Although people with autism may communicate differently, they often have excellent listening and writing skills. This can be a major asset in many fields of law, where communication is key. 

While it is important for firms to hire diversely-abled employees, it is also important to create a work environment that is inclusive of all employees, regardless of ability. Inclusion within the workplace considers all forms of diversity. Creating an inclusive environment can be done in a number of ways.

Focus on Inclusion in the Workplace

1. Providing accommodations: It is important to make sure that all employees have the accommodations they need to be successful. This can include things like Braille materials, sign language interpreters, and accessible furniture.

2. Creating an inclusive culture: It is important to create a culture of inclusion at all levels of the organization. This can be done by ensuring that diversity and inclusion are included in all policies, procedures, and training programs.

3. Promoting an inclusive environment: An inclusive environment should be promoted at all times, both inside and outside of work. This can be done by having diverse representation in all marketing and advertising materials, as well as community outreach initiatives.

4. Encouraging employees to be allies: Employees should be encouraged to be allies to the disabled community. This can include speaking up against ableism, educating others about disability rights, and mentoring employees with disabilities. 

5. Supporting employees: Employees should be supported in their efforts to create a more inclusive environment. This can include providing financial assistance for accommodations, as well as offering emotional support during difficult times. 

Creating a more inclusive environment is not only the right thing to do, but it is also good for business. A study by Accenture found that organizations with diverse and inclusive workplaces are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry medians. Additionally, another study found that companies with gender-diverse executive teams are 21% more likely to outperform their competitors. Other improvements to the bottom line include the following: 

1. Increased employee satisfaction and retention: Inclusive workplaces are more likely to retain employees and attract top talent.

2. Improved customer satisfaction: Inclusive workplaces are more likely to understand and meet the needs of their diverse customer base.

3. Enhanced market share: Inclusive workplaces are better able to tap into diverse markets, which can lead to increased market share.

4. Improved business continuity: Inclusive workplaces are better prepared to weather crises, as they have a more diverse pool of employees to draw from.

5. Increased profitability: Inclusive workplaces are more likely to be profitable, as they have lower turnover rates and attract top talent. 

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The Best Ways for Lawyers to Maximize Their Investments in Their Diverse and Inclusive Law Practices

1. Build a strong business case for inclusion: A study by Boston Consulting Group found that organizations with a strong business case for inclusion are 2.3 times more likely to report a decrease in turnover and 1.5 times more likely to report an increase in profitability.

2. Ensure that all employees feel included: A study by the Harvard Business Review found that organizations with inclusive cultures are 2.35 times more likely to have employees who feel a sense of belonging and 2.4 times more likely to have employees who are engaged in their work.

3. Create an environment where everyone can be their best selves: A study by the Center for Talent Innovation found that organizations, where employees feel they can be their authentic selves, are 2.5 times more likely to have employees who are engaged in their work.

4. Invest in employee resource groups: A study by McKinsey found that organizations with employee resource groups are 1.7 times more likely to have a higher rate of retention for underrepresented groups and 1.9 times more likely to have a higher rate of engagement for underrepresented groups.

5. Ensure that diversity and inclusion are embedded into all aspects of the organization: A study by Bain & Company found that organizations with Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) as one of their top five priorities are 2.3 times more likely to report an increase in market share over the previous year. 

By taking these steps, attorneys can make their firms more diverse, inclusive, and accommodating for people with disabilities. This is the right thing to do AND it has a high return on investment. When disabled people feel welcomed and valued, they are more likely to become loyal clients and refer others to your firm. Inclusivity is not just a social justice issue – it is also smart business sense.

 Always speak with a specialist before taking any steps that could affect your rights.

Article by Brad Biren

Brad Biren is a proud autistic professional, writer, and advocate for neurodiverse people within the business community. He is a tax & elder law attorney with a passion for estate planning and crisis Medicaid planning. His favorite part of his job is Special Needs Planning — a financial and legal roadmap to help families of diversely-abled people cultivate greater opportunities for their loved ones. Mr. Biren also assists startups and nonprofits with optimization challenges through his innovative and novel use of synergies between tax, law, finance, science, and technology.

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