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Violence Against Attorneys

Two wooden chairs in a waiting room with a clock hanging on the wall above them

August 11, 2017

Lawyers in criminal and family law are the most likely to encounter a problem, and typically it will be someone who has suffered a substantial loss and blames an attorney – his or her own, or an adversary’s. How attorneys respond to the threat of violence varies, says Stephen Kelson, a Utah litigator/mediator and one of the few people in the U.S. who has systematically studied the issue.  He got interested in the subject more than two decades ago, after serving with a South African organization that was making a presentation about the treatment of lawyers to the government’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and since that time he has written about the issue and done surveys in 25 U.S. states. Some attorneys will talk to a counselor, he says. Some, notably in the Southwest, go out and get a gun. Some will “puff up” and threaten in return, but that, he warns, can make the problem worse. His suggestions include being careful about where you list your home address and giving some thought to basic security when you decide how to configure your office. His overriding recommendation, however, is to avoid dangerous situations in the first place by declining, or withdrawing from, cases that look problematic.

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