Amelia studied law at the University of Leeds. As a neurodiverse candidate she came up against a number of challenges when interviewing for jobs in the legal sector so decided to set up The Neurodiverse Lawyer Project
Why did you decide on a career in law?
When I was younger I was fascinated by how things worked and how to improve them. I started working in a café at 16 and had to take on management jobs and I realised that industries like hospitality are governed by the law, and it just sparked an idea in my head that I wanted to be involved in a sector that literally affects everything we do as a society.
In school, I recall being captivated by the decision-making process underlying developments in subjects like human geography, and it was always legal. Unfortunately, that was around the time I was diagnosed with Dyspraxia, and I was told that with a learning disability, I would never be accepted into such a renowned field.
I took a year off to think about it, eventually realising that if this was what I was passionate about, I shouldn't let other people tell me I wasn't capable enough, because I knew I was, and I graduated with a first.
You identify as neurodiverse. Can you explain what this means in your circumstances?
I have Dyspraxia, a specific learning disability that affects motor skills, speech, perception, processing, and other areas. It's a little-known condition, and symptoms can vary widely from person to person. There are also a lot of misconceptions about it, such as the idea that we're slow, lazy or stupid.
For me, the most difficult aspects are pronouncing words, formulating phrases, processing information, short-term memory, being clumsy, hand-eye coordination and organising my thoughts and external affairs.
Dyspraxia can also have a negative impact on your mental health and self-esteem, something I have experienced first-hand. What isn't often discussed are the benefits it provides - I'm incredibly resilient, a terrific problem solver, innovative, upfront, and very creative.
Diversity and inclusivity in the legal profession is much discussed. What challenges have you faced within the law sector as a result of your dyspraxia?
I agree that this is a hotly debated topic. Unfortunately, neurodisabilities are so frequently excluded from D&I in firms that we are routinely discriminated against and disregarded, as if we have something inherently wrong with us.
I've conducted a lot of training contract interviews and paralegal interviews and each time simple reasonable adjustments were not made. This was really difficult for me to accept, and my mental health suffered greatly as a result.
Aside from that, I believe there is a lack of representation (the Law Society reports as low as 3%) and a range of misconceptions about us that can often lead to discrimination. On numerous occasions I have been subject to derogatory slurs and comments. But, for me, the worst are the unconscious biases that exist, because they are notoriously difficult to establish and there is little you can do about them. I put in a lot of effort in whatever I do. All I need are some adjustments to help me be the best I can be and at the end of the day, I’m just a person, like everyone else, who deserves equality.
Why did you feel the need to start the @neurodiverselawyer and how do you hope it will help?
The Neurodiverse Lawyer Project is an Instagram blog, podcast, and website dedicated to raising awareness of neurodivergent conditions and pushing for change in the legal industry.
It began as a means for me to connect with other neurodivergent people having similar issues in the industry, but it's evolved into so much more. I've had prominent firms volunteer to have a podcast conversation, multiple fantastic graduate sites like Prospects agree to write about it, and now I've been asked to talk at three university law societies.
I'll be thrilled if the effort results in just one person sitting back and thinking, 'How could I honestly make this process more neurodivergent friendly and how can I be an ally?'.
What more do firms need to do to ensure that the legal profession accurately represents the society it serves?
The first step is simply recognising the benefits we provide. There has been a lot of research done on this, and the tokenistic diversity in some companies needs to cease. There is so much that can be done, and much of it is simple.
For example, having a disability specialist in HR, disability groups within your firm, changing up your recruitment processes so they aren't just looking for neurotypical attributes, training your employees on disability and taking steps to reduce unconscious bias and discrimination, and finally, simply being open to doing work differently.
I believe that if we can begin to really integrate neurodivergent people into the sector, embracing their strengths and challenges, we will see a positive shift in how organisations engage with every member of staff in terms of empathy and openness to new ideas.
What are your career ambitions?
I used to believe that larger firms weren't suitable for me and would never welcome me. But, since starting this project, I've decided to just go for what I genuinely want, which is to be a solicitor in a large commercial firm, since I know I'm capable, and I also know that if I'm a key player in the sector, I can make a lot more of a difference. It'll never be ‘easy, and I'm sure there will be many obstacles along the way, but I'm confident enough now to know I'll get there.
What advice can you give to other neurodiverse candidates aspiring to a career in law?
Just go for it and remember to be compassionate with yourself. It's all too tempting to sit back and say, 'There's no use in trying,' or 'Perhaps I should attempt a less challenging job', but please believe in yourself. You are amazing, brilliant, and intelligent. You will confront challenges, and it is okay to be discouraged. Neurodisabilities can be challenging, but you owe it to yourself to try, even if the world tells you differently. Even at this early stage, you have a lot to be proud of, so remember to celebrate yourself.