Remembering Who We Are:
Balancing Faith and Professional Responsibilities
“In the nature of law practice… virtually all difficult ethical problems arise from conflict between a lawyer’s responsibilities to clients, to the legal system, and to the lawyer’s own interest in remaining an upright person while earning a satisfactory living.” ( Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct – Preamble)
I recently asked a colleague of mine why so many attorneys go from idealism to cynicism. Without hesitation he responded, “Because we have to make a living.” This from someone who ministers to the Nicaraguan poor, when not bound by a suit and tie.
The Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct direct attorneys to “treat with courtesy and respect all persons involved in the legal process” and ”find time to participate in or otherwise support the provision of legal services to the disadvantaged.” Some consider a career in law a series of irreconcilable, soul-splitting choices. Others perceive abundant opportunities to respond to both faith and professional obligations as healers, peacemakers and promoters of justice.
LISTEN WITH INTENTION
Clients and attorneys are called to one another. And from one another, we learn soul lessons. When relationships become covenant in nature - contracts nourished by Spirit - this deepened sense of connection compels moral attentiveness to clients themselves as much as to their legal problems. It requires listening with healing intention. It demands asking the ultimate question - is the legal system capable of meeting this client's needs for healing and reconciliation or will it merely compound them?
Much of my work involves assisting families in crises. Someone is incapacitated and in need of a substitute decision maker. Another has died. So often, years of dysfunction surface at such times. If a client is looking for an apology, his chances probably decrease ten-fold if the demand is made on legal letterhead and most judges will not order parties to apologize to or forgive one another.
Someone once asked Mother Theresa what advice she had for politicians, to which she responded, “They should spend more time on their knees.” Never underestimate the power of prayer - before, after, sometimes even during hearings, meetings and telephone calls. No place is beyond the reach of God's grace and wisdom - even courtrooms.
I speak openly with clients about my beliefs and intercessory efforts. “Blessings” has taken the place of “Sincerely” in my correspondence. Initially, I wondered if I shared my plan to pray, my clients might be concerned that I didn't have faith in my own abilities. Client responses are just the opposite. Faith provides clients with a sense of something larger at work behind the scenes and, ultimately, a reason for hope in and beyond this conflict.
ACCEPT WITH TRUST
Spirit holds the blueprint for and attracts the best possible outcome, if we are open to its leadings. Opportunities for growth abound in conflict. And sometimes notions of the best possible outcome may, in fact, not be so. As an attorney, this can be especially difficult, given the tendency to frame work in terms of wins and losses. Loss, by definition, means damage, deprivation, trouble, disadvantage.
Recently, my partner and I represented a family whose German Shepherd was shot and killed by a man down the street. The family wanted the neighbor to accept responsibility and apologize for the deep hurt he caused. At trial, both father and son were able to look him in the eye and express their anger and loss. The judge, despite awarding no damages, acknowledged and affirmed their feelings on the record. My first inclination was one of having lost and I felt incredibly disappointed. My client called later in the day, however, to express his gratitude for the opportunity he and his family had to be heard. While the defendant did not meet the family's need, the process did.
By honoring clients and others involved, discerning Spirit's movement and nurturing acceptance in and of the process, it is possible for attorneys to no longer be perceived as hired guns, but instead as peaceful servants letting their lives speak.
Ginny Mikita and her husband, Bob Kruse, of the Mikita Kruse Law Center in Rockford, MI have been providing compassionate legal assistance to the voiceless - animals, children and incapacitated adults for 16 years. They are members of First United Methodist Church in Grand Rapids.