Pursuing Justice as a Lawyer
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.
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.
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.
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?
Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.
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.’
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?