Blakely at Judgment Day suggests that criminal defense lawyers are in a particularly dangerous profession:
Most people don’t think of the legal profession as a dangerous one. While many attorneys—especially those practicing criminal defense—have received threats from clients, more often than not it’s just empty talk. I think many attorneys become numb to threatening phone messages and letters, primarily because everything has worked out fine in the past.
Blakely then tells two stories of lawyers who are subject to threats and violence. In one of the stories from the Mercury News,
Xia Zhao, an attorney who was murdered by a man named Jason Cai. Zhao’s law firm was pursuing a wrongful death suit against Cai in the death of his wife. Cai had threatened Zhao and she had obtained a restraining order against him.
“I really don’t have a big part in the whole thing (the wrongful death suit against Cai)” and added, “If I walked away every time somebody threatened me, what kind of business would I have?”
Of course, business is rarely very good when you’re dead. But Zhao wasn’t a criminal defense lawyer, and Cai wasn’t her client.
Still, the assumption is that since criminal defense lawyers deal with criminals, and criminals are evil, violent people, we should be far more at risk than lawyers in other practice areas. Are we?
Not according to the Texas Tornado, Mark Bennett.
[W]e deal with (often) bad people on their best behavior; family lawyers, by contrast, deal with good people on their worst behavior. I’d bet that family lawyers and personal injury lawyers get more threats from their clients (and from opposing parties) than criminal defense lawyers.
I’m betting with Bennett. While many criminal defendants are angry, they recognize that we are the only people in the world who stand at the same table as them. They may hate the cops, the prosecutor and the judge, they don’t hate us. Sure, they express their frustration with the system to us, and they may get loud and yell on occasion when they have no other way to vent this frustration, but that’s because they know we are safe and won’t lock them up for being frustrated. After the catharsis, they remember why we’re here and for whom we stand.
That’s not to say that I’ve never been the target of a serious threat. It happened in 1990, when a person named Jamie Hunt confronted me in a hallway. He was armed and dangerous, and informed me in no uncertain terms that he was going to blow my head off. But for the interference of one of his “partners”, he would have done so.
Of course, Jamie Hunt was a DEA Agent, a member of DEA Group 33, and the incident happened in the hallway of New York DEA Headquarters. This happened just before we exposed DEA Group 33 (and Hunt in particular) as rogue agents, lying their way to convictions with fabricated evidence.
Back to the point, I think Bennett has nailed the issue quite well. While lawyers have long been the whipping boys of the public’s anger toward the legal system, and judges have lately been brought into the mix as well, I’ve never had the experience of clients threatening me or acting violently toward me. Indeed, one of my expectations of my clients is that they behave respectfully, and I’ve fired clients who find it difficult to do so.
This is not to say that other criminal defense lawyers have the same experience as me, but that it’s not a pervasive problem that is inherent in being a criminal defense lawyer. Perhaps any lawyer who seems to have serious issues with threatening clients needs to take a step back and ask himself what he’s doing that may be causing this problem. The occasional problem can happen, but if it reaches the point where you have to ask the question that Ms. Zhao did,
“If I walked away every time somebody threatened me, what kind of business would I have?”
Maybe the problem isn’t the client.