Following a three-year hiatus, Resolution, the community for family justice professionals, held its national conference in 2022. Professor Jo Delahunty KC and District Judge Howard Kemp jointly gave the keynote speech and Delahunty was given free rein to address what lessons had arisen for her from the pandemic. She chose to talk about the benefits and pitfalls of remote working and the emerging awareness of how they impact neurodiversity.

Delahunty is already recognised as a leader in the legal profession by being prepared to publicly raise issues affecting recruitment, retention, and progression at the Bar – particularly those faced by women and other disadvantaged and underrepresented groups. During her keynote speech, she spoke openly about the need to destigmatise neurodivergence and her emerging awareness of how undiagnosed ADHD, dyscalculia, and dyslexia may have affected her. Delahunty spoke with compassion, sending out a powerful message that inclusivity of those with neurodiverse needs – which may not always be diagnosed – matters for the future health of the legal profession and that we need to be alert to (sometimes false) preconceptions of ‘normality’ versus neurodiversity. During the speech, Twitter was awash with messages of support and admiration for her openness and encouragement.

The conversation captured here is a continuation of the discussion started by Delahunty’s speech and the article that followed in Resolution’s The Review by this interviewer, Charlotte Plowman of Family Law Partners. We explore where links can be made between our separate but interdependent professions of barristers and solicitors and how we might widen the conversation around neurodiversity beyond the family law field.

Subsequent to these events, Delahunty chose to undergo psychiatric assessment to demonstrate, by deed, that there was no shame attached to being assessed. She was diagnosed with ICD-11, 6AO5.2 Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Combined Presentation (symptoms of inattentiveness and hyperactivity/impulsivity).

This is the first professional forum to make that diagnosis public; as Delahunty says, ‘One has to lead by example if I say there should be no stigma attached to being neurodivergent at the Bar.’

What is it about the culture at the Bar that embeds preconceptions and myths about neurodiversity and did this lead you to feel you were better off not speaking openly about your neurodivergence?

Stigma and silence around neurodiversity in wider society is present in the Bar’s history and culture, but ignorance about its prevalence is exacerbated by our isolated working practices. As self-employed practitioners, while we join forces by working collectively via chambers, we are rarely together physically; moreover, remote or hot desking is the new norm and we move from case to case in different parts of the country with different colleagues. Isolated working practices mean that barristers create their own work adjustments or coping strategies, honed over years, that become their ‘normal’. We are not very good at recognising, let alone applauding, the things that make us different.

When the pandemic forced me to go paperless, I realised just how rigid my case preparation process was. It was a struggle to make the transition, particularly in the context of what I now know to be my ADHD mental construct. The need to change to be able to work effectively digitally forced me to deconstruct my prep technique. Marking up papers by flagging them up in a tab or colour format only I could understand was a winning process ingrained into my silk DNA. Paper, working on it physically, was my intellectual ‘comfort blanket’. Looking back, I can see it as instinctual adjustment to a neurodivergent me. 

I have only recently realised that neurodivergent conditions are present in my family (and even more recently been diagnosed with ADHD myself). When I looked for people to talk to about neurodiversity at the Bar I found few to none publicly at my practice level and I could not believe this to be the case in reality. I felt it needed to be brought into the open for discussion. 

Did your work on bullying at the Bar inspire you to highlight neurodiversity with the aim of forging a more inclusive and accepting culture?

Having already broached other uncomfortable topics for the Bar, it seemed right to discuss this one – to start a conversation around it. 

We pride ourselves on our individuality at the self-employed Bar. The Bar welcomes individuality. It is what marks us out for instruction. My skill set is different to my peers. Neurodiversity manifests itself in many ways – I now know my ADHD screams out in my way of working. At the Bar, many of us might be considered ‘odd’ in our ways and what we take on as part of our working world. We don 18th century outfits, most of us have no safety net of a minimum wage, sick pay or pension, we do not know what we will be doing from one week to the next, we are judged on our last performance and fear the one bad case that could unravel a decade of hard won reputation. We work alone. We often have no in-house work reviews. We judge ourselves and our colleagues judge our performance (as does the Bench!). 

It’s a stress-charged, lonely life for many and the way we prep a case is largely hidden from view. 

If 1 in 7 people might be neurodivergent, my point is that the perception of the Bar (and of the skills needed to be a part of it) needs to change to fit reality. We can and should recognise that many of our ways of working are already suited to varying neurodivergences; that we are already here, just quiet or (as I was for many years) oblivious to our neurodivergence and neurodivergent needs. We can publicise this variety, diversity and flexibility. By doing that we promote reasonable adjustments, acceptance and understanding of neurodiversity.

For example, for those who suffer from anxiety, video conferences might help to alleviate much of the ‘white noise’ associated with travel and security. In the family field and in public law in particular, I am grateful that there is an especial awareness of vulnerability born from the nature of work undertaken. However, this needs to be widespread across the professions. We must think more critically about our working ‘norms’ and be prepared to question and adjust them. The profession needs to support and publicise flexible ways of working and all the different ways of working at the Bar so as not to lose talent from those who do not fit the traditional image of wearing a wig and dashing off to the Old Bailey. Adjustments clearly cannot come at the cost of compromising a client’s case but that’s a long way down the road from making reasonable adjustments that get the best from the lawyer to the better advantage of the client.

To forge a more accepting Bar, education is necessary and reasonable adjustments for those with neurodiverse needs must be adopted. I believe these issues need to be raised and a more receptive forum can emerge. We aren’t starting from scratch. We need to champion organisations such as Neurodiversity in Law and (Dis)Ability at the Bar who have done brilliant work, notably with juniors signposting the way ahead for those in a position of power to change traditional practices.

Why did you choose the Resolution conference as the forum to acknowledge neurodiversity?

I have spoken publicly and frankly about taboos in my industry, whether that be poor mental health, barriers on entry to and progression at the Bar, its lack of social, ethnic and gender diversity, sexual harassment and bullying. The reactions from, not just the Bar, but the wider legal profession, the press and public have been overwhelming at times in terms of volume but, without exception, supportive. This is different. I don’t see talking about neurodiversity as a confronting a ‘problem’. This is about being proud of who you are, how your brain works, and encouraging others to value diversity and individuality. 

I talked at Resolution about the emerging awareness in my family about the prevalence of neurodivergent conditions within us (one adult daughter was diagnosed as being autistic and having ADHD; the other strongly suspects she is autistic) and my surprise at learning my kids had long thought that I was a classic ADHD candidate alongside my own awareness of my dyscalculia and dyslexia. I was not prepared for the reaction from the audience (especially the younger members) in speaking out about this growing awareness and celebration of it. I hadn’t realised it would be so empowering for juniors to hear someone as old (and senior) as I was embracing our neurodivergent community.

Intersectionality is the norm for the society we serve and all should be made to feel welcome in our profession so that it has every combination of characteristics and skills. Speaking at the Resolution conference gave me a golden opportunity to speak about our collective experience and needs as lawyers. I think the reception I received is evidence of the hunger to work creatively, collaboratively and openly to achieve change. 

What has been the reception since and how did you feel after the speech?

I was genuinely moved and delighted that my speech was received with so much enthusiasm. The message appeared to resonate with so many delegates and with the online and legal Twitter community. There is a clear desire, particularly for juniors within the legal professions, both barristers and solicitors, to talk about issues surrounding neurodiversity and to speak up if there is a problem. Seniors and employers must be supportive of this and enable the conversation to develop and establish appropriate working practices to cater for and embrace our individual needs.

Why is it important to debunk the preconceptions and ill-informed thinking that some people have around neurodiversity?

After the conference I decided that, if I was to be true to my word; if I meant what I said to my daughters (and the Resolution audience) about not viewing a neurodivergent diagnosis as a ‘burden’, then I ought to put myself forward for professional assessment to know the psychiatric ‘truth’ about my own functioning. It almost didn’t matter if I was or was not identified as neurodivergent as a result – it was about demonstrating, by being prepared to put myself in the psychiatric arena for analysis, that there was nothing to be ashamed of in saying ‘Am I?’ and, if so, then ‘Hello’ to learning more about the way my brain functions.

I now know that I have ADHD manifesting in a combination of inattentiveness and hyperactivity/impulsivity. That makes so much sense to me now – how I switch off entirely from things that don’t interest me (like numbers and finances), how I dive deep into the areas that fascinate me (such as medical records and human life), how my brain is an intrusive, noisy, busy, hectic organ and the only way to switch it off is to do something that absolutely engrosses (simultaneously) eye, hand and brain (silver smithing, throwing pots, drawing) and crowds out intrusive work thoughts, how I get so easily distracted by non-essential/interesting tasks etc. It also explains my very particular case prep methods (and that’s a subject for a whole different conversation!). 

I hope that my openness about my diagnosis is a demonstration of how being neurodivergent is nothing to hide. I hope it shows that a person with ADHD can be successful in the legal world. I hope it will encourage others to learn about it, to be open minded about it and for colleagues with ADHD and other neurodivergent conditions to be proud of themselves and more confident to ‘go public’ with it, should they wish.

I wish for those with neurodiversity to unashamedly see what that positively offers in terms of their skill sets and to know they can add value to the Bar by claiming it and not hiding it. I want to challenge the preconceptions and myths of what it takes to work at the Bar.

Do you feel your individual components and neurodiversity make you a better barrister?

I can now answer this with more insight following my diagnosis. My neurodiversity doesn’t make me a ‘better’ barrister. It makes me JDKC and I’m successful as JDKC. My ADHD means I hyperfocus. I concentrate intensely for long periods of time (working for hours without pause, not breaking to go to the loo or get a cup of tea). I zone out from outside world/distractions. My brain is at its best in these times. I can make intellectual and conceptual leaps between facts; they literally move like some mental mind game from their place in the papers written by others to the place they will find in the case as I reframe it. My ADHD means I am massively motivated by short deadlines and short-term goals like trial performance. That works with my court-based life as a barrister and performance life as a public speaker. I now know that ‘hyperfocus’ often happens if the individual is doing a job that they enjoy and find interesting. While hyperfocusing, the person can improve their performance, meaning they work even more efficiently. This process allows them to complete a task without any distractions, and the outcome is often of great quality. I’d like to think that’s the case with me. 

In our working world communication is an essential skill – especially, I would say, in my field of family law. For example, in my public law work I have to be able to build rapport with vulnerable clients, whether they be a teenager who has been sexually abused or a father with a profound learning disability and addiction issues. The skills used to engage with them will differ to those called upon when talking to a highly educated, wealthy parent in a private law case. A large menu of communication skills is needed to gain trust and respect. Being neurodiverse aware and coming from a underrepresented background with disability in it has often enabled me to spot undiagnosed difficulties in my clients and to seek out formal assessment of them. In some cases that can be a game changer. It is fascinating to see how learning difficulties or neurodiverse needs go undetected for so long with many people developing a ‘cloak of competence’ to fit in. 

As lawyers we work with all sectors of society and being more diverse in our own make-up will undoubtedly benefit those we serve by turning ‘them and us’ into ‘we’ as we work in a team to secure the best outcome.

Being diagnosed a neurodivergent late in life is becoming far more common, particularly for women who don’t ‘present’ as per the Dustin Hoffman Rainman trope and are extremely skilled and self-taught ‘maskers’ or ‘mimics’ due to their powerful observational abilities. I was prompted to get tested after my daughter was diagnosed with ADHD and autism which are both heritable. I am in the privileged position of being firmly established in my field. I have status, authority and accolades. It’s far less of a challenge for me to be open about my own ADHD and see what response that brings than it is for an aspiring pupil or junior barrister just starting out to speak about their status. Let’s see what conversation this brings about. 

Finally, what is your takeaway for the Bar, and how does this all fit into a wider landscape of kindness, inclusivity and courtesy?

Organisations and individuals must challenge their traditional ways of working in a post-pandemic landscape. We should all feel able to bring our authentic selves to work (and wider society) without fear of criticism or adverse judgement. The need for everyone to be treated as individuals and with kindness across the entire legal sector is obvious and it is a message that must be championed.

The message I’d like to send out via this conversation is that now, more than ever, we must take steps to foster our individual and collective wellbeing. We must endeavour to actively widen our pool of lawyers by including all members of society and close the diversity and inclusion gap. Those with recruitment responsibilities must recognise their non-delegable duty to welcome those from underrepresented backgrounds or attributes.

Together we must respect, welcome and recognise our individuality and what we can learn from one another to create a truly diverse profession, all while ensuring that our communications are kind, thoughtful and reflective. 

  • Neurodiversity covers a wide range of neurological conditions (hidden and visible) including but not limited to Autism Spectrum (incorporating what was formerly known as Asperger’s), Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, ADHD and Tourette’s.
  • Related conditions, often but not always co-occurring, include anxiety, low self-esteem and depression.
  • If 1 in 7 people are estimated to be neurodivergent, how many are living under the radar or undiagnosed at the Bar?
13-19 March 2023A worldwide initiative challenging misconceptions about neurological differences and recognising the many talents and advantages of being neurodivergent:

World Autism Acceptance Week runs from 27 March­-2 April 2023:


Neurodiversity in Law was set up in 2020 to promote, support and destigmatise neurodiversity in the legal professions. It is marking Neurodiversity Celebration Week with a mix of in-person and remote events focusing on neurodivergent achievement – past, present and future: see


Bringing [Dis]Ability to the Bar (BDABar) is a group run by and for disabled aspiring barristers working to dismantle barriers affecting disabled aspiring barristers & improve accessibility at the Bar.


Further reading

'Neurodiversity and the Bar', Oliver May, Counsel March 2022 

Neurodiversity and pupillage recruitment’, Roxy Lackschewitz-Martin, Counsel August 2022


Other sources of information and support include: