Reed Smith was crowned the winner of The Lawyer Award for Ethical Initiative at the legal event of the year last night.
The US-headquartered firm won the award for its disability taskforce, established in 2013. The firm’s stated aim, to become “the law firm of choice for the disabled lawyer” was seen as both unique and admirable.
The firm took its inspiration from the London 2012 Paralympics and instituted a number of disability partnerships with charities over the following two years, reserving places on 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.
Second place went to a single lawyer, rather than a firm. Withy King associate Rebecca Stevens, the only associate to be recognised in The Lawyer Hot 100 this year, was recognised for her contribution to access to justice.
She clocked up over 100 hours of unpaid work for a vulnerable client late last year, working tirelessly to ensure her client, a father who failed to qualify for legal aid despite having learning difficulties and was facing the prospect of his child being taken away by the local authority, had a fair trial.
In third place was magic circle outfit Clifford Chance, recognised for its work with the National Autistic Society. The firm has been working with the charity for 15 years and this year acted for parents in seven appeals in Special Educational Needs 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.