This weekend a local solo attorney was stabbed 12 times in her office. (ABA Journal news article) Fortunately she is recovering, but these are the kinds of stories that scare the *insert expletive here* out of me. It’s almost too scary to think about. I’m already paranoid enough about my security, probably more than most people, so these kinds of things that make me want to delete all information about me on the internet, buy an advanced security system, and get a large dog.
What it really makes me question is working from home. I’ve heard people say that you should never ever disclose the fact that you work from home. I don’t have any illusions about privacy online (nor do I blog anonymously), and it’s sort of unavoidable on a blog like this that I wouldn’t mention my work environment. In fact, it’s sort of the main premise here. On the other hand, even though I say I work from home, I’m not that I’m actually home all that much, between networking, meeting clients, and my other part-time editing job. In that respect, I might actually be safer than anyone else who is home more than me (homemaker, retired). But that must be wrong, because isn’t home usually safer than many other places you might go during the day? I’m quite sure than I’m safer at home than when I’m walking to work downtown.
Furthermore, I’ve felt a bit disingenuous when people assume I work in a traditional office, or when I “hide” my working from home. Not that I feel like any less of a lawyer for not doing the traditional thing, but I think it’s important for people to have an accurate perception of you in order to have a clear business identity.
Thus, I think the issue is less about location and more about being alone and in a profession where we might make people angry, or in any field where you might have a disgruntled customer. (The attorney mentioned above was working in her office, not at home, but she was alone). Here’s what we should be thinking about:
First of all, you should carefully evaluate the kind of customers, clients, or opposing parties that you might be dealing with. If I practiced family law or criminal law, working from home would be out of the question for me. Estate planning is usually pretty non-confrontational, and that was a significant factor in my decision not to pursue an office lease. Even if you don’t work from home, some jobs can be dangerous enough to warrant extra precautions in your off-time.
Second, evaluate your environment. I’m much more secure in my condo than in a single family home, plus there are a lot more people around. How friendly are you with your neighbors? Are they home during the day? How well can they see or hear what is going on at your house? Do you have business contacts or family that you speak with regularly during the day who would notice if you aren’t in touch with them or might be coming to your house regularly?
Third, be careful about what information you disclose. Understand that anyone can find you, but you can make it harder for them. Do you have another address to use for advertising and public listings? Privacy and safety were top priorities when deciding to get an “office presence,” and a place to meet clients is a nice incidental benefit. Can you opt out of listing your home address in other directories?
Fourth, what extra security precautions can you take? Home security systems? Location of your office in the house? A coworker has a prosecutor friend who got a police-trained German Shepherd. The dogs my family had growing up would have been useless against intruders, so if you’re considering a pet, look into the breed’s history and temperament (also understanding that may be a conflict with having children in the house, or maybe not – it depends on the breed). You could also consider them more of an early warning system than protection. If you have a gun, keep it handy; if you don’t, learn how to use one anyway. I sort of can’t believe I just said that since I’m scared of guns. To get around that fear, I’ve planned to take a gun safety class but have been putting it off. This news might be the motivation I need to do it.
Fifth — and this may be a minor/rare point but it’s what we can learn from the local incident — check your voicemail and email regularly when you’re alone. If someone is angry, they probably aren’t being very stealthy about their intent to come after you and there’s a chance that other people have been tipped off and may try to warn you. This is usually a crime of passion.
A final and important point: None of this is going to change anything if you have someone who is seriously intent on harming you. That’s why I put a question mark in the title of this post. But this is always true in life, so do what you can to protect yourself, err on the safe side, but don’t let it affect your quality of life worrying about every bad possibility.