Is the Practice of Law Dangerous?

We don’t make the list of most dangerous professions, but, nevertheless, lawyering is a dangerous business.

In Columbia, SC, the names of more than a dozen prosecutors who have been murdered in connection with their jobs are listed at the National Prosecutor Memorial. These attorneys’ lives are publicly honored with a memorial because, as prosecutors, they represented the people.

Wait, prosecutors don’t really represent the people – they represent the government. Criminal defense lawyers, family court attorneys, and plaintiff’s lawyers represent the people.

Where is the memorial for the dozens of other attorneys who have been murdered by disgruntled litigants, rival attorneys, and defendants’ angry family members? Their stories appear briefly in the news and then fade from the public memory…

Trigger Happy Civil Defendant Shoots Plaintiff’s Attorney

The latest story involves an 80-year-old man charged in the shooting death of a Kansas City attorney.

Police say David Jungerman shot and killed attorney Tom Pickert. Pickert had represented a homeless man who sued Jungerman for shooting and wounding him while he was on Jungerman’s property him in 2012. A jury ordered Jungerman to pay his victim $5.75 million.

Jungerman allegedly shot three other people on his property in 2012, and he was recently being held without bond for shooting at yet another man he suspected of stealing from him.

I don’t know if David Jungerman has a mental illness diagnosis, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that a man who is accused of shooting six people in separate incidents may be a bit unstable. He was also probably enraged at having to pay out millions of dollars in a lawsuit.

High Stakes, High Emotions, High Risk

In this sense, Jungerman is the perfect example of why being an attorney is dangerous. Personal injury attorneys make a lot of enemies, and many defendants feel threatened and desperate when they lose in court and are forced to pay damages.

Family court attorneys represent people during what may be the most emotionally charged moments in their lives. In that highly volatile environment, the attorney, on behalf of their client, may be trying to take the other spouse’s children away from them, deny them visitation, or take away their property.

Criminal defense attorneys represent people who may be accused of violent behavior, may be mentally ill and may be facing long prison sentences. This isn’t the only concern, however – in many cases, I fear more from the alleged victims or other witnesses in our criminal cases…

A lot of people only deal with attorneys when something has gone very wrong. They are involved in a child custody dispute, divorce, or bankruptcy – intensely stressful situations that tend to bring out the worst in many people.

Some angry clients are so bent on punishing an attorney that they put anyone who works at a law firm in danger – for example, a law clerk who was about to start law school was shot and killed at the firm where he worked in Minnesota. The shooter, a disgruntled client, mistook the clerk for the attorney who represented him.

Powder-keg Situations Often Lead to Threats on Attorneys

Of course, none of this is news to attorneys. We know that our jobs put us at risk of violence.

For example, more than a third of attorneys in Michigan say they have been threatened or physically attacked at least once, according to a survey.

Attorney Stephen Kelson, who conducted the survey as part of his years-long study of violence against lawyers, says attorneys who practice criminal or family law are most at risk.

“When you talk about people in conflict, emotions run highest when it’s a matter of life, liberty, or property. They lose control.”

However, Kelson says it’s important to note that all attorneys – even those involved in “boring” areas such as corporate or real estate law – face threats and attacks.

During his study of the problem, Kelson has heard about a wide variety of non-lethal attacks on attorneys, including:

  • A dead deer and several gutted animals were tossed into an attorney’s yard;
  • In court, a client handed an attorney a bullet and told him there was another with his name on it;
  • An angry litigant shot a hunting rifle into an attorney’s office;
  • An attorney working on drug cases was put under surveillance by a defendant’s associates.

SC Criminal Defense Lawyer in Myrtle Beach, Columbia, and Lexington

Criminal defense and DUI defense attorney Lacey Thompson only accepts SC criminal defense cases in the Columbia, Lexington, Conway, and Myrtle Beach SC areas. Call at 843-444-6122 or fill out our online contact form if you have questions or to set up a free initial consultation.

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