Law firms spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to safeguard confidential client information. From disclosure contracts to encryption codes, it’s vital that law firms protect its most important documents and strategies. However, when it comes to the physical protection of employees, law firms are surprisingly ill equipped.
This month, five peopled died in Arizona after a disgruntled man went on a shooting spree that targeted his ex-wife’s divorce attorney and friends and family who supported their legal separation. Sadly, this is not the only incident of its kind.
The National Law Journal reported the aforementioned tragedy and also identified four other attorney fatalities that were caused by unhappy exes unhappy with the verdict.
“Family law attorneys reacted to the news of Shelley’s death with sadness, but not surprise. At least five family law attorneys have been killed or violently attacked by clients’ ex-spouses since February 2010, and the recent deaths have highlighted the safety risks they face.”
Unlike corporate or patent litigation, family law is personal. As such, family law attorneys experience more than their fair share of work-related violence. Unlike criminal court, imprisonment cannot estrange family law attorneys from the losing party’s (or bitter ex’s) desire for revenge.
“There’s a saying that in criminal court, you have bad people at their best,” said Texas Supreme Court Judge Debra Lehrmann, who spent more than 20 years as a family court judge. “In family law, you get good people at their worst. In criminal court, dangerous people are in handcuffs. In family court, you don’t have any idea who is dangerous.”
Family law deals with particularly emotional plaintiffs, but it’s not the only law practice to see erratic clients or experience dangerous environments. Threats to lawyers can be quite common. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to track the number of work-related fatalities or frequency of violence against attorneys today, as there is yet to be an organization to record or trend such data.
In the meantime, there are security measures—like a good internet firewall—that can protect your firm. Consider the following:
- The receptionist is the first point of contact. Send him or her to security training so they can learn how to appropriately diffuse potentially dangerous situations.
- Install a security system in the office that works with badges or buzzers to ensure limited or no access for unwanted guests.
- Do not ignore threatening phone calls or letters. Immediately report incidents to police so measures can be taken in a timely way.
- Include a security section in your associate handbook. Ideas for drafting employee handbooks are offered by C4CM here.
- Finally, know the names and faces of all your employees and encourage associates to greet each and every person in the office—from firm partners to paralegals to mail staff. This will train your employees to question any unfamiliar presence and hopefully prevent possible crises and, worst of all, attorney fatalities.