Recruiting, managing and celebrating neurodiverse lawyers

Posted by Jay Bhayani, managing director of Legal Futures Associate Bhayani HR & Employment Law

Bhayani: Neurodiverse lawyers will give firms a competitive edge

In a society where diversity and inclusivity are the current buzz words, you might have heard people being described as neurodivergent or neurotypical. Law firms that have embraced neurodiversity are already reaping the benefits of this modern approach to practising law.

And in a world of cryptocurrency, non-fungible tokens, bioengineering, complex international Ponzi schemes, and constantly evolving social media platforms, the traditional approach to practising law just doesn’t cut it anymore.

We need lawyers who can solve new problems – innovative thinkers and creators of new strategies. We need new ways of thinking and doing.

This is where neurodiversity can give your firm the winning edge.

So, what exactly is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity, in straightforward terms, means every human brain is different. The human brain varies in sociability, learning attention and mood. Everyone has different neurocognitive abilities – different weaknesses and strengths.

The cognitive spectrum range between neurodivergent and neurotypical. Neurodiverse lawyers experience life and work differently than neurotypical lawyers, meaning they offer unique skills.

Dyslexia, autism, ADHD, and dyspraxia are all types of neurodiversity. By embracing neurodiverse lawyers, law firms benefit from the neurodivergent way of thinking and solving complex legal problems.

Why law firms should celebrate neurodiverse thinking

This is a particularly appropriate question as we are currently in Neurodiversity Celebration Week.

The answer is straightforward: you are missing out and falling behind if you don’t. Modern law requires the unique skills that neurodiverse lawyers can offer your firm. A neurodiverse person has specific strengths called ‘spikes’ and specific ‘dips’.

People with dyslexia, for example, can be very creative and good at linking ideas. They might not excel at reading or writing but often are excellent entrepreneurs.

Autistic individuals don’t cope well in unstructured environments. Their behaviour might seem unfriendly or rude, but they have exceptional focus. Their memory and attention to detail allow them to memorise case files and pick up on information that others may overlook.

Dyspraxia is often linked to exceptional verbal skills and high levels of emotional intelligence. Individuals with dyspraxia are often highly creative and think differently.

People with ADHD are also known to have the ability to hyper-focus and be very creative.

Of course, it is not always so stereotypical; neurodiversity is far more nuanced and includes a range of different brain functions and processing. However, ignoring this diverse skill set means your practice loses out on valuable skills.

Lawyers need focus and attention to detail when reviewing documents and evidence, and drafting contracts. They need to spot anomalies and details in data – all spikes of the autistic spectrum. No wonder one of London’s top law firms partnered with an organisation that places individuals on the autism spectrum to recruit individuals for their technology team.

So back to the question – why celebrate neurodiverse thinking? Well, can your firm afford not to embrace creative, super-focused individuals with great attention to detail and a memory to remember even the finest details? Can you afford to ignore lawyers who are unique thinkers in a very different society compared to the neurotypical legal profession decades ago?

What about the cultural fit?

Law firms often instruct recruiters to find a cultural fit – someone who fits in and is similar to the rest of the firm.

However, it might be time to recruit differently. Instead of looking for someone who will fit in, focus on finding someone who will enhance your culture. A different skill set and perspective can make your firm stand out.

As Dr Seuss famously said: “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” You don’t just want your firm to fit in. In modern society, you need an edge; you need the skills and talent that make your firm stand out.

You need skills that can meet the demands of a dynamic society with unheard-of advances in technology, bioengineering, financial systems, and social media platforms – a society where diversity and inclusivity are no longer negotiable.

Practising law is an altogether different profession than years ago. Lawyers now need to deal with encryption and complex algorithms, suing or getting injunctions against persons unknown, complex forensics audits in international fraud cases, and so on.

To fit in and offer your clients the best up-to-date advice, you will need excellent neurotypical skills. To stand out, you also need excellent neurodiverse skills.

Managing neurodiversity in your law firm

Covid-19 taught the world that the workplace could be flexible. This new-found flexibility makes it even easier to manage the particular needs of a neurodiverse workforce.

Managing neurodiversity starts with recruitment. Acknowledge your bias and keep it in mind during the interview process.

Typically, we like eye contact; we see it as a sign of openness and trustworthiness. However, when interviewing a candidate on the autism spectrum, remember that eye contact might be a strain for them. Lack of eye contact does not mean that the person is not listening to you or can’t be trusted. It means they are genuinely focusing on what you are saying.

Similarly, fidgeting might simply be a means to keep the ADHD body moving so that the brain can focus on the interview.

Instead, focus on the unique skills that the candidate can bring to your firm.

Think of ways to accommodate their ability to see the big picture, think outside the box, 3D thinking, creativity, specialist focus, and other skills that will enhance your practice.

Managing neurodiversity is something that the employer and the employees must do together. Adjustments and accommodations will depend on individual needs.

Accommodations need not be expensive or ‘re-inventing the wheel’. It simply means being open to doing things differently:

  • Create inclusive spaces that minimise their disabling factors and enhance their diverse talents.
  • Provide employees with the right tools to enhance their diverse strengths.
  • Be sensitive to their privacy.
  • Educate yourself and the rest of the workforce on neurodiversity.
  • Create open communication channels to address work-related issues and provide support. Be ready for honest feedback. Autism is known for the lack of conventional filters; it might not always be what you want to hear, but you will get unfiltered honesty! Simple changes can go a long way.
  • Allowing employees to work with headphones could assist an employee in concentrating effectively without being interrupted. For others, it means they can block out the hum of fluorescent lights.
  • Uncluttered, neutral spaces may prevent distractions.
  • Piecemeal instructions and deadlines can provide clarity and structure in an otherwise disorganised environment.
  • Set up visual aids – wall charts, checklists and the like.
  • Use time-management programmes to help with prioritising tasks.
  • Provide opportunities for breaks and movement.

By placing the neurodiverse individual in the right environment, you enhance their unique talents and give your firm that all-important competitive edge.

Is neurodiversity a disability?

Neurodiversity can qualify as a disability under the Equality Act 2010, meaning employers are obliged to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate neurodiverse individuals.

It includes adjusting recruitment processes to remove possible barriers like traditional aptitude and personality tests, face-to-face interviews, and other standardised tests.

Tests designed exclusively on neurotypical standards will have to be adjusted to not discriminate against neurodiverse candidates. In Government Legal Services v Brookes, an employment tribunal held that failure to make reasonable adjustments to standard recruitment processes amounted to disability discrimination.

So there are legal reasons why you need to manage neurodiversity in your firm. There are, however, far more compelling reasons to embrace neurodiversity. By putting systems in place to identify and highlight their strengths, the neurodiverse individual and your firm can excel.

Navigating a neurodiverse future

The legal profession has taken the first steps to intentionally recruiting neurodiverse individuals. A few firms are leading the way in recognising the strengths and talents of neurodiverse individuals and appointing them in specialist areas of law.

Firms that embraced neurodiversity and created support systems have been surprised by colleagues opening up about their own neurodiversity. Creating a work environment where they don’t only manage but also celebrate neurodiversity has proven to be beneficial to the individual and the firm.

These firms understand that diversity of thought and doing things differently are the keys to future success in the legal profession.

If you haven’t taken steps to recruit, manage and celebrate neurodiverse lawyers, you are falling behind and will soon stand out for all the wrong reasons.


Leave a Comment

By clicking Submit you consent to Legal Futures storing your personal data and confirm you have read our Privacy Policy and section 5 of our Terms & Conditions which deals with user-generated content. All comments will be moderated before posting.

Required fields are marked *
Email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Loading animation