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The recent arrest of a former Hanson, Bridgett, Marcus, Vlahos & Rudy contract worker was an uncomfortable reminder for the San Francisco Bay Area legal community of the 1993 slayings of eight people at the now-defunct Pettit & Martin. The ex-Hanson Bridgett contractor was apprehended on a San Francisco MUNI bus with downloaded assassination materials in the same briefcase as a floor plan and an employee phone list for Hanson Bridgett. While employee violence in the workplace has become a regular occurrence in the United States, experts say that lawyers — in particular, family or employment lawyers — are at a heightened risk of being targeted by outsiders. Garry Mathiason, chairman of Littler Mendelson’s 40-lawyer workplace violence group, said that while all workplaces need to be concerned about disgruntled employees or former employees, lawyers have the additional problem of unhappy clients and plaintiffs. “Lawyers who deal with money and emotion, and are very involved in those disputes, are potential targets of threats and violence,” said Mathiason, who said his firm deals with about two threats each year from clients or plaintiffs. Firms across the Bay Area have acquired a heightened sensitivity to security issues. Steps they have taken include creating emergency response teams, adding receptionist panic buttons, offering workplace violence prevention training to all staff, and establishing innocuous-sounding code words, such as “Adam,” that trigger off-site security guards to respond. They’ve also increased surveillance cameras and limited access to offices. They’re also using outside specialists, ranging from psychologists expert at profiling dangerous individuals to professional security consultants who have the technology to sweep offices for hidden listening devices. Security consultant Art Lesser said smaller companies often don’t initiate security plans until an incident heightens vigilance. “You should close those holes before there’s an incident,” said Lesser, who’s worked as a security consultant for such firms as Fenwick & West, Cooley Godward and Littler Mendelson. Hanson Bridgett managing partner Douglas Barton said the firm had been planning to address security issues at some point, but that the contract worker incident kicked those plans into high gear. “There’s an initial instinct to be highly protective after something occurs, and then to get more relaxed,” said Barton. The former contractor, arrested May 9, was charged only with marijuana possession, but Barton said he’s now under pressure to implement a security system that makes the office’s approximately 175 people feel secure. But large Bay Area firms say that at this point they’re fine-tuning the sophisticated systems they implemented over the last five or so years. Mathiason said Littler uses a team-based workplace violence prevention model that the firm created in the mid-1990s, and that has since been adopted by about half of the Fortune 500 companies in the country. It involves the creation of a “cross-disciplinary” team of managers, human resources personnel and security staff, and in-house lawyers who convene with an outside psychologist or psychiatrist when warning signals appear. The team follows a prescribed protocol — outlined in a manual — for assessing and responding to perceived threats. Morrison & Foerster human resources director Kathy Dykstra says the firm’s workplace violence prevention program, which was prompted by the Pettit & Martin killings and finalized by 1996, is based on training all employees to learn the warning signals of a potentially dangerous situation — and to feel pressured to report even seemingly mild incidents. The firm regularly consults with Dr. James Madero, a San Diego-based clinical psychologist who is among a growing group of consultants companies call upon for help in spotting dangerous behavior patterns. “We investigate every single thing that is turned in to us,” said Dykstra. “We’ve had some serious situations with great potential, but were able to diffuse them because of our program.” Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison’s San Francisco facilities manager Joshua Tappan said the firm has tightened access to all of its entrances and exits over the last few years, but that he tries to pre-empt “incidents” by making all attorneys feel comfortable telling him about individuals who make them even slightly nervous. He said that when lawyers are afraid of certain individuals he makes a point of circulating the individual’s photo and name throughout the firm. Fenwick, under the management of full-time safety and security coordinator Julia Lazich, has assembled a different type of program: a 100-person emergency response team to deal with a range of crises. The team, comprised largely of support staff and a handful of associates, has gone through disaster, health and safety training, and its members are assigned specific roles to assume in the case of emergency. She said involving the employees of the firm — and not making security something that happens behind closed doors — has fostered a sense of safety and empowerment at the firm. “You don’t want to be paranoid; you want to be informed and educated and do what you can to prevent situations from occurring,” she said.

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