February 26, 2009

The Invisible Rule: Lawyer as Counselor

Our cultural image of lawyers as zealous advocates is so dominant that many lawyers and non-lawyers alike are surprised to learn that the rules of our profession explicitly authorize an alternative paradigm for lawyering: The lawyer as counselor.

ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 2.1, stealthily listed under the official subheading "Counselor," reads as follows:

Rule 2.1 Advisor

In representing a client, a lawyer shall exercise independent professional judgment and render candid advice. In rendering advice, a lawyer may refer not only to law but to other considerations such as moral, economic, social and political factors, that may be relevant to the client's situation. [emphasis added]

Certainly, for the Christian lawyer, an appeal to the client's sense of Christian ethics and values falls squarely within the scope of such authorized advice. The popular myth that lawyers must blindly serve clients as morally neutered hired guns is just that, a popular myth.

Comment 2 to Rule 2.1 clarifies the concept of lawyer as counselor:

[2] Advice couched in narrow legal terms may be of little value to a client, especially where practical considerations, such as cost or effects on other people, are predominant. Purely technical legal advice, therefore, can sometimes be inadequate. It is proper for a lawyer to refer to relevant moral and ethical considerations in giving advice. Although a lawyer is not a moral advisor as such, moral and ethical considerations impinge upon most legal questions and may decisively influence how the law will be applied. [emphasis added]

While Christian lawyers are, of course, sometimes called to be zealous advocates for our clients, we can likewise fully and ethically embrace the call we often experience to provide our clients with something more, the benefit of sound biblical counsel.


  1. On reading this post I remembered that here, in the UK, we have QCs, who are more formally known as the "Queen's Counsel". The Queen is not only our head of state, but also the head of our Church.

    Despite the common perception of the legal "business", most of the lawyers and barristers I know are ethical, thoughtful people who do their best to protect their clients while ensuring that justice is done.

    Still, it must be a tricky road to travel, keeping that balance. I don't envy you your profession!

  2. Jane, glad to hear of your relatively positive experience with members of the legal profession. And thanks for sharing the interesting info about the QCs. I was not familiar with that term.

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