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What Problems do Dyslexic People Face in the Legal Professions?

Just a few short decades ago hardly anyone had heard of dyslexia and children who had the learning disability were left to struggle and were often told they were lazy or stupid.

Now, thankfully, we know a lot better and most dyslexic children and students are identified and given help so that they can access all of their educational opportunities. There are, however, still some fields that can seem intimidating or impossible to people with dyslexia and law is one of them.

Dyslexia affects the way people process information 

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability, alongside dyspraxia, attention deficit disorder and dyscalculia. The person’s IQ is often within normal range or higher, but the learning disability affects the way in which they retain, process and access information. It’s a neurological issue so it can’t be cured and it can seriously affect the way dyslexic people read, write, recall information and speak.

Under the Equality Act 2010. Dyslexia is a protected characteristic, which means that anyone with dyslexia can’t be treated less favourably than someone without it. It also means that they should have reasonable adjustments made for them at work, even legal professionals, whether they work in a specialist practice like Kenway Miller or a barristers’ chambers.

Dyslexic legal professionals face special challenges  

Each dyslexic person has their own unique profile of strengths and weaknesses, but within the legal profession, many will find they face these challenges in particular.

Other people’s prejudices 

This is by far the biggest challenge and it’s the hardest to overcome because it involves convincing pretty much everyone that dyslexia is both real and isn’t a sign of low intelligence. As the disability affects everyone differently, one person may be a fast reader but a slow writer, another may have difficulty with speaking fluently and yet another may have organisational problems.

Forms are tough

People with dyslexia find filling in forms difficult so any electronic documents that have a time-out can present problems. Dyslexic students can fail exams because of poor spelling and punctuation and when it comes to sending out CVs, lower-than-average exam grades can lead to the candidate being binned without the wider circumstances being taken into account.

People with dyslexia tend to fail psychometric tests

Any tests with multiple choice questions can be tough on dyslexic people as they find them hard to process. Some verbal reasoning and numerical reasoning problems can be difficult too, because they don’t allow for the person to use their usual coping mechanisms. This is why legal HR teams need to use specialised or fairer assessment processes for dyslexic people.

Two-part questions can fox people with dyslexia

As dyslexia is primarily an information-processing issue, complicated questions with two or more parts can prove to be too much as there’s a lot of information for the person’s working memory. Long sentences – a big feature in law – can also take longer to “work through”.

Organisational problems 

This is perhaps the second-biggest issue because legal professionals are expected to be very organised and punctual. Law firms have set expectations here and failure to meet them can lead to disciplinary action if the individual doesn’t know about or doesn’t admit to their dyslexia. Legal firms’ HR departments should be able to recognise common dyslexic-type errors and problems and make reasonable adjustments before the situation deteriorates. This could be encouraging the person to “come out” as dyslexic or even offering them testing and help.

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