Power of Attorney: Standing in the Gap

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Editor's note: The following essay is the result of a conversation between photographer and High Calling editor Kelly Sauer and her attorney husband, Pete Sauer.

People love to hate lawyers. My husband, Pete, is an attorney with a sense of humor, and he often makes himself the butt of his own lawyer jokes, but he can't forget the reasons attorneys are so disparaged.

Pete began law school with an idealistic perspective (as most lawyers do), believing he could make the world a better place. Yet from his earliest experiences, he observed an egotistical defiance of the law—and the spirit behind it—in many of his peers. Despite being governed by a strict code of ethics, attorneys are trained to find creative ways around the very same law that is passed, interpreted, and served by its "priests" in the legal profession.

Most people hire lawyers because they are scared, or because they need help. But like the lawyers Jesus rebuked in Luke 11:46, it is easy—even standard—for attorneys to "load people down with burdens they can hardly carry...and not lift one finger to help" without charging for it. Instead of assisting, they too often prey on clients' fears and ignorance.

It is no wonder Pete questioned his choice of profession.

The root of the word "attorney" carries a very different idea than the parsing machinations frequently observed. "Attorney" means "someone who stands in the place of another." By definition, an attorney's work is to assert his client's claim as if it were his own. The picture is not unlike Christ advocating our claims at the cross and then setting us free.

"You will never understand the power of Christ until you see it lived out," Pete explained to me. "The same is true of the power of the law." The answer to Pete's discomfort with his job lay not in his idealism or a sidelined analysis of the law and its interpreters, but in its actual practice.

"There are litigious people who have their lawyer on speed dial,” he said. "Then there are people who say they're not the suing type." Most of the latter have a bad opinion of lawyers. "I like the surprise on their faces when I tell them 'I'm not the suing type either.'"

Their next question is predictable: "Why are you in this field?"

"I always had a sense that I could use my legal training to help others in need. I never did it for the money. In fact," he said, "sometimes I have to tell someone that the particular action they want me to take is not in their interest, even if telling them is not in my interest."

People don't come to Pete expecting him to give the "Christian" answer to their problems. They want relief, and they think the law is the only way to get it. Like Jesus, Pete really stands in two places: with God as an ambassador for reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19) and with his clients as a counselor for restoration.

"The law does serve a purpose," Pete said. "The world is infused with a sense of incompleteness. There is a void in people's lives, a shortfall between us and God, and between one another. The law may be an imperfect patch, but everything in the law is geared toward making things right."

Even with this high view in mind, Pete doesn't know how anyone can avoid compromise without God's help. People violate their ethics every day. "It isn't one decision that turns a lawyer into someone who takes advantage of others," he explained. "It's a progression—day after day after day of making choices that protect himself and not his client."

In lawyering (and in every profession), the every-day decisions to do what is best for others are what make the world a better place. In this, the work itself redeems the work.

Image by Kelly Sauer. Photographed at The Bostic Law Firm in Charleston, South Carolina.