22 March 2022

This article was written by Alice Willoughby.

Neurodiversity is a hot topic currently and having people who think differently as part of your team is now almost universally acknowledged as not just a benefit, but essential.

This increased acceptance is great news for those of us who come into the wide and varied category of ‘neurodiverse’, but it is still often difficult for many to navigate a world designed for the ‘neurotypical’.

So what is ‘Neurodiversity’?

Neurodiversity refers to a range of naturally occurring variations in the human brain, such as dyspraxia, dyslexia, ADHD, autism and more. These lead to differences in the way individuals process information and perceive the world, which can create challenges but also unique strengths.

Benefits to firms and people

The Law Society believes 'the profession benefits greatly from neurodivergent minds'. Neurodivergent people often have key skills to bring to a team such as problem-solving, communications, strategy creation, trouble-shooting, improving processes, and lateral and creative thinking, all qualities essential and relevant to the legal profession. Additionally having a range of different ways of thinking keeps firms innovating and progressing. Put simply, having a varied workforce that includes neurodiverse people, who are supported to be at their best, is a competitive advantage.

My experience

My experience is of dyspraxia and auditory processing difficulties. Dyspraxia affects the way the brain organises movement and thought, linked to that I have to work harder to process information, particularly sound. Though my ears work perfectly, sometimes I won’t ‘hear’ you and I use lip-reading to support my understanding of conversations. The classic symptom of dyspraxia is clumsiness (called ‘Clumsy Child Syndrome’ right into the 2000s!), but I don’t often find being a trainee requires obstacle courses.

It does impact the way I work, making some things more difficult such as taking attendance notes and following virtual meetings, but it does not mean I am unable to do those things, just that I have to work that bit harder to get the task done to the standard I want. Dyspraxia also helps me, I have developed strong organisational skills from a childhood of forgetting the next lesson and how to get there. I also look at problems differently and have a strong awareness of others. All together I actually think it helps me be a better trainee, just like all our experiences shape us.

Burges Salmon

I am proud to say that Burges Salmon is genuinely invested in helping all its people succeed. I only received my diagnosis the year before I started at the firm so I am still figuring things out myself. Having one to one coaching on developing techniques to help achieve my potential has been extremely helpful. Equally the friendly nature of the firm has meant I do not feel the need to hide this aspect of myself, but rather have an open dialogue about it with my supervisor and others.

The firm also has an internal employee-led group, BEnabled, of which I am a member. It works to support and raise awareness of the issues affecting people with disabilities, long-term health conditions (including mental health conditions) and neurodiversities. Having this group creates not only a safe space to discuss ideas and challenges, but also helps to break the stigma of talking about disabilities and create tangible change.

It is not always easy to talk openly about being neurodiverse, there is a worry people will look at you differently or judge your ability to do your job, but ultimately everyone has something unique to offer and it is gratifying to see that being accepted more and more in the commercial world. 

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