Accepting and mitigating vulnerability
We are all born human, with an expiry date we cannot know. We can hurry life along – indulging, risking, self-harming – but we cannot prolong it. At best, we can live every day to its fullest and try our best not to shorten life’s journey. If we’re really lucky, that insight comes early enough to make a difference. Whether it does or not, there is one truth we cannot escape: in the blink of an eye, our life can change.
Two lawyers and a Quebec notaire had their lives impaired or shortened for reasons beyond their control this past month. Maria Mitousis in Manitoba was assaulted by an exploding package sent by a client’s ex-spouse, forever impacting her own life and those of her friends, family and colleagues. In Terrebonne, Quebec, lawyer Benoit Cote and bystanding notaire Marie-Josée Sills were shot and killed by a vengeful ex-client. The dark holes of that impact are hard to imagine.
Which brings me to two big questions: Do you understand the risks of your job? And are you taking steps to mitigate them?
I am not an alarmist – I believe in the good in people, and I believe there are very few circumstances where one of us will hurt another. But I am also a pragmatist and realist. I know that lawyers are in a position that is both strong and weak in our society – strong in the sense that little of consequence in personal, business or government matters is formally decided or enacted without the assistance of a lawyer; and weak in the sense that there is general hostility and anxiety related to the need to rely on a third party – a lawyer – to intervene and deal with these matters that mean so much to people. What a conundrum for those in law. And what a position of personal risk.
So here’s the bottom line: some people may not like what you do. Worse, some people who don’t like what you do may become mentally fixated, unbalanced and/or directly harmful to you, your staff or your family. The most recent assaults were related to family law and business/solicitor matters, but no lawyer is immune to possible harm from a disgruntled client, opposing party or unrelated critic. You have likely known that for a long time, but with these attacks I hope you have a clearer sense of what it really means.
CBABC has a webpage dedicated to tips about security, but here is some basic advice:
- Consider an unlisted phone number and address, especially if you practice in a contentious area of law.
- Be careful about your privacy settings on social media (and advise your family members the same).
- Take basic physical security steps at work and home, including deadbolts/security systems, use well-lit parking areas, and have procedures in place at work and home for dealing with suspicious packages.
- Always carry a cell phone. If you think you might have reason to be concerned, make sure your family members do too.
- Avoid the temptation to get vanity car plates that identify you or your occupation. Many bar associations list that as one of their first risk factors for harm.
- Talk to someone if your gut/intuition tells you a person may be a risk to you or your family. Don’t wait for more facts to “build your case.”
The recent traumatic events were very case-specific but there is no question that they have served as a useful reminder to think hard about our own vulnerabilities, both at work and home. From all of us at CBABC: take good care.