How One Association Started a Conversation on Workplace Safety

After a tragedy that served as a wakeup call, the State Bar of Arizona worked to educate legal professionals on workplace safety and was recently awarded for its efforts.

Violence in the workplace is not something anyone likes to think about. Until one day it strikes close to home, and it becomes less of a “what if” and more of a potential reality.

“We don’t expect it’s going to happen in our backyard, so we are not prepared, either as employers or employees, as to how to react to violent situations,” said Lisa Deane, chief member services officer at the State Bar of Arizona, which witnessed firsthand the aftermath of a deadly work incident.

It was January 2013, and Arizona attorney Mark Hummels and his client were shot and killed following a mediation session. “Cop cars came screeching into our parking lot,” looking for the shooter, Deane said. It was a wakeup call for Deane and her coworkers that they were not as prepared as they could be in the event of a potentially violent crisis.

“The mediation where attorney Hummels was shot was not held here. It was held at a law firm, but we have mediation sessions here and we have depositions here,” Deane said. “Those are often very contentious meetings. You never know what frame of mind people are in, and it just made me realize that, while we have emergency procedures if there’s an emergency in the building, we really didn’t know how to react if there was a violent situation.”

After an assessment of the association’s facilities that led to stricter safety standards, Deane reached out to the organization’s online continuing education provider about partnering to create a free webinar on workplace safety.

“The idea for the program was to start to give people some tools that they might use in their offices but really to raise the awareness that we all need to take responsibility for our employees and the places we work,” Deane said.

The webinar could be shared not only with Arizona legal professionals but with bar associations and their members across the country. “I thought if we were putting something together here and raising the awareness here, it was certainly something that we might offer to others to raise the awareness in other states,” Deane said.

A 2013 survey of roughly 2,000 State Bar of Arizona members found that 42 percent had been threatened or physically assaulted at least once while serving as a legal professional. This is on par with other state bar surveys taken in Utah, Idaho, Kansas, Oregon, and North Carolina.

Featuring advice and tips from law enforcement, a psychologist, and a police-officer-turned-attorney, the roughly hour-long webinar had more than 1,000 views when it was originally live streamed in August 2013. Judging by the number of people who’ve asked to put the link to the recorded webinar on their website since then, Deane estimated many more have now viewed the program.

The webinar started a conversation on an uncomfortable topic people would prefer to not discuss, but should, Deane said in a statement this month announcing the association received a Best Award from the Association for Continuing Legal Education.

“The idea was that if this could save one life then the program was well worth the initiative,” Deane said. “I think that it gave people a lot more confidence. It certainly gave our employees a lot more confidence in their security here at our bar association.”

How has your association helped tackle a difficult issue such as workplace violence? Let us know in the comments.


Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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