Tragic Shooting At a Law Firm

I’m not sure what to say about this week’s triple murder and suicide in the conference room of a Pretoria law firm. Surprisingly many people I have spoken to in the last 2 days had not heard about it.

It’s sad and it’s shocking.

Briefly, the facts are that there were 6 people in the room, 4 clients and 2 lawyers.  Martin van Deventer was on the one side and on the other were 3 directors of Mayborn, a property development company, namely Griessel, Erasmus and Van Heerden and their lawyer.

Griessel, Erasmus and Van Heerden bought Van Deventer’s farm for a property development. Half of the purchasing price was paid over to Van Deventer at the time of the sale, while the rest would have been paid at a later stage. At the meeting, the three buyers allegedly told Van Deventer that they could not pay him the rest of his money at this stage.

At this point Van Deventer got up and shot the 3 men, at point blank range, before he turned the gun on himself.

The lawyer for the 3 men, at whose office this took place, said: “I don’t know what went wrong. The meeting went well. The next moment he was shooting my clients.”

I don’t know what to make of that. The lawyer thought the meeting went well? Surely there must have been signs of enormous distress coming from Van Deventer? I know everyone cannot be deception experts like Dr Cal Lightman, but I can’t believe no one noticed anything at all until 4 people were dead.

Without much understanding of the dynamics I am hesitant to make any judgment. I  will say that I believe lawyers should be trained to handle client’s distress. I believe strongly that law cannot be separated from other disciplines such as psychology and economics. Entering into a commercial contract is essentially about an economic exchange, accountability and managing fear. That’s why people ask for a contract – they are fearful the other side will not behave as they have agreed and that they will suffer as a result.

I can only hope this serves to highlight the vulnerability of clients in legal negotiations and that some lawyers may be motivated to learn more about how to manage such processes with compassion.

Wherever right or wrong may lie in this story, it seems a terrible waste that four lives were lost.

PS. The comments of readers on the news24 website where I read about this incident are shockingly unconscious. The shallow level of engagement with this sad event really makes for frightening reading. I despair for our country when I read stuff like this.

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