I am a lawyer because I am dispensable

John Hyde

John Hyde

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Bart Simpson: “Mr. Hutz, when I grow up, I wanna be a lawyer just like you. … If there’s one thing America needs, it’s more lawyers.  Can you imagine a world without lawyers?  Marge in Chains, 1993, The Simpsons

Can you imagine a world without lawyers?  If you’ve seen this episode of The Simpsons (and have a good memory, as it was way back in 1993) then you may recall Lionel Hutz’s repulsion at the idea.  People living in harmony, no disputes to earn fees; it causes him to shudder.  Others might be more encouraged by such a world.  Science fiction, for one, does indeed imagine it from time to time, removing lawyers from the world and describing a future free from them – with varying results.

What about us as individual lawyers – can we imagine a legal world without us?  In our profession, it is easy to feel – to feel the need to be – indispensible.  We might feel to be in, or we might enjoy, a privileged position in our workplaces or with clients, encouraging us to think that neither could carry on well without us.  Equally, we may be afraid of our workplaces taking important decisions, or developing initiatives without us, leaving us at a disadvantage or hampering our work.  We might be afraid of clients seeking a different lawyer, or sending us fewer instructions.  Both concerns might lead us to try and be indispensible.

In reality, of course, we are all pretty dispensable at the end of the day.  Legal workplaces keep going when lawyers leave, and clients can always find another lawyer fairly easily in the competitive legal market.  This might make us feel discouraged.  No matter how talented or successful we might be, the legal world will likely barely register a shudder when we leave.  If we are so dispensable, what is the point of all of the hard work that we put in, and all of the stress and pressure that we endure?

I’d like to suggest that being dispensable should not discourage us, but actually help us to enjoy our work.

For Christians, feeling dispensable should not be anything new.  We serve a God who does not need us to do anything for Him because everything is His and He is entirely self-sufficient (Ps 50:9-13); and as the old liturgy reminds us, of His own do we give Him.  We do not earn our salvation, either, but receive it as a gift from God.  His plans continue throughout the ages, regardless of human action or indifference.  Should we feel discouraged, and question our purpose to God, if His work does not depend on us?

Quite the opposite, actually.  It is immensely freeing.  God does not depend on us, so we are free of the burden of needing to make things happen.  We do not bear that responsibility, but are invited to share in the amazing works that God is already doing, and will achieve; we cannot cause His works to succeed or fail, which is a great relief.  More than that, if God does not value us for what we do, then we see a profound truth – He values us for who we are.  He gives us worth by lavishing His love on us, because He made us and He loves us.  Nothing we can do, or not do, can cause God to love us any more or any less.  Instead, as Augustine noted, we see that our purpose is to enjoy God forever.

And this can free us in our legal work as well.  In light of God’s love for us, we do not value ourselves by what we achieve, or fail to achieve, in legal work.  God does not need us to achieve His purposes of justice, so we do not bear that responsibility.  Instead, we can freely join in the work that God is already doing in this world to bring about His kingdom, free from the pressure of needing to ensure that work succeeds; God guarantees that Himself.  Moreover, we do not need to take the crushing road of trying to make ourselves indispensible to our workplaces or clients in order to try and be secure in our practices.  We already have the greatest security of all, in God’s salvation and providence.  And we also have the greatest value of all – that God would love us, and call us His children.  Nothing can take that eternal value away from us, whether or not the legal world keeps turning when we leave it.

And so it turns out that being dispensable in legal practice is no bad thing in the end.

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