By: Brigitte Whyte
The LPC course is a demanding and rigorous journey for any aspiring lawyer. However, for individuals on the autism spectrum, the challenges and opportunities presented by this academic pursuit can be unique and diverse. While there are certainly obstacles to overcome, being autistic on the LPC can also offer distinctive advantages and perspectives. In this blog, we will explore the experiences of autistic individuals in law school, shedding light on their triumphs, challenges, and the importance of embracing neurodiversity within the legal profession. Please note that everyone on the autism spectrum is different and will experience their own challenges.
Neurodiversity is a concept that recognizes and celebrates the diverse range of neurological differences, including autism. Instead of viewing autism as a disorder or deficit, neurodiversity emphasizes the value and richness that comes from having different cognitive styles and perspectives. Even though most LPC and LLM providers are now embracing neurodiversity, it is incredibly difficult to create a truly inclusive environment that supports the unique needs and strengths of autistic individuals, especially as there is also a need to cater for other diverse groups and their challenges.
Challenges Faced by autistic law students
Law school presents several challenges for all students, but autistic individuals will face additional hurdles due to the nature of their neurodivergent traits. These challenges can include:
Social Interactions: the LPC often involves intensive group work, networking events, and moot court competitions, all of which require strong social skills. Autistic individuals may struggle with social cues, small talk, or the ability to navigate complex social dynamics. In addition, as many autistic people mask their traits throughout the day when they are being surrounded by their peers, and this will be extremely draining, especially given the already demanding workload they have to complete for each class.
Sensory Sensitivities: Most autistic people have heightened sensory sensitivities, which can be overwhelming in environments such as crowded classrooms and canteens. Bright lights, loud noises, and uncomfortable clothing can contribute to sensory overload and affect focus and concentration. Temperature can also affect autistic people more severely than the general population and this is not something that is commonly talked about.
Time Management and Organisation: Law school demands excellent time management and organisational skills even from neurotypicals. Autistic students will face difficulties in maintaining routines and prioritising tasks which are crucial for success in this demanding academic setting.
Advocacy and Disclosure: Deciding whether to disclose one's autism diagnosis to professors, classmates, or the school administration is a personal choice. Autistic students often face the challenge of advocating for their needs while balancing the potential stigma or misconceptions associated with their condition. As many autistic people find that it is easier not to reveal their condition to their classmates, it may be harder for other to understand the autistic student's need for privacy and alone time in certain situations.
Strengths of autistic law students
While autistic law students may face specific challenges, they also bring a unique set of strengths and perspectives to the legal profession which is rarely talked about.
Some of these strengths include:
Attention to Detail: Many autistic individuals possess exceptional attention to detail, which can be a valuable asset in legal research, writing, and analysis. This meticulousness can contribute to thoroughness and accuracy in legal work.
Outstanding long-term memory: autistic people's incredible ability to memorise small details and long texts is well-documented. This can be a huge advantage when compared to other students and can also save them time in the long term as these students will not need as much time to learn the legal rules and their application. If they know which materials to prioritise and have an interest in the area of law, they can become experts in that topic in a relatively short time.
Analytical Thinking: Autistic individuals often excel in logical and analytical thinking as well, which are essential skills for legal analysis, issue spotting, and crafting persuasive arguments. Their ability to think outside the box can lead to innovative solutions which welcome in both solving problem questions during an exam and legal practice.
Specialised Interests: One of the hallmark traits of autism is having intense interests in specific subjects. In the legal field, these special interests can translate into expertise in niche areas of law, giving autistic law students a unique advantage in those areas.
How to thrive as an autistic law student
If you are an autistic law students, here are some tips and tricks on how you can help your learning and make your law school journey more comfortable:
Reduced Social Activities: While it might seem counter-intuitive, reducing time spent with your peers might actually boost your well-being. You might feel tired after being around classmates for most of the day, so it is best to try to spend some time alone where possible. Autistic people often need more time to recover after social interactions with neurotypicals and being in bright/loud environments. Especially during such a stressful time as the LPC, it is best to honour your needs of peace and quiet and allow yourself to recharge without feeling guilty about it. Another unexpected trick that could help you feel better and increase your productivity is "proximity time", which is time spent around people but without talking to them, such as studying in a cafe or library between classes.
Sensory Considerations: The classroom can be a bright, busy and noisy place with lots of students all in one place which is not autism-friendly. Autistic people tend to find it hard to advocate for themselves, but if possible, try to speak to your tutor to see if the brightness of the lights could be reduced to accommodate you. Most LPC providers do give you access to quiet study spaces as well, and it is advisable to retreat to the library instead of the canteen whenever you get the chance as the library is usually more autism-friendly. Once you return to your class, you will feel slightly more comfortable and refreshed. Also try to make sure that you are not looking at bright lights directly and that you are using noise-cancelling earphones when necessary.
Clear Communication: Don't be afraid to ask questions from your tutor. If you need explicit instructions, especially regarding an assignment, call your tutor to the side during the session or speak to them after the class.
Skip Classes if needed: Again, it might seem counter-intuitive, however, if attending your classes derail you from studying and achieving your goals, try to skip as many classes as you are allowed by your LPC provider and prepare the material on your own. Speak to your tutors and see if you could attend an online class instead of attending in person. If you have become interested in one of your subjects and entered a high focus state, it is better to continue working on what you are currently doing than disrupting it by attending a class on a different topic. This might be incredibly disruptive and do more harm than good. If you find self-study effective, and lot of autistic people do, then listen to your intuition and learn the material in a way that suits you.
Please feel free to reach out to me if you are having problems on your course, especially if you are neurodivergent, as I can offer you lots of useful tips and tricks to help you get ahead. Me and my neurodivergent team are truly committed to making this a diverse space where people can have a voice and where we can make legal education and becoming a lawyer more accessible.