The spiritual opportunities that arise as I work as a trial lawyer have not always been clear to me, and they continue to unfold before me as I zigzag across the path of my calling.
Matthew 25:35 speaks to this calling:
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
In my work as a trial lawyer, I have experienced the loving presence of God as I serve my clients accused of crimes. They are caught up in a demeaning system that aims to take their freedom. Even my most “hardened” clients are afraid, lost, remorseful, and in great need. As their guide and advocate, I have the opportunity to meet God in my relationship with my client. I share information, develop choices to help them make the decision between bad and worse. I am often a guide, a counselor, an advocate, and sometimes their fighter.
The word “compassion” derives from the words that mean “to suffer with,” and I suffer with my client. I worry. I lose sleep. I work too hard. I rejoice at their freedom, and sometimes weep at their imprisonment. Regardless of the outcome of the case, I am increasingly aware of God’s presence at every step.
The more I open myself to the guidance of the Spirit in my work, the more I witness miracles of transformation in myself and my clients.
The path of the trial lawyer offers a path of the suffering servant. I am learning to see myself in my client, and understand my connection to them and their crime. I am deeply flawed, could have been in their shoes if circumstances were reversed.
I meditate often on the system which gives rise to my privilege, and my client’s deprivation. I pray for forgiveness for my complicity in system that gives rise to our social failure in education, vocational development, mental health and addiction treatment.
I share in my client’s guilt, and my freedom is bound of in theirs. I think often of a quote by Socialist Anti-War Activist, Eugene Debs, who went to jail for obstructing the draft by speaking against World War I. He said, “Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I am not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”
My teacher and guide, Jesus, ended his time as one of three criminals on a cross. He cultivated loving relationships with thieves, prostitutes, and outcasts. He taught in his life the healing and transformative power of suffering sacrificial service.
I am learning that I am called to make my work the loving of the world, and for me this takes the form of serving folks in trouble. If I have failed, it is when I do not love enough, when I do not bring love into the world.
As I prepare for a double murder trial next week, I pray that I will be open to light in dark places, that I will serve as a gentle guide and strong advocate for my client, and that I will fight for his freedom as if it were my own.