Jonathan Andrews explains how he used his autism as an advantage when applying for a Training Contract in Law, enabling him to secure a place with Reed Smith.
Why keep quiet about a disability when it has so many positive aspects?
Few people in life are brought up thinking being disabled is a good thing.
To many ‘disability’ is a hair’s breadth away from ‘inability’, and that’s why job hunters with less visible disabilities are sometimes tempted to keep schtum about their conditions. But, if you can convince potential employers of the advantages to your disability, you’ll be a far better candidate for it.
This according to Jonathan Andrews, who has autism. A current Legal Practice Course (LPC) student, Andrews studied English at King’s College London where he secured a training contract (TC) at Reed Smith in his final year. He went on to complete the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) at BPP Law School, where he obtained a high commendation. He’ll be starting his TC at the commercial giant later this year.
Long interested in forging a career in law, Andrews soon set his sights on the City. Why? He tells us:
I was attracted to commercial law because I think there’s more chance of making a career in this sector. In other areas that are more heavily reliant on the government — like crime and family — there’s always uncertainty about costs and funding.
It isn’t just money and professional success motivating Andrews. He goes on:
Larger firms tend to have more resources for pro bono work. That’s something I want to get involved with. I’d really like to help people with disabilities coming into the profession.
As he mulls over the possibility of taking a pro bono seat during his training, Andrews is already working with the firm on its approach to diversity and inclusivity. To give one of many examples, he has introduced Reed Smith to My Plus Consulting, which works with corporate firms to identify why so few disabled students apply or disclose their disabilities at the application stage.
According to My Plus Consulting, there is a strong disconnect between the percentage of university students self-defining as disabled and the percentage of applicants applying to corporate firms doing the same.
Andrews himself knows how it feels to worry about disclosing a disability.
In his case, this is because people tend to have very stereotypical views of autism. Often, it’s assumed that all autistic people are socially inept and can’t get on with others, even though the condition is a spectrum. At the early stages of his TC hunt Andrews worried recruiters might assume his condition is severe enough to bar him from being able to work to the high standard expected of a lawyer. The temptation to keep quiet was there.
However, after attending a number of ‘diversity in law’ events, Andrews soon realised there was a place in the profession for him. “I also realised there weren’t many people talking about autism in law”, he adds, “and that made me want to be more open about it.”
There are a number of reasons why Andrews believes this is the favourable approach. For starters, it can help the candidate’s interview experience run far smoother.
This is because law firms and other recruiters are legally obliged to make reasonable adjustments for disabled candidates. “A lot of disabled applicants worry about reasonable adjustments and convince themselves ‘I can’t ask for this’”, Andrew thinks. “But if you need something, just ask for it.” In his case, he requested firms not ask him open-ended/abstract questions, as he particularly struggles with these.
But disclosing a disability doesn’t just bring about practical benefits. Being honest at this early stage helps build trust between the employer and employee, and, if conveyed correctly, can make you a stronger candidate. Andrews explains:
“The application and interview stages are good opportunities to dispel the stereotypes surrounding autism and to show the firm what benefits being autistic can bring. If you’re going to talk about it, you might as well do it in a positive way.”
Andrews believes his autism means he possesses a number of personality characteristics law firms seek out in their trainees. These include honesty, punctuality, reliability, loyalty, and attention to detail. Back these up with practical experiences — his membership of the House of Commons’ Autism Commission, for example — and you’ve got yourself a strong TC application form.
Following this method paid off. Of the 16 vac scheme applications Andrews made, he secured 14 interviews, four vac schemes and, of course, that highly sought after training contract.
Andrews will be a fully-fledged trainee at the firm come August, and is looking forward to working at such a “welcoming” and “friendly” office. The main reason he chose Reed Smith over the others? Because:
“The firm is so open to people who are different.”