Is Being a Lawyer a Dangerous Job?

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Two prosecutors in Kaufman County, Texas, have been killed in the past two months. A deputy district attorney was murdered two months ago. Two days ago, the elected district attorney was killed, along with his wife. The New York Times has the story here. It’s not completely clear that the two murders were related, though it seems likely. Investigators have not identified any specific suspects, though the possibility of white supremacist involvement has received considerable media attention.

Dangers of being a prosecutor. These awful events led the Times to run a story entitled Prosecutors Are at Risk, But Security Is Limited. The story notes that “[m]aking people angry is an occupational hazard of being a prosecutor,” and that’s certainly true. Almost every prosecutor I know has a story – or several stories – about being threatened or confronted by a defendant. Although most threats are empty, some are not: the story states that, according to the National District Attorneys Association, 13 prosecutors have been murdered in the past 50 years. Prosecutors, I would be interested in your comments about how safe or unsafe you feel, and whether there are additional security measures that you believe are needed.

Dangers of being an attorney generally. Although not addressed by the Times story, prosecutors are not the only attorneys at risk. Criminal defense attorneys are sometimes attacked by disgruntled clients, though I couldn’t find any statistical data on point. Being a family lawyer appears to be hazardous, as this National Law Journal story reports that “[a]t least five family law attorneys [were] killed or violently attacked by clients’ ex-spouses” between February 2010 and June 2011.

No organization appears to track violent crimes committed against lawyers generally because of their work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics published this data about “occupational homicides” between 1997 and 2010. It’s confusing because the BLS changed how it defines different professions around 2003, but as I read it, over 13 years, there were approximately 16 “occupational homicides” of lawyers, about six of which were committed by “robbers and other assailants” and about six of which were committed by “customer[s or] client[s].” (See page 18 and compare to data on page 5 in light of the footnotes on page 175.)

Comparison to other professions. All of the numbers above are much lower than the homicide numbers for law enforcement officers and taxicab drivers, two of the most dangerous professions. Several hundred of each were killed on the job over the same 13-year period. But the comparative safety of most lawyers’ workplaces is cold comfort to those most at risk.

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