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Solicitors underserving disabled consumers

16 October 2019

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Solicitors need to work harder to improve access to their services for people with mental or physical disabilities, according to recent research.

Commissioned by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), and undertaken by YouGov, the study – Reasonable adjustments in the provision of legal services – showed that more than half of the 3500 disabled people interviewed found accessing legal services difficult.

Only one in four remembered being proactively asked if they needed any reasonable adjustments to be made, with this problem being particularly acute for those whose disabilities are not immediately obvious.

Solicitors and law firms have duties under the Equality Act 2010 and the Code of Conduct to treat people fairly and without discriminating against them on the grounds of characteristics including disability.

Early identification of needs and adjustments was found to be vital if those with disabilities were to access legal services via solicitors.

Once disabled people had hired a solicitor, their impression of the service was generally positive, with the most important factor influencing this being the attitude and flexibility of frontline staff working for a firm.

The research suggested key improvements firms could make to be more accessible to disabled people, including proactively asking all clients if they need any reasonable adjustments to be made, with examples of what form these may take.

Law firm websites should be made easier-to-navigate and more accessible, with dedicated information for those with disabilities. Pictures of law firm offices should also be shown online to help people feel familiar with them and judge how accessible they will be before visiting.

Finally, staff should be specifically trained to support vulnerable clients, and any relevant expertise, partnerships or accreditations should be actively promoted.

SRA chief executive, Paul Philip, said: “All solicitors will recognise that disabled people often have multiple, complex and varying needs, that may not be immediately obvious. Accessing legal services can be complex enough without facing such added challenges, which is why it is so important that firms do all they reasonably can to help people overcome any difficulties.”

The research, he said, found that while some firms are clearly good at this, others have more to do.

“The insights should help firms to make the changes needed to support hundreds of thousands of people to access professional legal support when they need it,” he added.

In compiling their research YouGov surveyed more the 3,500 disabled people through a combination of online surveys, one-to-one interviews and online forums. A workshop was also held with charities and stakeholder groups, alongside a review of existing literature published in this area.

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Ethics Legal services Regulation