Keeping your firm and home safe
Lawyers and law firms easily become targets of criminals, if they aren't careful. From scammers out for trust funds, and touts aiming to sue people on someone else's unknowing behalf, to thieves and robbers out to use slight of hand, or force to get what they aren't entitled to.
The location of every law practice is conveniently available to the public via law society listings. Firms also often list in the phone book and online. It is a part of doing business.
Whether a well equipped office, or more often than not, the actual home of the attorney, a law office often makes a tempting morsel for people with no respect for others' property rights.
Against scammers and touts, secure ways of operating and verifying clients can be developed. I have written on that before.
When it comes to robbery, and in the case of some colleagues, attempted murder by for instance a despondent opponent, certain measures are essential for safety.
1) Have office doors which lock, and lock separately from a lockable front gate and reception area which can be locked down and restricted. Just as submarines are designed to keep water from spreading in a sinking ship, your offices should be designed to minimise a criminal's ability to proceed. Lock your front gate. Lock your entry area. Lock your waiting area. Lock your office door; people can knock on it and announce who they are to gain entry.
2) Be cautious about walk-in clients. You can't take on a client anyway without FICAing them, so only give walk-in clients and couriers and document servers limited access to your premises. Give prospective clients the details on how to set up an appointment with you, and make sure any appointment isn't same day.
3) When leaving the office, always be aware of your surroundings.
3.1) Park your car at somewhat safer parking areas near court. Check every single door and the boot (USA: trunk) are locked. A jamming device may well just affect one door's lock.
3.2) Leave a hijacking gap in front of you on any trip to the inner city: at least a car's space when stopped.
3.3) Some attorneys carry guns when going into town and then store them with court security. Many have been spared hijackings and robberies in this fashion.
3.4) Don't flash about valuables or be too distracted by your phone when about town. Plan your trip and walking route ahead of time, so you know where you are going. Scout out places you haven't been before, so that you are not distracted when you go.
3.5) Travel in groups where possible, especially when in city centres.
3.6) Don't lift your feet too high off the ground when walking, studies show that looking for people who lift their feet higher when walking is how criminals often identify potential marks who are less likely to fight them.
3.7) Stand up straight when walking and imagine you are someone important. Confidence makes you a less likely mark.
3.8) Don't puff yourself up when walking in bad areas. Locate your locus of self closer to the ground, with good balance on your feet. Walk with purpose, and be aware of potential weapons such as rocks on the ground, and of the location of the nearest police officer.
3.9) Be very aware of your surroundings. Use nearby glass and your view of shadows to make sure no one is following you. Lazily look around every now and again. If someone is following you, try to lose them.
3.10) Learn how to use your pilot's bag or other equipment as a weapon in the event of an attack.
3.11) Have a separate wallet for when you go in to town. Keep your driver's licence in your pocket. Too many have lost their identity documents, driver's or credit cards to theft and robbery. Don't be the fat seal the shark wants: carry the minimum.
3.12) Always look around before getting into your car. Also check nothing is leaking and no one has tampered with it. I am far from the only attorney to have suffered having got into a sabotaged car.
3.13) Encrypt and back up your cellular phone and if possible, your laptop. That way, you only lose their trade value upon theft.
3.14) Listen to your gut, even if it means being rude or offish to people you meet in the street. Make sure no one distracts you or bumps into you so as to allow another to walk off with your property.
3.14.1) Human traffickers often for instance advertise jobs in the city centre, and kidnap the vulnerable. This modus operandi has been adapted by criminals in the past. If you are meeting someone in the city centre, make sure they are who you believe they are, and check up on the place you are meeting them at. Listen to your gut if it says to avoid an area or person or place.
3.14.2) Be aware when getting into lifts, as well as at places where a lot of people are. Often things can happen in a crowd, with no witnesses. Cases of abduction often occur at train stations and public parks according to police. Likewise, avoid overly deserted places.
3.15) There is a place to have an animated and focussed conversation on your phone: home, your office, or a restaurant. Have your full wits about you when nearby courts. Don't put your phone on the table at restaurants, keep it in your pocket. Keep any bag where you control it, not hanging on a chair or behind you.
3.16) Be careful not to be too helpful, stay aware at all times.
3.17) Keep valuables in an inner jacket pocket, not the back pocket of your trousers. Keep your jacket on you.
4) A good private security company is an important asset to employ the services of. Have a working panic button with you and with each employee in the office, which they can carry on their person.
5) Try to run a cash free premises. Have clients deposit directly into your account, EFT, or use a card or app based point of service system.
6) Put your client files behind lock and key.
7) Always make sure you are in control of your premises. Limit the amount of non-staff people there at any time, and don't let people access your actual office without an appointment. No one should get past whatever you deem to be reception unless they are an expected guest. By the same standard, have your clients inform you ahead of time if they are bringing anyone with them. Stories of twenty people coming to console a client make good party chit chat, but also mean you have entirely lost control of the security of the offices.
8) Compare your client in person to their FICA photo ID. Don't let someone in who does not look like your client does in your records, unless they can prove events which justify their change in appearance.
In the end of the day, avoiding becoming the next target is about making yourself a less appetizing target, and more difficult to hit than the firm or person next to you. No one can be entirely safe, but there are precautions you can take to make sure you are safer.
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