February 16, 2009

Google Gives Glimpse of Legal Struggles

If the eyes are a window to the soul, then Google Analytics is a window to the struggles of that soul.

About a year ago, I launched IsThereALawyerInTheChurch, as a helpful website for Christians seeking biblical counsel on the real life legal situations they face. It’s not a site offering specific legal advice or soliciting clients. Instead, it’s intended to be a connection point to various Christian legal resources and organizations, as well as a forum to share information from my book, The Believer’s Guide to Legal Issues (Living Ink Books, 2008), and my related ministry of spreading the good news that Christ offers hope and peace to those caught up in legal complexities. 

When I set up my site, I registered it with Google Analytics, an amazing free tool for monitoring and analyzing web traffic. I knew it would be enlightening to learn something about the people visiting my site, but I had no idea how revealing some of the Google Analytics data would be.

And while statistics on the raw numbers of visitors, their geographical locations, and the sites that refer them are interesting, it’s the ability to see the actual search terms used by the anonymous people landing on my site that I find most intriguing. Each search term suggests its own story, and often it’s not a pretty one.

For example, my heart sinks at the thought of what unfortunate experiences must have inspired searches like “how lawyers cheat clients,” “how not to be cheated by attorney,” “ways lawyers cheat their clients,” “should Christians continue to try and find honest lawyers,” and the grammatically challenged but starkly poignant “lawyer and there skeems.”

How were these searchers being victimized by their attorneys? What professional misconduct and schemes generated such fear and suspicion? And how tragic that any lawyer anywhere would be treating clients in such a way as to make inquiries like this necessary.

And then there’s the other side of the coin, clients seeking retribution against their attorneys. Searches like “how to get even with your lawyer.” While this angry searcher surely left my site without gleaning useful ammunition for the implementation of his or her vengeful plans, the rest of the Internet is not so kind and I have no doubt some frightening answers were found. And I can only pray that God’s spirit of forgiveness would intervene before someone gets hurt.

Perhaps the person seeking revenge against a lawyer would be delighted to learn that somewhere, a lawyer was searching “lawyers cheated by clients.” Would that be comfort enough? Maybe not, but I’m betting that those of you who’ve ever reluctantly paid a lawyer’s bloated invoice are smiling at least a little at the image of this poor attorney haplessly searching the web for insight on what to do after being ripped off by his or her devious client!

And maybe the next best thing to cheating your lawyer is finding a way to avoid the need to pay for legal representation at all. The search for “Christian lawyers who work for free” reflects the surprisingly common misperception that if a lawyer is a Christian, then he or she should, of course, be willing to work pro bono for other Christians. Never mind that Christian lawyers have to feed their families and pay their bills just like everyone else! I don’t know if this misperception is as common in other professions: Is the Christian dentist expected to clean the teeth of follow believers for free? Must the Christian car mechanic do free oil changes for every brother or sister in Christ who pulls into the service bay? Why, I wonder, do so many expect their Christian lawyer to work for free?

But at least the person looking for a free Christian lawyer does seem to recognize that there are, in fact, Christian lawyers. Others are not so convinced. Hence doubt-filled searches like “are there Christian lawyers,” “can Christians be lawyers,” and the assumption-laden “why lawyers don't go to church.” I am happy to announce that yes, there are Christian lawyers! Lots of us, actually. We have national and international organizations, conferences and training sessions, books and websites, even a number of fully accredited law schools turning out hundreds more freshly minted Christian lawyers every year! And, believe it or not, yes, many of us even go to church!

On the other hand, there is this ominous search inquiry: “lawyers who take on churches.” Unfortunately, there are plenty of those too, and I am saddened to know that the end result of a search like that will probably be a local sheriff knocking on some parsonage door and serving the pastor with a lawsuit against his congregation. Maybe the lawsuit will be justified, maybe it will be frivolous. But either way, damage will be done.

As the Apostle Paul pleaded with the Corinthians, “I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to decide between one believer and another, but a believer goes to court against a believer – and before unbelievers at that? In fact, to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud – and believers at that.” 1 Corinthians 6:5-8. A lose-lose situation, to be sure.

Meanwhile, other searchers are asking “can Jesus save you from legal issues?” It may sound like a na├»ve or desperate question, but my answer would be yes, He can. In my twenty-plus years of law practice, I’ve come to realize that following God’s counsel on legal matters can, in fact, save you from much grief and heartache. I’m not claiming that God will help you win your case or avoid the consequences for your actions. But if you are willing to take the bold step of being a peacemaker in the circumstances you find yourself facing, God can and will deliver you from the miserable cycle of greed, retribution and destruction that accompanies most legal action.

Sometimes, the searches are more mysterious in nature. I can only wonder what the person searching “a lawyer representing Jesus in court” is trying to find. Perhaps the searcher perceives that a lawyer who represents the least of these (orphans, widows, the poor, the oppressed – the potential list gets quite lengthy) is truly representing Christ? Perhaps the question is whether Jesus had an earthly advocate in the sham trial that sent Him to the cross? It’s a fascinating question. But in the final analysis, really it is Christ who becomes our lawyer (our advocate), not the other way around. Christ is the one who redeems us from the harsh judgment we would surely face without Him at our side.

And then there’s this search: “I’m confused and tired.” Why this forlorn query led someone to my legal website, I have no idea. But it is fitting. The scripture quote on my sidebar leads right to the answer, from Psalm 127:1: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord builds the city, the guard keeps watch in vain.”

And if the searcher would turn to the Bible and open that passage, they would see the next verse, Psalm 127:2: “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives sleep to his beloved.” It’s my hope and prayer that this unknown searcher, and all those others seeking help for the challenging situations they face, would turn to God and find clarity and peace.

(reprinted from Stephen Bloom's latest Good News on the Law column from Good News Daily)

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