November 28, 2009

God Banished from the Courtroom? Not Here

With so many in the legal profession working diligently to unfasten the law from its Judeo-Christian moorings, it's encouraging to realize just how tough their job is. Reminders of our deep religious heritage remain integral parts of the everyday legal landscape. Consider this intriguing provision of current Pennsylvania law, said to be derived from our 1772 colonial statutes:

42 Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes § 5901. Judicial oath.

(a) General rule.--Every witness, before giving any testimony shall take an oath in the usual or common form, by laying the hand upon an open copy of the Holy Bible, or by lifting up the right hand and pronouncing or assenting to the following words: "I, A. B., do swear by Almighty God, the searcher of all hearts, that I will   *, and that as I shall answer to God at the last great day." Which oath so taken by persons who conscientiously refuse to take an oath in the common form shall be deemed and taken in law to have the same effect as an oath taken in common form.

(b) Right to affirm.--The affirmation may be administered in any judicial proceeding instead of the oath, and shall have the same effect and consequences, and any witness who desires to affirm shall be permitted to do so.

[*statute leaves a blank for insertion of appropriate action, typically "tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth"]

Almighty God, the searcher of all hearts! As I shall answer to God at the last great day! Shocking language in this era of militant political correctness. While some want to make God a fugitive from justice, in reality he's still very much a legal insider.

What evidence of the strong biblical foundation of our American legal system do you encounter in your practice?

November 21, 2009

Lifeline for Law Students: Master List of 155 Christian Fellowship & Christian Legal Society Law School Chapters

As a Christian believer, how do you survive the relentless law school pressure cooker? How do you rise above the cuttthroat competition and anti-Christian bias so prevalent at most secular law schools? Is it even possible for a Christian to successfully emerge from three years of law school with faith intact?

Last month, I wrote a post, Future Lawyers: Christian Law School Options, listing eleven law schools which at least purport to honor and uphold a Judeo-Christian worldview in their approach to legal education. But with hundreds of secular law schools enrolling thousands of law students across the U.S., attendance at an institution teaching law from a God-honoring perspective isn't a realistic option for every Christ-following law student.

Fortunately, through the good and diligent ministry of the Christian Legal Society (CLS) and others, more than 150 American law schools have either a law student CLS chapter or some other organized law student Christian fellowship on campus. These faithful bands of fellow-believers provide a lifeline of support, prayer, and encouragement for Christian law students tossed and tumbled in the storms of law school life.

On the lower right sidebar of my blawg, I've posted my updated master list of links to the 155 campus chapters of Christian law student groups I've identified in my research. (Please feel free to offer corrections, updates and additions!)

Law school can be a dark and dangerous place for believers. The light and love of God arising from a Christian legal fellowship can help you overcome the darkness and danger!

November 16, 2009

Are You a Generic Lawyer?

I was in a motel while visiting Pittsburgh and, as I often do, decided to look through the local Yellow Pages for disturbing or quirky lawyer ads. One that caught my eye wasn't disturbing, but was certainly quirky. It was attorney Norma Chase's "Generic Lawyer" ad (left). In fact, as it turns out, Ms. Chase has an entire (albeit very simple) Generic Lawyer website. And I'm sure she is an excellent lawyer, and creative too. This is not about her.

My question is for Christian believers practicing law. Are you presenting yourself to the public and your peers as a generic lawyer? Are you intentionally making your practice indistinguishable from those of the multitudes of generically secular lawyers? Are you keeping your faith hidden? Or are you boldly offering the full counsel of God, the unique perspective an informed Christian faith brings to the legal realm?

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. - Matthew 13-16 (NIV)

November 10, 2009

Every Christian Lawyer's Got a Career Crisis Story. Here's Mine. What's Yours?

Preface (excerpted from The Believer's Guide to Legal Issues)

Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. — PSALM 127:1

It was a summer night in Philadelphia, July 10, 1998. My knees ached against the concrete as I prayed, wedged between the front of my own folded stadium seat and the seatbacks of the row below.

The space wasn’t designed for prayer. Perfect, maybe, for standing to cheer a touchdown run or a long drive to deep left field, but not an ideal place for a grown man to drop to his knees and pray. Yet there I was, with 40,000 of my brothers in Christ, all kneeling awkwardly but reverently, in silence on the stadium floor.

I had been struggling intensely for almost a year, wrestling with God over a major decision. As the weekend of the Promise Keepers stadium conference approached, I prayed that God would somehow use this event to answer my prayers, to reveal his will to me in a clear, understandable way.

Even on the hundred-mile bus ride to the stadium, I continued to pray that this might be the weekend. Still, I wasn’t prepared for the speed or clarity with which God would speak to me that night in Philadelphia.

It was only the first evening of the two-day conference. The man who asked us to get on our knees was only the first of more than a half dozen speakers lined up for the weekend. And yet, as he led us in those moments of prayer, there it was.

It wasn’t something the speaker said. It wasn’t an audible voice. It wasn’t even phrased as a direct response to the question I’d been wrestling with. But it was totally clear, almost insistent in its clarity. It was the unmistakable voice of God. The words were as thunderous as they were quiet. I had my answer: “YOU KNOW WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO.”

I’d been a born-again believer in Jesus Christ for nearly nine years and a practicing lawyer for almost eleven. At first, the two seemed entirely compatible. But as the Holy Spirit steadily cleansed my heart over the years, a tension gradually began to build. By 1997, that tension was maturing into a full-blown spiritual crisis. Could I, as a Christian, continue to make my living in a profession that seemed to embrace a value system entirely contrary to the teachings of Jesus?

So I began to pray and struggle. I was a partner in one of the largest and most well-respected law firms in our county. The men and women I worked with were good, honest, and decent folks. Many were even Christians. The financial compensation was excellent and the future, by all accounts, was secure. But it was a secular firm practicing law from the same worldly perspective as a thousand other firms across the country. Nothing illegal or improper, but certainly no intentional focus on incorporating Christian values into legal practice.

On one hand, I sensed God calling me to do something radical. While I had a good measure of freedom at the law firm, still there were unspoken rules of conformity and a conventional secular approach was expected. The firm was simply not the place to experiment with an entirely new way of practicing law. Further, it wasn’t yet clear to me whether God was actually calling me to become a “Christian lawyer” or if he was, instead, calling me to leave the legal profession altogether for a ministerial vocation.

On the other hand, I had a wife and three young children to support. Did it make sense to put them at economic risk to pursue a somewhat vague and uncertain path? And if I left the law firm, wouldn’t that be taking the easy way out? Shouldn’t I just buck up and try to be a witness for Christ where I was?

The questions kept multiplying. Would leaving the firm be disloyal to my partners? Or would staying on when my heart was elsewhere actually be more disloyal? Was it possible to become an overtly Christian lawyer, or would I merely be trading on the name of Christ for financial gain? Could I even make a living at all as a Christian lawyer? My mind was racing. What did God really want me to do? Many times over I’d convince myself to hold steady on the course, only to find all the questions rushing back within months, or weeks, or even days.

By early 1998, I was beginning to drive my very patient wife and myself to frustration. At some point, she temporarily “banned” me from discussing the topic with her any further, to give us a much needed break. But as the year slipped by and the date for that summer’s Promise Keepers event eased closer, I began to gain a sense of hope that perhaps, at long last, a decision would finally be at hand.

And so it was that I found myself listening to God speak to me that hot July night in Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. The uncertainty and doubt had been instantaneously removed. Thanks be to God, I knew what I had to do. From that night on, it was simply a matter of finding the courage to do it. I would start a Christian law practice.

And when the time was right, God filled me with the courage I needed. There were some inevitable tears and a few heated discussions,but all in all, the transition unfolded as if God’s hand was directing the entire process, which I believe it was. My professional associates conducted themselves with admirable class and integrity, for which I will always remain grateful, and my clients responded with a level of support beyond anything I had imagined possible.

So, in keeping with God’s incomparable sense of humor and timing, I launched my new law practice on April Fools’ Day 1999, sailing faithfully into an unknown realm under the hopeful banner “Practical Counsel—Christian Perspective.”

Over the years since, I have worked and prayed to discover a truly Christian perspective on the law, and to discern biblical principles with practical application to the real-life situations faced by my clients. I have encountered some successes and some failures. Through my own weakness, I have missed many opportunities to glorify God. But in humbling myself before him, I have also been privileged to participate in some miraculous demonstrations of God’s strength and power. Being a sinner, saved only by God’s grace, I expect that the future will hold more of the same.

I offer this book to share some of the things I’ve learned so far. I pray that it will be an encouragement to the body of believers to live out the abundant life God promises. And I pray that it will serve as a warning to help us avoid some of the many traps and snares Satan has set for us in the legal system (a glimpse of hell itself in the minds of many reading this, I am sure!). Although written for nonlawyers, I trust that my fellow attorneys will be enlightened as well. I have encountered too many lawyers who publicly present themselves as Christians, but in practice are virtually indistinguishable from their secular peers. I believe God has something much better in mind for all of us.

May this book be a blessing to you.

Stephen L. Bloom, Esquire
Carlisle, Pennsylvania

The Believer’s Guide to Legal Issues
Copyright © 2008 by Stephen L. Bloom
Published by Living Ink Books, an imprint of AMG Publishers
6815 Shallowford Rd.
Chattanooga, Tennessee 37421
All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations in printed reviews, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (printed, written, photocopied, visual, electronic, audio, or otherwise) without the prior permission of the publisher.

November 4, 2009

"You can't make it in biglaw if you're that worried about what God would think"

Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. - Acts 4:29

A Christian law student's recent post at Christians in a Legal World asks the blunt question: "Would you put your membership in Christian Legal Society (or any other 'Christian' organization) on your resume?"

Over at Auto Admit, a law school admissions discussion board, a long discussion thread unfolds under the heading: "Is Christian Law Student Association acceptable to put on resume?" A sampling of the counsel offered there: "Anybody who knows what they are about wouldn't think you'd be a good fit for biglaw.You can't make it in biglaw if you're that worried about what God would think."

Is being a born-again Christian believer really a career killer in the legal profession? If so, would you (or do you) suppress your Christian identity to advance your professional success?

Here's the comment I posted at Christians in a Legal World:

"I am convinced that God honors us when we honor him. While there may be costs associated with identifying yourself as a Christian lawyer, there are rewards that far outweigh those costs. You may lose some income potential, maybe even some opportunities for career advancement, but you will gain the joy of living an integrated life, and God will have plenty of unexpected career opportunities of his own for you. Don't hide your faith!"

What about you? How do you reconcile your Christian faith with your legal career?