February 28, 2009

A Lawyer's Choice: Gasoline or Water

As a Christian lawyer, when your client is being consumed by the flames of offense, do you fuel that fire with gasoline, or do you quench it with cool water?

A man's wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense. - Proverbs 19:11

Are you encouraging your clients to embrace God's counsel and experience the glory of overlooking offenses? Or are you, perhaps by unwitting conformity to secular expectations, misguiding your clients into getting scorched by the heat of revenge?

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.

February 21, 2009

The Litigation Trap and The Christian Conciliation Alternative: Full Chapter Excerpts Online

The current issue of Christianity 9 to 5 Magazine (Issue 35: Dealing with Discouragement and Discord) features two full chapter exerpts, "The Litigation Trap" and "The Christian Conciliation Alternative," from The Believer's Guide to Legal Issues by Stephen Bloom.

From the magazine: "In our litigious society, it’s become a cultural norm for people to turn to lawyers and the courts to settle their conflicts. But when should a Christian litigate? Under what circumstances should we rely on the judicial system to resolve our disputes? And what alternatives, if any, are there for those with legitimate claims? In this pair of chapters from his book The Believer’s Guide to Legal Issues, Stephen Bloom provides some clarifying perspective."

February 18, 2009

Book Review: Faith & Law

Faith & Law: How Religious Traditions from Calvinism to Islam View American Law (2008, NYU Press) is an engaging and enlightening group of scholarly essays on faith and law, each given context by editor Robert F. Cochran Jr.'s illuminating and insightful commentary. As Professor Cochran explains in his introduction, many law schools seem to have forgotten (or have chosen to ignore) the immensely important role of religion in the development and practice of law. This book helps us, as lawyers, to break free from our overwhelmingly courthouse-centric view of the law and rediscover the unique perspectives on the law offered from our houses of worship. I would highly recommend "Faith & Law" to lawyers, law students, judges and legal scholars. 

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)

February 14, 2009

Equipping Law Students for Balanced Lives

The legal profession has a well deserved reputation for consuming (and sometimes destroying) the lives of its practitioners. So for Christian lawyers, especially, the ability to maintain a healthy balance between law practice and life's other worthy endeavors is an essential survival skill.  In the coming weeks I'll be sharing some of my own hard-won insight on successful life and career balance with future lawyers at University of Maryland School of Law and Widener Law

My planned presentation for the law students, entitled "Making Friends with the Jealous Mistress: Successfully Balancing Law Practice and Life," is based partially on a similarly titled essay I wrote for The Pennsylvania Lawyer magazine's July/August 2008 issue.  Anyone interested in receiving a copy of that essay may leave a comment requesting same, along with appropriate contact info, and I'll be happy to email the pdf file to you.

My talk at Maryland is set for February 26, at 12:00 p.m., and my talk at Widener is tentatively set for March 19, at 5:00 p.m. The talks are being sponsored by the respective Christian Legal Society Student Chapters at each law school.

February 10, 2009

Foreword: The Believer's Guide to Legal Issues

The proverbial saying that an “ounce of prevention is worth a pound of the cure” aptly describes the true value of the “practical counsel” the reader will find from Steve Bloom on every page of this helpful book. Best of all, Mr. Bloom’s experienced counsel is not just practical, it is eternal because it soundly rests on the words of God as set forth in Holy Scripture.

Having practiced law for more than thirty years, I find collected in this book just the sort of sage advice I would give to my dearest friend or closest relative. I imagine that if taken to heart this book might save the reader much heartache, not to mention wasted time and unnecessary legal fees.

It is no secret that Christians in America divorce just as often and are involved in more than 4 million lawsuits annually. Indeed, it can be whimsically stated that where two or more Christians are gathered in Jesus’ name there all too often is conflict. Rather than resolve these conflicts within the church, too many Christians are sent to attorneys and courthouses where they never hear the good advice found these pages.

On the other hand, here at the Christian Legal Society we know from the more than 10,000 legal referrals we provide to the public every year, most people do not know how to find a good attorney they can truly trust or how to properly evaluate the moral value of the advice they are receiving from their legal counsel they do retain. A reading of this book will better prepare anyone to wisely retain and best work with their legal counsel.

Mr. Bloom’s wise and Christ-honoring approach to identifying, understanding and responding to the legal problems most commonly faced by Americans today is a useful drink of water for a thirsty church. Best of all, the book sets forth in general terms just the sort of moral considerations that we all should hear and understand before investing considerable time and money in unnecessary legal proceedings that may only serve to kiss our most important relationships good-bye.

Mr. Bloom’s book not only shows folks facing legal problems how to best respond to those problems. It also serves to provide the Christian lawyer or law student with a good example of how they might better advise their clients.

Of course there is no better example of a Christian lawyer than Jesus. 1 John 2:1 says: “If anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense, Jesus Christ the Righteous One.” The “we” John refers to in this passage are people he knew to be followers of Christ, those who by their confession of faith had already “retained” Jesus as their advocate or attorney to represent, defend and even stand in their place before the judgment seat of God. No “client” of Jesus has ever or will ever receive ineffective representation. None of Jesus’ clients have ever lost their case for salvation before the throne of Heaven. Even the guilty thief crucified with Jesus, when he asked Jesus to remember him in heaven, found the dying Jesus to be a caring and effective advocate.

According to Scripture, those who are in eternal torment decided or preferred to represent themselves (or sought some advocate, argument or thing other than Jesus) to make their case for righteousness before an all Holy and Righteous God. None of these are Jesus’ clients. Their unfortunate ends are as predictable as that of the guilty criminal defendant who decides to represent himself and has no one to take his punishment for him.

While it is true that Jesus had some harsh criticisms for the lawyers of his day who were always trying to “oppose him fiercely and besiege him with questions waiting to catch him in something he might say” (Luke 11:53-54), a careful reading of Luke 11:42 demonstrates that Jesus cared about right practice of law and was actually providing a job description for a lawyer who follows God, in contradiction to the legalistic, egocentric, hypocritical lawyers of Jesus’ day. Those lawyers were focusing on trivialities and forgetting justice, truth and fair treatment of others - - characteristics often applied to lawyers today. For Jesus, a Christian lawyer would not forget the “weightier matters of the law”- - justice, mercy and faithfulness (Malachi 23:22).

Take and read this useful book. Whether you are seeking Christian legal counsel or trying to provide it, this book will help you bear in mind the “weightier matters of the law” that Jesus encourages all of us to always remember – justice, mercy and faithfulness.


Samuel B. Casey
Executive Director & CEO
Christian Legal Society

Author's Note: Foreword excerpted from "The Believer's Guide to Legal Issues" (2008, Living Ink Books). Sam Casey concluded his ministry as the Executive Director & CEO of the Christian Legal Society in late 2008, after 14 years of faithful service. He now serves as Executive Vice President & General Counsel at CLS's sister organization, Advocates International.