I had something scary happen a few weeks ago. So scary, I didn’t even really talk about it. But I have been thinking about what I can do to prevent it from happening again.
I was leaving the downtown courthouse after a particularly contentious hearing. I represented mom, who had told me that dad was a violent abuser when they were married. We even had the deputies arrange the whole separate exits thing.
When I left, though, I noticed dad standing on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse. I crossed the street and headed to my car. Unfortunately, that was a busy morning at the courthouse and the garage right next to it was full when I arrived. I had parked about 4 blocks away.
As I walked to my car, I realized dad was about 20 feet behind me. Not only that, he stayed 20 feet behind me for the entire walk to my car.
It was horribly intimidating, knowing this man’s history and knowing he was right behind me. I got to my car safely and went on my way. But the whole thing was a wake up call. This wasn’t the first incident like that this year.
I’ve ultimately decided to no longer take on divorce or child custody cases, and to withdraw from the majority of my pending cases. My children do not deserve the risk this work involves.
Does this fit into my why?
I didn’t become a lawyer to worry about whether or not I would come home at night. I don’t own my own firm to purposefully put myself in harm’s way – in fact, I purposefully started my own firm so that I would have more time with my kids – or at least more flexibility of time with my kids. I had to really think about what was more important to me – representing clients in a particular area of practice, or knowing that there is higher likelihood of me returning home safely.
This is bigger than just me
The fact that I’m changing up my business and stopping a particular practice area (divorce and child custody) because of these incidents makes me mad. It particularly makes me mad that somehow, we as a society, have tacitly said it is ok for men to intimidate or terrorize women. It makes me incredibly angry that I felt unsafe walking in broad daylight, in a populated area of town. The very fact that we have courthouse protocols for this behavior lets me know how often it occurs.
I’m also angry on behalf of my clients. I can’t be the only attorney out there who isn’t willing to risk personal safety to engage with crazy, threatening people. But if attorneys aren’t willing to stand up to abusers, how will women get their day in court? How will they get justice and protection?
I’m adding this in for those readers who want some practice steps. These are things I do to increase my personal safety.
As a guardian ad litem, I am often required to visit people’s homes. I have a number of things that are part of my safety protocol in doing this: I rarely visit new places after dark. I never visit people I have never met before after dark. I always put the names of the child I am visiting and the address of the home in my google calendar so my husband can access my planned location if for some reason I don’t come home when planned. I always use maps on my cell, and keep my location services turned on, so that theoretically I can be traced. I always take my phone inside with me. And I always let my husband know when I plan to be home.
At Juvenile Court, after an incident in the summer, I changed where I park. I talked to the security people and the deputies and determined the best location to park so that I am always on camera. This lets me know that even if I am surprised by a disgruntled opposing party or client, I am always on camera – and help should be on the way. Inside the courthouse, there are always deputies on hand, and they take their job of protecting the public and eliminating mayhem very seriously.
I am no longer working divorce and child custody cases. I AM still working in the areas of intellectual property, trademarks, copyrights, contracts and small business advice and consultation. I am also accepting juvenile court appointments.
These incidents, together, have been a huge lesson in letting go of what no longer serves me, and knowing as a business owner that it is okay to say no to certain types of cases and work. There are lots of other people who can and will say yes to this representation.