Issues Christian Lawyers Face

Small Group Study / Produced by TOW Project

The following small group studies were produced for the New Zealand Christian Lawyers national conference 2017, in partnership with Steven Moe.

These studies can be used in small groups of several lawyers talking together, or in larger professional or religious meetings. While some of the contents is specific to the practice of law in New Zealand, many issues will be relevant to practicing lawyers and law students everywhere.

Issues Christian Lawyers Face

Table of Contents

  1. Balance
  2. Identity
  3. Status
  4. Justice
  5. Specialization
  6. Conflicting values
  7. Ethics
  8. Failure
  9. Disruption

Balance for Lawyers

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This lesson is part of Issues Christian Lawyers Face, a study guide produced by The Theology of Work Project in partnership with Steven Moe, for the New Zealand Christian Lawyers national conference in May 2017. Click the Table of Contents on the right of this page to see the entire curriculum.

Introduction 

Many lawyers struggle with having a good work and life balance.  Clients can be demanding and there can be strict deadlines that need to be met, which are usually urgent.  Often this means that long hours are required to prepare and best serve the client.  As well as that, a lawyer is often judged by the number of billable hours they record during a year, so there can be pressure to work longer and harder in order to succeed and progress their career.  

Case Study

Sally has been working as a corporate lawyer for a large law firm for four years.  An overseas client is flying in tomorrow to continue the negotiation of the sale and purchase of a business they are buying.  Before they got on their flight to come, they sent a one-line email that asked for a revised version of the agreement to be prepared and be ready for the meeting at 10am tomorrow, before they go to meet with the other side at 11am.  Her partner joked that she was surprised they had been given that much time.  Sally has been working on the revised agreement since she got into the office that morning and skipped lunch in order to keep progressing the review.  It is now 7:45pm and she realises there are still another 45 pages to be amended.   She reluctantly calls a friend that she was due to meet that night and cancels dinner, as she glances out the window at the sky and the clouds which are lit up by the sunset.  She hangs up and slowly turns back to her computer screen.

Questions for discussion: 

  • What can you relate to in the case study in your context, and why?
  • How do you cope with the demands of strict deadlines and time pressures?
  • How do you strike a balance between the desire to be good at your job as a lawyer with other competing demands?
  • How does a job as a lawyer impact on other roles and responsibilities – such as with family, church, sports teams and other roles in the community?

Biblical reflection 

On the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
(Genesis 2:2-3)

Everything that God creates is “good,” but rest is the first thing in the Bible that God calls “holy.” God rests on the seventh day, and he asks people to rest too. This commandment is repeated throughout scripture, from Exodus 20:8-11 to Nehemiah 13:18 to Hebrews 4:1. In fact, the injunction against constant work has to be repeated over and over again, probably because it is just so hard to keep. In a world that includes sin and its consequences, work demands a lot of time and effort. God explained this sad reality to Adam when he said, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken” (Genesis 3:19). 

And yet, God hopes to restore rest for all people. Jesus makes the unequivocal claim that he can give people deep rest:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gently and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
(Matthew 11:28-30)

Jesus provides people with spiritual rest, paradoxically, by freeing them from the commandment to stop working. Jesus himself breaks the Sabbath at will, and he absorbs any guilt that you might feel from doing likewise. As St. Paul explains, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

This means you have freedom to choose when and how to rest, knowing you can always connect to God’s through Jesus. This doesn’t mean work always wins or that family, church, and sleep aren’t important. It just means that you have the freedom to choose which obligation you want to attend to at any moment. 

This may or may not help you solve real life dilemmas of work-life balance. Those have always existed. The noble women in Proverbs 31, after all, woke up early and went to bed late (Proverbs 31:15, Proverbs 31:18). She juggled competing demands of family, commerce, and religion. Even so, she managed to be called “happy” (Proverbs 31:28). So perhaps there is hope for us all.

Discuss: What are the key principles from this study that could be applied in your situation?  

For more on balance, read the Theology of Work Project long form article Balancing Rhythms of Rest and Work. Or watch the video of Tod Bolsinger on balancing work and family.

Identity for Lawyers

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This lesson is part of Issues Christian Lawyers Face, a study guide produced by The Theology of Work Project in partnership with Steven Moe, for the New Zealand Christian Lawyers national conference in May 2017. Click the Table of Contents on the right of this page to see the entire curriculum.

Introduction 

How does our identity as a Christian intersect with our identity as a lawyer.  Is the identity best expressed as being a “lawyer who is a Christian” or a “Christian lawyer”. 

Case study

James likes going along to Church and catching up with his friends, but views that as an identity quite separate to his job as a lawyer.  He represents his clients vigorously and enjoys helping them achieve their goals.  One day his client calls saying he is looking to terminate a commercial lease early and they set up a time to meet with the other side.  James will need to be aggressive in how he deals with the counterparty in order to achieve the best result for his client.

When the other side gets to the meeting he has no legal representation and James inwardly smiles.  This is almost too easy, he thinks.  Surprisingly, the business owner greets him as a friend and James suddenly realises that he recognises him - while he goes to a different Church his kids are in the same swimming class with James’ own kids.  All of a sudden what he is about to say becomes more difficult than he had previously anticipated.

Questions for discussion

  • What can you relate to in the case study in your context, and why?
  • Is it possible to compartmentalise one identity from the other so you are a “Christian” and a “Lawyer”?  Or is it possible to be a “Christian Lawyer”.  
  • How would a Christian lawyer practice in a way that was different from others? Should there be a notable difference?
  • Which identity should dominate – or should any?  And how about other roles we may have (Church member, Parent, Caregiver etc)?

Biblical reflection 

God wants you to work profitably so that you can support yourself and your family. One scripture on this point offers the chilling reminder that “whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially for family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). So making money is a legitimate concern for Christians, one which God understands.

On the other hand, the call to belong to Christ supercedes any particular call to an occupation. Believing in Christ, which is to say being a Christian, places demands on the way you execute your work:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
(2 Corinthians 5:17-20)

The Bible does not prescribe different moments for acting like a Christian and acting like a lawyer. Rather, the passage above assumes that faith is an all-encompassing identity, such that anyone who believes in Christ is a “new creation.” The writer of this letter tasks all Christians with the “ministry of reconciliation,” in which you are an “ambassador for Christ.” That includes the time you’re at work as well as the time you’re at church.

Another letter confirms the importance of bringing your Christian identity into your daily work:

Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters.
(Colossians 3:23)

The Bible does not break up identity into multiple parts, some of them Christian and some of them secular. However, the world we live in often demands we do exactly that. What does it mean to you to be a Christian in your workplace?

Discuss: What are the key principles from this study that could be applied in your situation?  

For more on the relationship between work and identity, see the Theology of Work Project commentary on Acts 8-12, or the article on calling and vocation.

Status as a Lawyer

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This lesson is part of Issues Christian Lawyers Face, a study guide produced by The Theology of Work Project in partnership with Steven Moe, for the New Zealand Christian Lawyers national conference in May 2017. Click the Table of Contents on the right of this page to see the entire curriculum.


Introduction

While most people would recognise that lawyers play a unique role in society and they are respected, at the same time there are also a huge number of lawyer jokes.  As well as that there is prestige associated with the profession and there can be a certain amount of pride which comes from being known as a lawyer.  Many legal jobs are highly paid and there can be a temptation to focus on material wealth and possessions. 

Case study

John grew up on “the wrong side of the tracks”, but worked hard holding down multiple part time jobs while studying and graduated last year from law school.  His parents were thrilled and tell everyone they can that their son is now a lawyer.  John even found his dream job back in the city he grew up in, working in construction law.  He enjoys walking by the building sites dressed in an expensive suit and tie and stopping to watch the workers out in the hot sun.  He feels a sense of pride in having drafted the agreements the very wealthy clients he works for signed and often thinks about his last appraisal: “keep working hard, stay hungry, and you’ll go far”, he was told before being given a significant raise.  

One morning an email announces that the annual Christmas party will be held at the home of one of the senior Partners.  When the day arrives one of the Associates he works with offers him a lift and they slip into his two seater sports car and move out into the traffic.  John can’t help but notice the watch his colleague is wearing, which probably cost more than John’s second-hand car.  As they get closer the houses grow larger.  When they pull up at their destination John looks at the 4 car garage and realises his childhood home was of a similar size to the garage alone.  Inside there is a free flow of drinks, laughs and conversation.  John relaxes into a comfortable leather chair and looks around him.  He is still a bit surprised by where he is, but hopes that one day he can “make it” too.

Questions for discussion: 

  • What do you identify with in this story, and why?
  • What temptations are there in being a lawyer in the area of (i) reputation and (ii) material wealth?
  • Is the image portrayed above the predominant image that you think the general public has, or is it more diverse than that?
  • How do we guard against thinking more of ourselves than we should?  
  • What should form the basis of our identity? Is this something that everyone working faces or is it more acute for professionals?

Biblical reflection 

God wants you to thrive economically. God’s intent is for people to have good things in abundance, which is why he blessed people by saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28).

At the same time, Jesus warns about the spiritual consequences loving wealth and status:

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
(Mark 10:13-27)

These two stories from Mark’s gospel are connected by the theme of status. Children had low status in ancient society, while rich men had a lot of it. Yet Jesus turns the normal status equation on its head, saying that godliness is easier for babies than it is for millionaires. Perhaps this is because status exerts a powerful pull. A high regard for status may keep you from devoting time, talent, and treasure to the other things you recognize as important.

Doing your job well may bring you wealth and status. The only danger is turning away from God when your desires are fulfilled. Material possessions are lovely, but they don’t last forever. The following proverb sums up all of this:

Do you see those who are skilful in their work? They will serve kings; they will not serve common people. When you sit down to eat with a ruler, observe carefully what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you have a big appetite. Do not desire the ruler’s delicacies, for they are deceptive food. Do not wear yourself out to get rich; be wise enough to desist. When your eyes light upon it, it is gone; for suddenly it takes wings to itself, flying like an eagle towards heaven.

(Proverbs 22:29 – 23:5)

Discuss: What are the key principles from this study that could be applied in your situation?

For more biblical insight on wealth, see the Theology of Work Project long form article Wealth and Provision, or the commentary on Mark 10:13-22. Or watch this video on staying grounded.

Pursuing Justice as a Lawyer

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This lesson is part of Issues Christian Lawyers Face, a study guide produced by The Theology of Work Project in partnership with Steven Moe, for the New Zealand Christian Lawyers national conference in May 2017. Click the Table of Contents on the right of this page to see the entire curriculum.

Introduction

The poor and underprivileged have limited access to justice as they do not have the means to pay for it.  Yet many lawyers got into law in the first place as they felt that there would be a chance to help those in such situations.

Case Study

Marty almost doesn’t pick up the phone when he gets a call, because he has so many files to be looked at before he can leave for the day.  The paperwork piled around isn’t what he had thought his career would end up like – back in law school he had volunteered once a week at the community law centre and felt like he was making a real difference.  Now he really has no time for pro bono work.  

When Marty answers the phone an elderly man says his name is John, and he then says, “I have to be honest that I don’t have any money to pay fees, but I really need help to appeal a decision that is completely unfair - no one else will listen to me…”  Marty sits back in his chair and nods his head as his eyes look at the billable work swamping his desk.  He finds he is already thinking through who he could pass this call on to.  

Questions for discussion

  • What do you identify with in this story, and why?
  • What is our responsibility in the area of seeking access to justice for those who cannot afford it? 
  • Our work often is focussed on other things (wills, property conveyances, business set up etc) and those tasks are important in society – to what extent are they undervalued because we charge for them?
  • Does the amount of work done in this area of promoting justice and acting altruistically change over a career? How is it different for (i) a new graduate (ii) a freshly appointed partner (iii) someone nearing retirement.

Biblical reflection 

Scripture is of one mind when it comes to justice and our responsibility to the poor:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
(Micah 6:8)

Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.
(Isaiah 1:17)

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
(Matthew 25:34-40)

God cares deeply about justice for the poor and the oppressed. He expects those who follow him to work on their behalf.

On the other hand, Jesus admits that the needs of the world around us are overwhelming. When his disciples’ dedication to charity gave them a superiority complex, Jesus chided them saying, “You always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me” (Matthew 26:10) Poverty is an intractable problem, and you cannot be expected to solve global injustice on your own. 

Perhaps this is why the verse from Micah is so important. God doesn’t require you to solve all the world’s problems, but only to do what is just in your small sphere of influence. God wants you to actually enjoy the practice of extending kindness. It should make you feel humble (unlike Jesus’ disciples) because in the end, winning justice for the poor is partnership with God in the work he wants done.

Discuss: What are the key principles from this study that could be applied in your situation?  

For more on money and justice, read the Theology of Work Project article on justice in Proverbs or Romans 13 or Romans 3:21-26. Or listen to this audio inspiration titled Be the Answer.

Specialization as a Lawyer

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This lesson is part of Issues Christian Lawyers Face, a study guide produced by The Theology of Work Project in partnership with Steven Moe, for the New Zealand Christian Lawyers national conference in May 2017. Click the Table of Contents on the right of this page to see the entire curriculum.

Introduction

There are a wide range of areas that a lawyer can choose to practise.  The work that is done in those different areas often benefit different types of people.

Case Study

Andrea has been cornered by an old friend that she hasn’t seen since University days.  He recalls the time that she practised mooting with him as an audience and then asks, “So what’s it like standing up in Court with the Judge looking at you and defending the oppressed – do you ever get nervous”?  Andrea looks away and considers which answer to give.  She decides on the truth and says, “Well I don’t actually go to Court at all, it’s not like the TV shows … I am involved in residential conveyancing so I am mainly on the phone, answering emails, responding to questions…”.  As she says this she can see a bit of disappointment on his face.

Walking home Andrea considers the other way that conversation usually goes - being asked for advice about an obscure legal issue because “you’re a lawyer so you must know the answer”.  She takes a deep breath as she looks up through the trees above her at the stars just coming out.  Conversations like the one tonight do make her wonder if she chose right way back when she was being interviewed for her first job.  Should she have held out for a role in a firm which dealt with human rights and injustice which is what she had always thought she would do?  Now it felt a bit late with 10 years doing conveyancing and she isn’t sure there will ever be the opportunity to switch. 

Questions for Discussion:  

  • What do you identify with in this story, and why?
  • How did you decide what to specialise in and what advice would you give those at an early stage of their careers?
  • Is there more or less value in the different types of work done as a lawyer?  
  • Does our Christian faith inform our decision about the area we specialise in?

Biblical reflection 

Career specialization happens in the Bible, for the same reasons it happens today. Some people get careers based on their unique gifts, like the apostles, prophets, evangelists and teachers in Ephesians 4:11. But many heroes in the Bible had jobs that were dictated by circumstances rather than soul-searching. Jacob worked as a shepherd because he was after a girl (Genesis 29:20) and also perhaps because shepherding was the only game in town. Joseph worked as a butler (Genesis 39:4), as a prison warden (Genesis 39:22), and then as an agricultural planner (Genesis 41:41), none of which he chose for himself. Nevertheless, he performed all his duties in a way that demonstrated that the Lord was with him.

Scripture restates this last point, that any job can be divinely important if you do it for God’s benefit:

Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters.
(Colossians 3:23)

Discuss: What are the key principles from this study that could be applied in your situation?  

For more on career choices, read the Theology of Work Project long form article on vocation and calling.

Conflicting Values When You’re a Lawyer

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This lesson is part of Issues Christian Lawyers Face, a study guide produced by The Theology of Work Project in partnership with Steven Moe, for the New Zealand Christian Lawyers national conference in May 2017. Click the Table of Contents on the right of this page to see the entire curriculum.

Introduction

Sometimes our clients (or even other colleagues) have motives or objectives which do not align with our own.  How do we act in those situations?

Case study

John has been working for two years at a medium sized firm.  He has never been summoned in to the Managing Partner’s office before but that is where he has found himself.  He sits beside his supervising partner and feels nervous while looking around the large room.  On the wall are various awards and recognitions.  The Managing Partner finally turns from his screen and John feels the full force of his cool stare, “So tell me John, what is the issue here with this particular client?”.

John shifts nervously in his seat.  “Well I just feel uncomfortable acting for this business.  I know it is just a lease and that they are a new client and it is good to have the work flowing in.  But I feel like my values are going to be compromised if I am asked to act for them because I just, well … I just think that a brothel is probably in that grey area for me…”.  He sees the managing partner nodding but feels like he hasn’t made his case well because all he gets in response is that nod and he realises that the room has gone very quiet.  

Questions for Discussion

  • What do you identify with in this story, and why?
  • What other examples of conflicting values have you faced?
  • Does the way you make decisions about your actions as a lawyer differ if it is for those who are amassing wealth, or who are aggressive in their business affairs (or worse)?
  • How does Christian faith impact on decision making in these types of situations?

Biblical reflection 

It’s impossible to work only with people who share your beliefs. Paul recognized this in 1 Corinthians 5:9-10 when he wrote, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons, not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since you would then need to go out of the world.” Paul feared the influence of hypocritical Christians on the early church, but he wasn’t worried about any threat from unbelievers. This mirrors Jesus’ instruction to “let your light shine before others” (Matthew 5:16). Retreating from the secular world, even with all its faults, was as impractical 2000 years ago as it is today.

But Paul does caution against being so closely tied to an unbeliever that you can’t make your own decisions. “Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship is there between light and darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14). This verse is often translated as “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers,” reminiscent of Deuteronomy 22:10 which prohibits yoking an ox and donkey together for field work. When animals are yoked together they must move in lockstep: if one turns left the other does also. This is dangerous for animals of differing sizes, and it is also dangerous for people of differing beliefs. If someone else’s choices compel you to act in the same way, then you are yoked together. If that person has values that are unequal to yours, then you are unequally yoked.

Discuss: What are the key principles from this study that could be applied in your situation?  

For more on working with unbelievers and what it means to be "unequally yoked," read the Theology of Work Project commentary on 2 Corinthians 6:14-18.

Ethics When You’re a Lawyer

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This lesson is part of Issues Christian Lawyers Face, a study guide produced by The Theology of Work Project in partnership with Steven Moe, for the New Zealand Christian Lawyers national conference in May 2017. Click the Table of Contents on the right of this page to see the entire curriculum.

Introduction

Sometimes we may be asked to act in a way which is ethically questionable.

Case study

Nicola is chatting with one of the clients her partner Greg has had for years.  He is explaining a tricky situation and says, “… so the accountant has said that what we need to do to get that $250,000 tax benefit is, for the document you helped with, to be dated before the end of the financial year.  But of course because that was yesterday what I want you to do is to print out a new copy then I can sign it and you witness the deed and we date it and the company resolution last week sometime – doesn’t matter when – as long as it is before financial year end.”  Nicola hesitates long enough for the client to continue, “We did this last year too Greg, it’s really common in our industry, and there will be a benefit for you too as I’m happy if you want to charge me a few thousand for this service - there is a lot of money at stake here…”.

Questions for Discussion

  • What do you identify with in this story, and why?
  • Is the answer to this situation the same for all lawyers – or is there a difference between legal ethics and Christian ethics?  
  • How does Christian faith impact on decision making in these type of ethical situations?

Biblical reflection 

The Bible says a great many things about following God at work, including its positive effects on wellbeing and security:

Happy is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways. You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.
(Psalm 128:1-2)

But ethical dilemmas in the workplace aren’t always cut and dry. Moreover, it would be impossible to create a Christian rule-book that covers every conceivable workplace dilemma. Instead, you can work through a dilemma by thinking of it from multiple angles:

Command approach – What rules or commandments apply in this case?
Consequences approach – What are the possible consequences of this action, either good or bad?
Character approach – What does this mean for my character? What kind of person do I want to be?

Perhaps you will not make the right decision every time, or perhaps there is no right decision in some instances. A better hope is that you will mature as a Christian, becoming more like Jesus each time you wrestle with these questions:

Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
(1 John 3:2-3)

Discuss: What are the key principles from this study that could be applied in your situation?  

For more on the 3Cs approach to making ethical decisions, read the Theology of Work Project long form article on Ethics at Work or the article on Truth and Deception in the Workplace. Also see bible commentary on Daniel 3 and Psalms 15, 24 and 34.

 

How Can Lawyers React to Failure?

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This lesson is part of Issues Christian Lawyers Face, a study guide produced by The Theology of Work Project in partnership with Steven Moe, for the New Zealand Christian Lawyers national conference in May 2017. Click the Table of Contents on the right of this page to see the entire curriculum.

Introduction

Sometimes things go wrong. This may be in relation to a particular client and their situation which we cannot control or due to a mistake we have made. Many of us have a perfectionist streak which may have led us to the practise of law in the first place. How do we react in the light of some form of failure?

Case Study

Vicky sat perfectly still and felt like the oxygen was being sucked out of the room as she listened to what the lawyer on the other side was saying. As she continued to hold the phone to her ear she began quickly shuffling and sorting through the pile of papers on her left desperately searching for the variation deed to confirm what the new settlement date was. The voice on the other end of the line continued in such a casual tone it just added to her rising sense of panic: “And so, because your client did not confirm the conditions in time our client is exercising its right to cancel the contract under clause 5.1 while keeping the non-refundable deposit …”. She finally found the piece of paper that would make all the difference. March 11. How could it be that date? She looked away and then back again. She looked up at the screen and her email to the client and read back her own words: “While we could confirm the conditions earlier there is plenty of time - but the latest we have to do that is March 14.” The deposit on this purchase for this business sale had been $125,000. Vicky’s client had told her to go ahead and confirm back on March 10 but she had advised them there was still time to do some more investigations so they had waited until March 13. It looked like she may have made a mistake. When she put the phone down she swivelled around in her chair back and form for a minute then she got up slowly and started the long walk down the hall towards the Managing Partner’s office.

Questions for Discussion

  • What can you relate to in the case study in your context, and why?
  • To what extent can there be disillusionment with the law when bad things happen? Do such failures expose our true worldview that practice is all about us as an individual (my goals, my pride and proving myself rather than working as a lawyer being a “calling”)? What forms the basis of our identity?
  • What role does grace play for a lawyer? Think about the perspective of the Managing Partner in the story above. Does grace impact how you would deal with mistakes that others who work for you have made?
  • This example could have been framed to highlight other situations. How would you deal with some shortcoming in the following contexts? A court decision doesn’t go your way after months preparing and arguing all the facts for your client. A complaint is laid against you by a client alleging some mistake was made on their file.

  • How does your faith help you in times of failure?

 

Biblical reflection

Peter was determined to be better at his job than anybody else following Jesus, saying, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you” (Matthew 26:33). So it was a huge failure for Peter when he denied three times that he even knew Jesus (Matthew 26:69-75). All he could do was cry, which is a normal reaction to screwing up and letting someone down.
 
Jesus’ responded in a way that restored his relationship with Peter, as well as restoring Peter to his vocation. When the resurrected Jesus appeared to his disciples on the beach, he asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Each time, after Peter affirmed his love, Jesus gave Peter a job, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17). Jesus forced Peter to face his failure and right the wrong he had committed. Not only that, Jesus used this moment as an opportunity to give Peter a fresh start in his work. The next step after their personal reconciliation was a charge to get back to work.
 
When you make a big mistake at work, grace might not come cheap. Like with Peter, it might come after tears and some humiliating conversations. But afterwards there’s the hope that God still has important work for you to do.

Discuss: What are the key principles from this study that could be applied in your situation?  

For more scriptures on this topic, see the 5-day devotional reading plan Working through Failure. Or watch the video of Andy Crouch on How Failure is Part of Life.

Disruption in the Legal Profession

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This lesson is part of Issues Christian Lawyers Face, a study guide produced by The Theology of Work Project in partnership with Steven Moe, for the New Zealand Christian Lawyers national conference in May 2017. Click the Table of Contents on the right of this page to see the entire curriculum.

Introduction

What does disruption mean for the legal profession and our jobs/role/identity?

Case study

Lucy is reading yet another article about “disruption” and how it will impact professional services firms.  The article is headed “Will you be replaced by an AI robot?”.  It talks a lot about different technologies which can read every court case and give accurate predictions on fact situations.  She inwardly scoffs at the very idea and turns on to another article.

That night she is having dinner with a friend, who tells her she has just lost her job at a law firm where she had been working in a corporate team.  Her friend explains, “they decided to automate all the precedents and train up more legal executives in how to select the appropriate clauses to insert – they can pay them less and churn a lot more work that way and they just need one senior person to oversee them all.”  Lucy sips her drink and begins to rethink her views on that article she had been reading earlier.

Questions for Discussion

  • What do you identify with in this story, and why?
  • How are you seeing disruption affecting your role?
  • How do we adapt and deal with changes to our profession and potentially the roles we have traditionally played as lawyers with the advent of new technology?

Biblical reflection 

Nobody, not even Christians, can predict the future:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.” Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.”
(James 4:13-15)

At the same time, Jesus encourages his followers not to worry about the future:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
(Matthew 6:25-34)

Not worrying about the future when you don’t know what it will bring can be a hard pill to swallow. It was hard for the Jewish people exiled in Babylon, so they participated in life there half-heartedly, hoping to leave the first chance they got. Jeremiah told them to stop listening to false prophets and to instead focus on living in the present:

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream… For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.
(Jeremiah 29:4-8,11)

God’s plan didn’t look like the future the exiles were expecting. And yet God would make it work for them, promising prosperity and hope. God also offers you a future with hope. It may or may not look like what you expect.

Discuss: What are the key principles from this study that could be applied in your situation? 

For more on living with an uncertain future, see the Theology of Work Project articles on Proverbs 31:25 and Job 1:13-22. Or take a look at this newsletter called Changing Jobs Ready or Not.


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