August 2017Volume 105Number 8Page 12

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Staying safe out there

Before there was cybersecurity there was…security. Are you as safe in your office - and your home - as you should be?

Attorneys have an ethical obligation to keep their client files safe and confidential. Locked filing cabinets, encrypted data storage, limiting staff access to files and sensitive documents, among other methods, are frequently used to fulfill these obligations.

But in these days of political polarization and angry confrontation, more attorneys are thinking about their own personal safety and security. There are many scenarios where an attorney or office staffer could be at risk. Lawyers who work at night may risk nighttime office invasions or being mugged on the way to their car. Lawyers who practice in areas that could generate disgruntled clients (or opposing parties) may also have greater personal security needs.

Those needs may include protecting their families. For example, Illinois and the nation were shocked when federal district Judge Joan Lefkow's husband and mother were murdered by a disgruntled litigant in 2005. So, what can be done?

Office (and home) safety tips

There are many approaches to office security. Many attorneys have stopped taking walk-in consultations with potential clients. In some situations, it may be too difficult to tell a harmless indigent person from someone dangerous. By setting specific appointments, attorneys can eliminate random walk-in consultations and, ideally, pre-screen potential clients before committing to meeting.

Physical security measures are useful for more than protecting client information. Not every practitioner has access to a high-rise building with a security desk and keycard entry. Locked front doors and buzzer entry can be a simple way to stop random individuals from wandering into an office.

Another useful approach is to have a reception area that acts as a barrier to access to the inner offices. If you don't have a receptionist and can't see the front door, installing a security camera that allows you to monitor the door from your computer is an inexpensive solution.

Offices that use security systems can also have panic buttons installed under desks and in other discreet locations. These allow people to alert security services of a problem without being obvious.

One thing many practitioners do not consider is personal safety for themselves and their families when not at the office. As the Lefkow case illustrates, determined individuals can often find out where you live.

However, you can take steps to minimize this risk. If you still have a landline phone at home, make sure the number is unlisted. If you're concerned about people searching public records to find your address, it may be wise to keep your property in a land trust.

Many social media websites will tag your posts with a location. You can turn this function off in the settings. But once information is on the internet, it's almost impossible to completely remove it. Being judicious about what you say and do online is a best practice for information security. As our lives and devices become increasingly connected to each other, limiting the spread of personally identifiable information is both increasingly important and difficult.


These concerns aren't new. In the wake of the tragic deaths of Judge Lefkow's mother and husband, The John Marshall Center for Information Technology and Privacy Law and the Chicago Bar Association's Privacy Task Force, along with Leslie Ann Reis, published a guide called "Protecting Your Personal Privacy: A Self-Help Guide For Judges And Their Families" (

The guide was written in 2006, and some of the information may be dated 11 years later. However, many of its recommendations are still apt. For example, using a post office box or a facility like a UPS Store is a good way to protect your home address. Using strong passwords can help protect your information online.

The Kaufman Law Group, PLLC, based in Vienna, VA, has published resources online for attorneys who want to ramp up their office and personal security ( Some of the tips may seem a bit extreme, but they highlight the lengths to which one can go to stay safe. While not everyone will end up checking their car door handles for rogue razor blades (see at number 12), training staff to not give out personal information or disclose your location to strangers is a good practice.

The New Hampshire Bar published a guide to law office safety in 2010 ( It echoes many of the above recommendations, including a valuable primer on managing aggression and defusing tense situations. recently published an article about lawyer safety ( It states that only 24 percent of respondents to an online poll said their office had a security plan.

The important takeaway - have some kind of plan for you and your staff. Act now, not after the fact, when it might be too late.

Matthew Hector
Matthew Hector is a senior associate at Woerthwein & Miller.

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