January 28, 2010

Lawyer Rule #1: Keep Your Hands in Your Own Pockets

"Doesn't it strike this company as unusual that a lawyer should have both hands in his own pockets?" - Mark Twain

For the third time in my legal career, a lawyer I've rubbed briefcases with in the local bar has gone completely off the ethics reservation, cheating clients out of vast sums of money.

In two out of the three cases, the lawyers in question held themselves out to the community as Christians.

And these weren't subtle cases of murky moral boundaries. No, these lawyers were caught flat out defrauding and stealing from the people they were supposed to be representing.

Why do we bother with fancy rules of professional conduct for attorneys when we can't even follow the 8th Commandment!

Is Mark Twain right?

Are we lawyers really unable to keep our hands in our own pockets?

What's your take?

January 23, 2010

Pillars of Success: People and Providence

My wife does a really cool "Flashback Friday" feature every week on her Connecting to Today blog. This week, her post focused on a picture of me at my law school graduation, back in 1987, standing before my father, mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, grandfather, and aunt. In the reflection of almost 23 years, the image speaks so eloquently of the investment each of these folks poured into my life, and the hopeful anticipation we all shared for my future as a lawyer.

For me (and I hope for them), it's been an amazing ride, taking me places I would never have expected or even imagined as I stood there in the presence of my beloved elders on graduation day.

As the picture reminds me, none of us make it in law on our own. Our success is the product of God's providence and the support of all those who help us along the journey, in ways big and small.

Who are the people who've helped you succeed in your legal career?

January 20, 2010

A Matter of Law and Debt

If you're a law student or seriously considering law school, then do yourself a favor and prayerfully consider Mike Schutt's on-the-money new post on law and debt at Redeeming Law.

Mike paints a stark picture of the constraining realities of law school debt, and then offers a helpful list of five key points to help you thoroughly think through the law school financing decision.

Emerging from law school with very modest debt was a ticket to freedom for me. Law is a great career with lots of amazing lifestyle options... IF you're not an indentured servant!

How has law school debt (or the lack thereof) impacted your legal career?

January 16, 2010

"In Justice" by Alliance Defense Fund CEO Alan Sears: Frightening Future or Emerging Reality?

In Justice is a new novel about an America of the future, a place where basic religious freedoms and rights of conscience have come under vicious attack by hostile government institutions, including the Department of Justice and a new federal agency, the Diversity and Tolerance Enforcement Division. Pastors, ministry leaders, and ordinary believers who dare to express traditional religious values are relentlessly persecuted, perp-walked in high-profile law enforcement take-downs, even killed in overzealous raids gone awry, all in the name of ending "discrimination." And the only hope standing between our last remnants of religious liberty and the powerful Alinsky-inspired forces of secular oppression is a small group of dedicated and fearless Christian lawyers.

The premise of In Justice is believable, but perhaps too believable. Perhaps the emergence of this frightening future is inevitable, or perhaps the story is being overtaken by real world events? The recent comments of a sitting state attorney general and U.S. Senate candidate that "you probably shouldn’t work in the emergency room" if you're a Catholic, the unprecedented ongoing expansion of federal government powers, the population of the Obama administration with a multitude "czars" pursuing various radical agendas, and even the new Federal Trade Commission requirement that bloggers like me publish legal notices such as the one appearing beneath this post, all make the book read almost like an immersion in current, rather than future, events.

Either way, Sears knows his stuff. He's been fighting in the trenches of the battle for American religious freedom for decades, and he understands the players inside and out. In Justice offers lawyers valuable insight into the real life world inhabited by legal advocates for liberty, like the Alliance Defense Fund, and it exposes the strategies, tactics, and mindsets of those aggressively seeking to snuff out that liberty.

What are your thoughts on "In Justice" by Alan Sears?

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Additionally, I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blawg. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

January 13, 2010

Adventures in Lawyering: Facing the Global Warming Giants

And all this assembly shall know that the LORD saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the LORD's, and he will give you into our hands. - 1 Samuel 17:47 (KJV)

Below is a short news video report on the Commonwealth Foundation's "Mann-Made Global Warming" press conference in which I participated yesterday (my segment is at 1:11). A few citizens facing the giants of the global warming establishment:

As I stood to speak on this grave situation from the rotunda of Pennsylvania's historic capitol, I was encouraged and fortified by the words of Pennsylvania's founder, William Penn, appearing high in the dome above: There may be room there for such a holy experiment - For the nations want a precedent - And my God will make it the seed of a nation - That an example may be set up to the nations - That we may do the thing that is truly wise and just.

What giants are you facing as a Christian lawyer?

January 7, 2010

Making friends with the jealous mistress

Back in 1829, Supreme Court Associate Justice Joseph Story accurately stated, "I will not say with Lord Hale, that 'The Law will admit of no rival' ...but I will say that it is a jealous mistress, and requires a long and constant courtship.  It is not to be won by trifling favors, but by lavish homage."

In the nearly 200 years since, the practice of law hasn't become any less insistent in its demands for lavish, long, and constant courtship. Any practicing lawyer knows there's always more to be done. We don't go home at the end of the day because we're finished, but because we've decided it's time to go home.

How do you make (and enforce) that decision to quit for the day? What disciplines, rationales, or tricks of the mind work for you in keeping the jealous mistress at bay?

For me, two concepts are essential: Boundaries and sacrifice.

Boundaries means, first, that I'm alert to the threat of law consuming all my waking hours (and stealing my sleeping hours). And second, boundaries means establishing certain deliberate defenses. Leaving the office by a set time, not working on weekends and especially Sundays, avoiding bringing work home. While none of these boundaries are easy to keep, their very existence makes them possible to keep. It's amazing what you can get done within your boundaries when they are firmly set.

Sacrifice means that I choose certain things above the law, no matter the consequences. God and serving him in tangible ways, family, recreation. The list is different for each lawyer, but there are things more important than law practice. And sacrifice means, yes, losing something. For me the cost is often income and professional recognition (although when it comes to recognition, I've seemingly gained more of it the more I've been willing to sacrifice it).

What are the keys to your healthy balance of life and law practice? What boundaries do you set? What sacrifices do you make?

How do you make friends with the jealous mistress?

Note: I touch on some related thoughts in an essay, "Making Friends with the Jealous Mistress: Successfully Balancing Law Practice and Life," which I wrote for The Pennsylvania Lawyer magazine's July/August 2008 issue. If you'd like a free copy of that essay, just leave a comment and your contact info, and I'll be happy to email the pdf file.

January 4, 2010

Downside of Multi-Vocational Lawyering: Priority Paralysis

Usually, my law office work priorities set themselves. Deadlines are deadlines, client expectations are what they are, and there's always the steady pressure to generate monthly revenue, should the first two factors fail to provide adequate inspiration. So I generally get enough legal work accomplished to maintain the necessary pace.

Likewise, my duties as an adjunct business prof come with built-in mechanisms to keep me on task. Classes meet as scheduled and I have little choice but to be present and prepared. Syllabi, exams, and grade submissions are all required on a time-sensitive cycle. Most semesters, prioritizing the academic work happily takes care of itself.

And as a writer and speaker, I'm driven by a God-infused urgency, the compelling sense that life here is short and there's only so much time to reach people with the Gospel and its rich applications to life. And, of course, humanly imposed calendar deadlines are an ever-present part of this realm as well. Churches where I'm preaching and media hosts don't wait around until I'm good and ready to appear, and editors rightly expect that I'll eventually produce copy. All of which, again, dictate a fairly easy-to-follow list of priorities. 

Balancing the three vocations, though sometimes a bit challenging, mostly keeps me energized and enthused. There seems to be a natural ebb and flow, with priorities intensifying in one area while fading in another. Of course, some of this balance may be the fruit of reasonably good planning and a bit of self-discipline, but even more is the fruit of serving a very merciful God. In any event, I almost always have a pretty clear sense of what's on top of my agenda for any given day.

But then there are the occasional days, like today, when the priorities of my three main vocations enter into a dangerous and dysfunctional equilibrium. Days when the responsibilities and demands of each area seem to beckon with equal urgency (or lack thereof). Legal files clutter my law firm desk, the beginning of a new semester looms, columns and chapters remain formless and unwritten.

What to do? Maybe writing this blawg post will help clarify my priorities? Other suggestions are welcome!

How do you prioritize your responsibilities (legal work and beyond)?