Ethical Initiative of the Year

Reed Smith

Reed Smith’s stated aim to become “the law firm of choice for the disabled lawyer” is a unique and admirable one. The firm took its inspiration from the London 2012 Paralympics and instituted a number of disability partnerships over the following two years with the Law Society’s Lawyers with Disabilities Division, charity EmployAbility, disability consultancy MyPlus Consulting and graduate recruitment resources group Disability Café Club. It reserved two places on its 2013 and 2014 vacation schemes for disabled applicants, nominated by the charities.

Its labours came to fruition last year, when its policies helped it to recruit more diverse candidates. In 2014, approximately 6 per cent of its vacation scheme and training contract applications came from disabled applicants. Of 25 trainees this year, three are disabled. They identify as having hidden, sensory and physical disabilities from having hearing problems to being a chair user. One disabled summer vacation scheme candidate said: “Throughout the process I felt comfortable to be who I was, not least because Reed Smith had told me so. No other firm responded with anything like that proactivity and enthusiasm.”

Runner up
  • Withy King

Withy King family associate solicitor-advocate Rebecca Stevens clocked up over 100 hours of unpaid work for a vulnerable client, working tirelessly to ensure he had a fair trial. Her client, a father who failed to qualify for legal aid despite having learning difficulties, was facing the prospect of his child being taken away by the local authority.

Stevens’ dedication was praised by High Court family division president Sir James Munby, who labelled the legal aid decision “both unprincipled and unconscionable” and said that to require her client to face his local authority without representation would be “a denial of justice”. Stevens was the only associate in 2015’s Hot 100. She is just four years qualified.

Third place
  • Clifford Chance

Clifford Chance’s work with the National Autistic Society is the product of a 15-year relationship led by litigation partner Marie Berard. This year, the firm acted for parents in seven appeals in Special Educational Needs (SEN) Tribunals, advised on the construction of four autism centres and donated £10,000 to clients who could not afford the expert reports required as evidence.

Its tribunals centred around autistic children denied specialist support at school by local authorities, including an autistic six year-old with severe language, sensory and physical disabilities - he was unable to dress himself after PE or open his packed lunch. His local authority provided no specialist support at school. Clifford Chance appealed on behalf of his family and he now has full-time support and specialist therapies.

  • Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
  • Queen Mary University of London – Legal Advice Centre
  • Sheffield Hallam University
  • Simmons & Simmons
  • Viacom International Media Networks