Thursday, August 30, 2007

What I Believe Lawyers Should Believe

Here is a list of the ideas I would like to see lawyers believe. They are not original, but come from the ideas of a whole host of writers and philosophers and statesmen. At Trinity Law School, an evangelical protestant Christian law school, we do our best, not only to teach the law and legal thinking as they are, but also to present these ideas to the students in a persuasive way.

a. Lawyers should be professionals whose practice improves the public perception of the profession, earns the confidence of their clients, and brings glory to God.
b. Lawyers should be collegial, and engage their peers with respect and professionalism even if they think their peers fall short of those standards. Lawyers should engage the culture of the law in the Bar, in the courtroom and in the classroom. They should not separate themselves from mainstream legal culture – instead they should reform and improve it.
c. Lawyers should engage the culture.
d. Lawyers should be professionals who serve their clients by counseling them about moral implications and human costs of conduct, not just the arguable legality of conduct. Lawyers themselves should practice law in a way that is above reproach – in contrast to the view that lawyers can do whatever is not clearly illegal.
e. It is appropriate for Christians to act as advocates in the legal system, even for parties that are guilty or in the wrong, provided that they are honest with the court and with their client, and do not knowingly participate in the offering of false testimony. In representing blameworthy clients the believing attorney, as a fellow sinner saved by God’s grace, has the opportunity to be an instrument of God’s mercy and grace. But, Christians should not file or maintain lawsuits they know to be frivolous.
f. Christians need to be loving, merciful, empathetic, and polite, as well as just, especially in the legal and political realms.
g. All human beings are created in the image of God. As such they should be treated with dignity and respect regardless of status, origin, race, or conduct. All human beings should be seen as equal before the law in the sense that the law applies in the same way to them all, all are imperfect sinners, and all are entitled to appropriate due process. Lawyers should seek real due process of law for all, but should not seek special privileges or protections for genuine evil doers. Nor should lawyers advocate laws designed to shelter real evil from the reach of the law or the disapproval of society.
h. Human laws should not impose burdens that people cannot bear.
i. Human law should not forbid all that is immoral or require all that is moral. Because we all violate God’s moral law all the time, human laws cannot be coextensive with God’s moral law. For example, God’s law deals with our thoughts and feelings. Human laws should only prohibit specific external acts or omissions – not thoughts or feelings (though wrongful intent evidenced by action may be taken into account by human law; e.g. malice).
j. Human law should have respect for victims and should require, when practical, that the perpetrators of crimes make restitution to the known victims of the crime.
k. Human laws and constitutions should be interpreted in much the same way as the Bible – to give effect to the law’s intent – not the whims and evolving desires of the interpreter or culture. Words actually have meanings and the mischiefs laws are passed to correct are discoverable. The plane meaning of a text and the purposes of the authors provide guidance which should be followed. If you want a new subjective Constitutional right, try to amend the Constitution – do not claim it says what it does not say.
l. Human laws should be interpreted with the presumption that the law is meant to work justice with mercy – not to create new harms.
m. Human government exists to promote good and punish evil. Laws to use government to promote moral evils or to seriously limit our liberty to choose among objectively moral goods are illegitimate and should be changed rather than enforced.
n. Human laws should be reasonable, for the common good, and within the limits of timeless objective moral principles known to all people through God’s general and special revelation. Such limits do not violate the First Amendment – they are part of the Natural Law that gives the First Amendment the force and authority it possesses.
o. The subjects of some human laws concern matters, that while implicating the common good, are morally indifferent. It must be recognized that while feelings and arguments on these matters may be intense, they are not in the same category as laws directly dealing with things moral or immoral. Additional deference is due to opponents in such areas of argument. There is not an inherently “Christian” position on policies concerning indifferent matters like statutes of limitation or choices of armaments even if there may be good reasons to adopt one approach over another.
p. Human government cannot solve all human problems. In trying to solve some problems government occasionally creates worse problems. But government has an obligation to protect the weak, to aid the genuinely oppressed, and to restrain evil, all through the rule of law.
q. No objective right can exist to do a moral wrong, though some real objective rights may make it more difficult to police criminal acts.
r. Even when human laws are stupid or obnoxious or illegitimate we generally obey them until we can have them changed, unless they command what God forbids or forbid what God commands, in which case opposition to the offending law is necessary. If the legal means of change are not available, in some cases civil disobedience may be necessary and appropriate as part of a concerted strategy to change bad laws that do not go so far as to command what God forbids or to forbid what God commands. But care and wisdom must be used in determining when such civil disobedience is appropriate.


Vance Esler said...

That is an excellent set of goals lawyers should aspire to.

Can you publish that in one of your journals? Even if you have to "de-Christianize" it, it would still be good strictly because of the moral code it encourages among attorneys.

Dean McConnell said...

That is an idea. I had not thought of turning it into a journal article.

jnetsworld said...

I wish more lawyers aspired to such greatness. I had wanted to pursue law when I was in high school but was told about the unsavoriness of a lawyer's code to work within the law to cover those that did not have the public interest in mind.

All vocations create possibilities to benefit society.. a person must only be a person of integrity.

When we have business and industry value integrity, I think we will find also greater purpose and perhaps THE purpose of business of industry... It's not dollars.

Thanks for the post.


Sacchiel said...

I really enjoyed the thought that went into this one:

i. Human law should not forbid all that is immoral or require all that is moral. Because we all violate God’s moral law all the time, human laws cannot be coextensive with God’s moral law.

Dean McConnell said...


As I mention though, it is not really an original idea. Thomas Aquinas and others said the same thing long ago. J. Budziszewski and others have recently been bringing these ideas back into the public consciousness.

guillomachado said...

Brilliant, Dean McConnell, to fall in line with the great thinkers of the past. You are one of the great thinkers of today to recognize such truths and to teach them so richly to so many eager minds. I have sent your words to my father in Venezuela, so that he may enjoy how we think at Trinity.