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The Law Gives Me the Right! (Moral Dilemma or Opportunity?)

Years ago, I led a Bible study at a large, local law firm.  A number of the attorneys who attended were not yet Christians, or appeared to be Christians in name only.

What drew some of them was my topic for a few weeks, How to be sure being a Christian lawyer is not an oxymoron.  A few of the senior partners were put off by that title and said so at the first meeting.  I pointed out what I thought was obvious to everyone; there’s a reason there are a million lawyer jokes.  Attorneys in general have a reputation of bending the truth, or interpreting the law to benefit their client.  My goal was to make it less likely that stereotype was true of the attorneys in this firm who call themselves Christians. But this blog isn’t simply for attorneys or their clients, but it gets to the very heart of the question, “What does it mean to seek justice for a Christian?”

The principle I taught that first week was this:

The law dictates what you may do.  But justice dictates what you ought to do. Then I gave them this illustration:

“As an attorney, you have the right to file suit against almost anyone, for almost any reason to get payment for your client even if you know some of those people have very limited liability.  One reason for doing so is that you know some may settle, rather than face a long costly legal battle.  The law entitles you to use that strategy.  However, if you are a Christian, the Bible does not.  Being just and acting justly is more important to God than your client getting paid.  Putting it another way, as a Christian attorney, what you have a right to do and what you ought to do may be two completely opposite and competing objectives.”

As you can imagine, it was a very animated discussion after that! Everyone in general agreed.  BUT.  (There’s always a “but” isn’t there?) The major “but” was, “but my client expects us to do whatever the law allows, to get paid. Our highest duty is to the clients best interest” “However, if you’re a Christian, your highest duty is to God,” I reminded them.

I could see they were having difficulty navigating between what they believed spiritually, and everything law school had taught them. One of my personal principles of business, or ministry management is this; Either live up to your customer’s expectations, or manage them.  So, I explained what that means for a Christian attorney, may require a discussion with his/her client ahead of time, something along these lines;

“John, as your attorney, I want you to know that there are a number of strategies I can use to get you paid.  All are within the law.  I, you, have a legal right to use all of them.

However, being a Christian, one of my guiding principles is to act justly, which limits some of my options.  There are a number of options you have a right to use, like __________________.  But in good conscience, I can’t use all of them.  And here’s why; the law says what I may do, but justice dictates what I ought to do. So here’s what I can do for you _________________.

I’d love to represent you in this matter, but only with your understanding of the limits my personal ethics puts on your case.  If you’d prefer to use another attorney for this situation, I can suggest an excellent one right here in this firm who will use every right the law allows you to get paid.  But, I’ve practiced for 20 years and it’s been my experience that at the end of the day, acting justly ends up serving my clients well, often saving you time and money, as well as protecting both our reputations.” Most of the attorneys present had to think about that and I don’t know if any actually put it into practice. These are hard choices. So counter-intuitive. But God is not ambiguous.

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

So, do you agree? Disagree? If you are an attorney, have you tried this idea? I’d love to hear your comments.  Consider sending this blog to your attorney, or an attorney friend for his/her comments.

How following Jesus works in real life.

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