On the 8th January 2015, I visited Herbert Smith Freehills for a disability disclosure/recruitment event, ‘Ability with Herbert Smith Freehills’. It was a fantastic experience, and I strongly recommend future events to anybody who’s eligible.
Shortly after arriving and having a chance to speak with other attendees, the event kicked off properly with an introduction from the firm’s managing partner Ian Cox. Ian spoke passionately about the business case for diversity and inclusion, and where he saw the legal market heading for global elite firms in the next 5-10 years. I was greatly honoured that the managing partner of such a large firm took the time to attend the event personally and share his business knowledge, and it was fantastic to hear about Herbert Smith Freehills’ commitment to diversity from his own mouth – it indicated to me that the firm really practices what it preaches.
Afterwards we moved quickly onto a corporate case study, held by Mergers & Acquisitions partner Gavin Williams. This activity was an opportunity to get our heads around the type of case study used in assessment centre group exercises; we first examined it individually before feeding back our opinions, discussing their pros and cons, and reaching a consensus. This event was my personal favourite; it greatly increased my commercial awareness and I learnt business language I wasn’t aware of before. It was also refreshing to be assured that business acumen, not legal knowledge, was being assessed – as a non-law student, I’m a firm believer in law being open to people from a variety of backgrounds so it was a huge plus to know that law students wouldn’t necessarily have an advantage over non-law students. We then took a short break before an application and interview tips session from graduate recruiters Carly Gilberg and Rebecca Bruce-Smith.
We were then joined by external consultant Helen Cooke, director of My Plus Consulting and founder of Great With Disability, who spoke on the strengths associated with having a disability. Helen spoke of the benefits of disclosure to an application form, and urged us to do so early on in the process – since if we were not provided the adjustments which allowed us to perform at our best, the recruiters would be unable to witness us at our best when assessing us. She also advised us to consider the unique strengths we have gained from managing our disabilities. We then took part in an interactive session where we wrote both a personal statement – focusing on our five core strengths – and a statement about our disability, learning how to confidently and succinctly communicate our specific needs. Having attended previous events of Helen’s, including Getting Investment Banking and Open to Law, I can safely say that the quality of her work remains as high as ever, and I look forward to her future events!
After another short break, the penultimate session began – a panel discussion, chaired by Helen and featuring a wide range of Herbert Smith Freehills lawyers, all with a diverse range of disabilities and at various career stages. The panel included Daniel Hudson, a partner; Anne Griffith and Sarah Ries-Coward, both associates; and Laura Wright, a trainee. The panel spoke about various important issues such as the importance of disclosure and adjustments, and spoke about the firm’s understanding nature. One panel member mentioned, for example, how several adjustments had been offered to them without them needing to ask first; the firm had taken the initiative instead.
Following this, the event ended with a short networking session replete with drinks and canapés. I used the opportunity to network and spoke at length with Alison Matthews, co-chair of the firm’s disability network, about their achievements and current objectives. I left with a distinct impression that Herbert Smith Freehills really was going above and beyond to attract the best talent, regardless of background – it was the first disability event I’ve heard of to be organised internally yet also open to students, for example. I look forward to hearing more as the network continues to grow.