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Background Scripture: Matt. 25:31-46

 

No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and wealth.  Matt. 6:24

It is easy to differentiate a “Christian” law practice from a secular one if the secular one is conceived of in unsavory terms – where the lawyer is thought to be greedy, dishonest, opportunistic, careless or insensitive.  Certainly, there are lawyers like that out there, but hopefully they are the infrequent exception.  I prefer to differentiate a “Christian” law practice from a secular one by first attributing to both a duly professional character.

In being members of a profession, all lawyers are expected to be thorough and diligent in their preparation, sensitive and courteous in their relationships, and willing to give of their time for the benefit of society.  Every law practice, secular and Christian, ought to be built upon this foundation.  Indeed, I submit, a law practice that lacks this foundation would have no right to call itself Christian.

How then can a Christian law practice be differentiated from a secular one?  Traditionally, labels have made a difference.  In a Christian law practice, the lawyer practice, the lawyer represents Christian clients, identifies with Christian causes, joins Christian organizations (like CLS) and refers cases to other lawyers.  The lawyer also endeavors to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with clients and other lawyers.

These traditional distinctives are important, but they are so obvious that I hardly need to call attention to them.  Instead, let us consider some possible distinctives related to the lawyer’s time and money.

In this area we immediately think of pro bono work – lawyer time given without charge.  Most secular lawyers are stingy when it comes to pro bono work.  Unfortunately, so are most Christian lawyers.  Truly generous pro bono service could represent a distinctively Christian factor.  How about a tithe of our billable hours?  For example, if we bill 1600 hours per year, ten percent would be 160, or about three hours a week.

Pro bono is generally associated with representation of people who are poor.  Most lawyers compete for business at the other end of the spectrum, where the clients are wealthy or the cases generate large fees.  Between these extremes are the clients of moderate means and the cases of modest economic potential.

Lawyers can provide effective representation to such clients, but billing rates and fee payment requirements must be adjusted to make this feasible.  We have all heard the admonition “money in front!”  That policy is one we may have to forego.  Where we have the opportunity to fix our hourly rates and do not have to achieve high revenue quotas in order to satisfy other lawyers in our firm, then we may have to fix lower rates from the clients of limited means.  We may have to work out installment payment plans, even if that means our full fee may not be paid until long after the representation has ended.  As Christian lawyers, we may have to take risks in terms of being paid.

I am not saying that we are obliged to engage in “involuntary” pro bono work!  If our fee has been modest, payment by installments has been offered, but the client still does not pay, then I have no problem suing the client, or if the client is a Christian, offering Christian conciliation of my claim.  It is not, in my opinion, a Christian distinctive to abandon a fee that had been earned legitimately.

In most instances, the lawyer who gives generous pro bono and reduced fee service will not make a lot of money.  Consequently, such a lawyer’s personal lifestyle may be modest by comparison with that of other lawyers.  For the Christian lawyer this demonstrates a fundamental difference in his or her core values.

The Christian’s law practice is not directed toward the accumulation of wealth but toward service to others, particularly to the poor and others less fortunate.

Jesus said it bluntly: “You cannot serve God and wealth.”  In terms of serving God, Jesus declared: “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.”  Ministry to the “least of these” was of no small importance to Jesus – it will differentiate the sheep from the goats at the last judgment!  In view of that, surely we are not being extreme if we use the same test to differentiate a Christian law practice from a secular one.

David Dugan, III

 

– This article comes from AI’s devotional for lawyers titled, “What Does the Lord Require of You?”

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