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Working in law with a disability: An interview with Samson Dawodu

Samson Dawodu studied the LLM in Professional Legal Practice and graduated from our London Bloomsbury campus in 2019. He then went on to become a trainee lawyer for the Disability Law Service. To raise awareness of International Wheelchair Day on 1st March 2021, we caught up with Samson to discuss the necessary changes in the legal sector to better support those with disabilities.

I was inspired to study law through the experience of playing the role of a defence barrister in a GCSE drama stage play. The play’s plot followed the prosecution of an innocent man and culminated in a tense court scene. The big moment in the play for my character was the defence’s closing speech, which I wrote myself. As I knew very little about legal arguments, I watched several movie court dramas so that I could adopt their theatrics into to my speech. Obviously actual practice is not quite as dramatic as A Few Good Men but the experience writing the speech and acting it out inspired me to choose law as an A-level – and the rest is history as they say.

I chose to study at The University of Law because of the recommendation of a friend. He had just completed his Legal Practice Course (LPC) at the Bloomsbury campus just as I began to research where to undertake the course myself. He sold me on The University of Law because of the central location of its two London campuses and the teaching style. Bloomsbury campus is just a short stroll from Oxford Street and being able to window shop between classes was a big selling point. He also appreciated that he was made to feel like an actual trainee solicitor due to the University’s teaching style and the course’s structure which made transitioning to actual practice in his opinion a bit easier.

The highlight of my time at The University of Law was the great friends I made. Aspiring solicitors unfortunately have a reputation of being cut throat but that was not my experience at all with my fellow classmates. We regularly organised study sessions where we could discuss what we learned and share helpful insights and notes. I believe it was the University’s friendly and encouraging teaching staff who fostered an atmosphere of cooperation that drove us to collaborate as often as possible. I still keep in touch with my classmates and I cherish the time I spent with them during the course.

Disability Law Service (DLS) is a charity I volunteered at prior to them offering me a training contract. I decided to volunteer at DLS to gain legal experience. I had little to no knowledge of discrimination and social law starting out and it was eye opening learning of their place in society – they may be niche areas of the law but they are of serious and critical importance to so many people. As a volunteer I was able to work on policy initiatives and found the work very rewarding. It is not an area of law I foresaw myself entering when I was completing my degree, but I am fortunate to have stumbled into it through volunteering.

I am currently in the community care seat of my training contract. Our community care work is primarily litigation and I have been allocated several cases that I independently manage. A typical day will require at least one meeting with a client to obtain instructions and to advise them. More than likely, that will need to be followed up by correspondence with the respondent, who are often local authorities.  As such, a couple hours of my day are spent reading and analysing documents and drafting letters of action stating our client’s case and requested actions. This will also generally require research into the relevant applicable rules and practices and I am often trawling through a legal handbook or two for this.  An average day also tends to involve some ad-hoc work. Disability Law Service is running several policy initiatives advocating for positive changes in the law. I am fortunate to be involved in some of them and an average day could include, for example, assisting with drafting a response to a government consultation.

Sadly, disabled people are more likely to live in poverty than non-disabled people. More so, a third of disabled people feel that disability prejudice is prevalent. In the UK, over the past decade there have been numerous changes to government benefits entitlements and rules that have seriously curtailed disabled people’s access to social security. This has come to the extent that the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has reported that the UK has significantly fallen short in its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. I hope that awareness of those issues will drive more people to support organisations that assist disabled people and advocate for positive changes to the law.

I believe the legal sector is becoming more accessible, albeit at a slower pace than ideal. Statistics show that diversity is not only beneficial to a law firm’s productivity and profits but is also attractive to potential clients who are increasingly looking for diversity from firms. The legal sector has rightly acknowledged this, and law firms are taking constructive steps to increase diversity in their staff. For example, many law firms have now launched their own diversity programs. Nonetheless, those programs tend to be limited to the recruitment of trainees. I believe more initiatives, such as flexible working, need to be implemented for current staff. Increasing the prevalence of flexible working will not only make the legal sector more accessible (particularly for disabled people) but will also positively increase diversity, which research has shown is a critical component for doing so.

The highlight of my career so far is winning compensation in the tens of thousands for one of our clients who experienced serious neglect from their local authority. The neglect transpired over several years, and in putting their case to the respondent local authority, I had to forensically examine a significant amount of paperwork. It was an arduous task and somewhat a trial by fire as this was very early in my training. Developing the skills and knowledge required to identify favourable evidence, and then putting it all together in a lengthy letter has been a huge benefit to my training. However, the highlight was breaking the good news to the client and hearing their reaction – a moment I will never forget.

My father was my university and career inspiration. My father always encouraged me to pursue law despite it not only being a difficult career to break into but also work in as a disabled person. Without his support I would have likely chosen a different career path and I am grateful for his continued encouragement. The most inspiring person I have met during my career so far is anti-discrimination barrister, John Horan. John is a stroke survivor and champion for the rights of disabled people. I am fortunate to have assisted him (in my very limited capacity) in an employment tribunal hearing and observe him expertly cross-examine a witness. Watching John do his thing was mesmerising and his story has inspired me to continue to fight for the rights of marginalised people.

My number one piece of advice to anyone thinking of studying law is to volunteer at a charity or non-profit organisation that provides legal advice and/or advocates for marginalised groups. Volunteering your time has two great benefits: firstly, you will be exposed to niche areas of the law (such as discrimination law) that are often overlooked. That knowledge and experience could help you stand out when applying for a training contract regardless of the firm’s specialty. Secondly, charitable organisations are often on the front lines – meaning you will have personal contact with clients. Often, students overlook the importance of developing soft skills (such as interpersonal skills). Working first-hand with clients is a fantastic way to develop those skills and volunteering will offer you plenty of opportunity to do so.

I am due to finish my training contract next April and look forward to fully qualifying as a solicitor. I plan to continue with Disability Law Service in the foreseeable future and hope to take on more responsibilities at the organisation. Hopefully, this will involve leading a policy initiative advocating for a positive change in the law. Unfortunately, the policy issues facing disabled people are numerous and serious and there are not enough organisations advocating for change. As such, I hope to make a positive contribution on that front in the future in whatever way I can.

Due to a disability, I did not learn to read until a very late age due to my schooling being seriously disrupted. Despite this initial disadvantage, I was able to catch up and excel because I received the right educational support to do so. I believe that this is a testament to the fact that we are all able to achieve our goals if only we had access to the right support systems.

 

Learn more about the Disability Law Service.

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