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The Truth about Faith and a Lawyer's Professional Duty

The Devil is described as ‘the Father of Lies’ (Jn. 8:44).  And we are told, ‘to those who have been given much, much will be demanded’ (Lk 12:48).  So we should not be surprised at the pervasive lie that lawyers are power-hungry sharks incapable of faith and concern for the poor.  Many lawyers buy into this lie believing the professional rules of responsibility require them to separate faith from practice.  But those are lies.  Let’s examine the truth about faith and a lawyer’s professional duty.

Why are there so many lawyer jokes?

You’ve heard them.  The jokes where all lawyers are in hell, we would all be better off with fewer lawyers, lawyers are greedy and lie over billable hours, etc.  Or the joke of the little boy walking with his father in a cemetery told in Gospel Justice.  The boy stops at a grave and ask his dad – “Why are there two men buried here?” His father looks at the headstone and laughs – “Herein lies a lawyer and a Christian.”

But being a lawyer is no joke.  When our nation began, lawyers comprised the noblest profession.  America intentionally avoided titles like ‘Lord’, ‘Duke’, etc.  Rather those who stood against the abuses of power were held in high regard.  Twenty five of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were lawyers.  While we banished titles, we embraced the title for lawyers – Esquire.  Esquire is a ‘shield bearer’ and lawyers were viewed as shield bearers against the bulwarks of power.  So what happened?

Law as Sword – not Shield

In 1884 the lawyer’s professional ethics provided: “It is indeed the noblest faculty of the profession to counsel the ignorant, defend the weak and oppressed, and to stand forth on all occasions as the bulwark of private rights against the assaults of power.” Gospel Justice, p. 172.  Law was still primarily viewed as a shield.  But as America entered the post-industrial age, law became a sword.

Law shifted from community lawyering to institutional lawyering.  Large law firms were born and law became a business consumed with billable hours and high-pressure expectations.  A lawyer’s fees suddenly grew too large for the average person and only the powerful could afford representation.  The very people law was designed to protect were pushed aside as law became a business.  Today 1 in 3 Americans cannot afford an attorney to protect basic rights.

The Complicity of the Church

The church was not immune to the lure of the Devil in the shift for power.  Some churches moved away from a community focus to a business focus.  The institution of the church grew.  But in doing so the church largely missed the opportunity to fight for civil rights while fully embracing the opportunity to fight for First Amendment rights.  Interestingly, both shifts happened at the same time in the 1960’s.

Ask any church leader about law and you will primarily hear a discussion on religious freedom.  Not civil rights, immigrant rights or support for the poor and vulnerable.  Yet how many verses in the Bible speak to the protection of the church against government?  While Rome was not a democracy, there is no question the Bible speaks much more about the joy of enduring suffering for the gospel than preserving power.

Yet, how many verses speak to establishing justice for the poor and vulnerable?  More than 2,000!  While the second most prominent theme in Scripture, the average Christian would find that difficult to believe on any given Sunday across America.  Is it any wonder that lawyers growing up in the church don’t connect law to service for neighbors in need?

Join me at the CCDA conference in October to learn how to change this!

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The Complicity of Justice Groups

One of the most tragic dynamics contributing to a lack of integration of faith and law, comes from Justice Groups.  Young people excited about justice flock every year to The Justice Conference.  Each year two full days of speakers discuss justice issues and yet not ONCE do they talk about law or lawyers.  They are not alone.  Across the country there are many justice advocacy groups but rarely do they involve lawyers.

In America it is impossible to separate law and justice.  It is equally impossible to separate law from lawyers.  Yet we do.  Justice groups have apparently bought into the public lie that lawyers only care about themselves, but by ignoring law they completely shut down the best avenue for effecting real change.  These groups should strongly encourage young people to become lawyers.  They should invite lawyers to the stage to show the power of integrating faith and the practice of law.  Churches and church denominations should do the same.  This is the power of Restore 117.

Get our article, “How to have life-changing impact through legal ministry“.

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The resulting challenge for lawyers

With little support from inside or outside the church, it is not surprising that lawyers focus on the business of lawyering.  With student loans to pay off and other responsibilities, the priority of living Christ call to serve ‘the least of these’ (Mt. 25:40), simply gets lost.

Along the way lawyers even wonder if they are allowed to integrate their faith and practice.  We must dispel these lies and recapture the noble role of lawyer as shield bearer against the abuses of power.

Our professional rules of conduct demonstrate the different roles lawyers play in society – advisor, advocate, officer of the court, public citizen, negotiator and evaluator.  Too many of us narrowly see ourselves as advocates only.    We are above all – counselors at law.

If in Chicago, join me on Tuesday, August 8 from 12:30 – 1:30 at Willow Creek to explore this further and receive 1 hour of Professional Ethics CLE.

Lawyers as moral counselors

Our professional rules specifically encourage us as counselors to “refer not only to law but to other considerations such as moral, economic, social and political factors that may be relevant to the client’s situation.” Rule 2.1.  The comment to the rule goes on to state,

Advice couched in narrow legal terms may be of little value to a client, especially where practical considerations, such as cost or effects on other people, are predominant.  Purely technical legal advice, therefore, can sometimes be inadequate.  It is proper for a lawyer to refer to relevant moral and ethical considerations in giving advice.  Although a lawyer is not a moral advisor as such, moral and ethical considerations impinge upon most legal questions and may decisively influence how the law will be applied.

Lawyers as Advisors

One of the key things every lawyer should consider in their role as advisor is appropriate referrals.  Our rules encourage us to look at clients as people, not problems.  As such they have social and spiritual needs in addition to legal ones.  Our ethical obligation is to make good referrals in all areas including spiritual.

Fully integrating this into the job that pays your bills may not be possible or practical, but tithing a portion of your time through legal ministry is.  Every Christian lawyer has been given much.  And to whom much is given, much is required.  But far from being a duty, legal ministry is a privilege.

Who else can stand in the gap on behalf of neighbors facing legal challenges?  You have the opportunity to use the gifts God has given you in the service of His Kingdom.  You can set aside your power and position to come alongside a fellow sinner in need of help and hope.  Your heart will break for the impact of sin in systems and people as you enter into the world of others.  You will grow to understand that “there but for the grace of God, go I.”

The Blessing of Legal Ministry

If you are a lawyer do not be the Priest and Levite who walked past the opportunity to serve a neighbor in need (Luke 10:25-37).  Start or join a legal ministry.  We have all the tools, training and support to make service easy for you.  No cost, no liability – just serve.

If you are a church leader or community justice leader, support lawyers.  Get involved in legal ministry and encourage young people to be lawyers.  Encourage a lawyer to look at our guide on how to have life changing impact through legal ministry and come alongside them in this powerful opportunity to live the gospel through justice.

If the Lord has blessed you with resources, use those to make legal ministry possible for those in need of Jesus and justice.  Don’t walk away.  Lean into what God has for you as you join with Him in serving the poor and vulnerable.  Visit our web site to learn more.

God has a special purpose for you in advancing His heart for hurting neighbors.  And that involves law & lawyers!  Don’t miss the opportunity.  Get started today. E-mail Justine, justine@gji.org.

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