Reed Smith’s LEADRS Group: Employment without discrimination

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Reed Smith is a leading international law firm, known for its work in the corporate, media, shipping and real estate sectors among many others, with 26 offices across the US, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. It has built a reputation on an inclusive and friendly working culture, winning many awards for diversity and inclusion over the years. One area it heavily focuses on is disability.

Reed Smith launched the ‘Disability Task Force’ (now renamed LEADRS) in 2012; inspired partly by seeing the skills, talents and determination displayed by Paralympic athletes at London 2012. It aimed to attract, recruit and retain talented people with disabilities. The first stage focused on recruiting people with disabilities as lawyers; to do so the firm:

  • Audited their recruitment processes and completely overhauled their interview/assessment structures, moving from competency to strength-based interviewing
  • Partnered with organisations such as My Plus Consulting, EmployAbility, Aspiring Solicitors, Diverse Matters and the Law Society’s Lawyers with Disabilities Division to reach out to potential applicants with disabilities, and to learn more about how to best make adjustments in their recruitment processes and workplace
  • Offered two guaranteed vacation scheme places for applicants with disabilities over 2013 and 2014, to encourage more people with disabilities to apply

Over 2013-15, Reed Smith have hired six lawyers open about their disabilities, out of intakes of about 20 per year. These disabilities have included learning difficulties and neurological conditions like dyslexia and autism, as well as physical disabilities like wheelchair use and hearing impairments.

The firm is now seeking to recruit people with disabilities in non-legal roles. Partnering with a school in Hertfordshire, the firm offers work experience to young students with disabilities in areas such as HR, marketing and reception work.

Looking ahead, Reed Smith are keen to ensure those with disabilities who have been hired are integrated well within the firm, and are able to progress as far as their talents can take them – including to the very top of the partnership.

For their efforts, Reed Smith have won numerous national awards, including the Law Society’s Excellence Award for Diversity and Inclusion, an award from ‘The Lawyer’, and an Architect of Meritocracy Award among many others.

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As a future trainee solicitor who was hired through the initiative, I’ve worked to raise awareness of the firm’s disability work; in this capacity I’ve spoken at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg on businesses and disabilities, sit on parliamentary and government commissions on autism and wider disability, and have spoken at several national conferences. I feel it’s important to do so, given the chance the firm gave me – it’s equally important that other talented people with disabilities have the same chances.

Contributed by Jonathan Andrews

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