I am a lawyer because I need success
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What does success look like for a lawyer?
If you’re a solicitor like me, there are a number of ways to measure it. You can seek promotions, or even the holy grail of partnership within a firm. There are clients to impress, and hopefully get your own instructions from. As a barrister, there are solicitors and clients to impress for instructions, and “more important” solicitors to catch the attention of so you can get “better” cases. You could seek a position on the bench, or the holy grail of taking silk.
There are common areas of success for both professions. Those might be around billing and earnings, trying to exceed your targets or bill more than your colleagues. There is being noticed by the good and the great of the profession, and working with them. You might prize winning your cases – defeating the other side at trial, or on a particular point, or getting the best possible result for your client. At the beginning of each year, there are submissions to complete for the important legal directories, whose results are released every autumn. Can you get a ranking, or improve on last year’s, or get a better ranking than others, or better comments?
Should Christian lawyers flee all such worldly things, their minds fixed steadfastly on heaven above?
At times, the answer may be yes. Whilst acknowledging the gifts God has given us, we should perhaps feel uncomfortable with a culture of self-promotion and shouting our own success from the rooftops, remembering that every good thing and skill is a gracious gift from God, who exalts the humble but opposes the proud. Whilst doing our best in our cases, we should perhaps be slow to embrace conduct that obfuscates a just and fair outcome, even if doing so would advantage our client in some way, remembering that God loves justice, however imperfectly we might seek it. Whilst properly respecting others, we should perhaps be cautious about pursuing their approval, however high and mighty in the profession or in our workplace, remembering that God accepts no rival for pre-eminence in our lives.
But fundamentally, our response should perhaps not be flight, but measured ambivalence. We are not impressed by all of these tokens of success because we find our place in a bigger and better story, of God, His love and His redemptive work in creation. We are therefore not so easily distracted or satisfied by such baubles.
We see that these successes are not wrong in themselves, but that they are ultimately insubstantial. There will always be another promotion to gain, or client to win, or pound to bill, or directory to climb; we never “arrive”. However much success we get, it will never make us happy or give us peace. We can lose it so easily, through one personal crisis, bad judgement call or contact moving on; and we will certainly lose it when we retire or reach the end of lives. These successes are all fleeting, unreliable and, ultimately, “meaningless”.
In the meantime, pursuing them can cost us many irreplaceable and invaluable things in our lives: our health, our marriages, our families, our friends, our time, even our walk with God – not deliberately, but as these vital things are all gradually squeezed out and so start to die. Sometimes it might be a kindness of God to hold us back from such success, so it does not consume us; sometimes it might be a judgement of God to permit success to overtake us and rob us of these good things; sometimes it is graciousness from God to let us cling to our idol of success and discover how cold and heartless it is, so we come to our senses.
I’d therefore like to suggest a better measure of success than is commonly associated with lawyers – faithfulness. We are successful when we are faithful – or, more likely, when we try to be faithful.
Principally, we are successful when we are faithful to God. This is right simply because of who He is, and because we are His creatures. But there is more going on. Law and justice ultimately originate from Him, so it is by following Him that we can pursue good laws and justice in our work. Moreover, in Him we find dignity in work, peace of mind, joy of heart, lightness of burden, patience in affliction, rest, healing and salvation for our souls. We are made whole in the heart of the One who made us and whose love sustains the universe. This is where we find true, substantial and reliable satisfaction; and when we find that, we are less impressed by the partial satisfaction of professional success.
We are also successful when we are faithful to others. Like Jesus’ Great Commandment that we should love God and love others, we should be faithful first to God and also to others. This is a key way in which we love well all those who God has placed around us: family, friends and colleagues, but also opponents, experts, judges, court staff and members of the public affected by our work. We need great wisdom and grace from God to do this, but it means that we do not need to draw a false dichotomy between success at work and success in our personal lives; we are called to be faithful in both, and it is in seeking to follow that call in both that we are successful in both.
Yet even then, our success is not by our own effort. We simply seek to share the amazing faithfulness that God has shown, and continues to show, to us – looking to Him and trusting Him to faithfully provide all that we need to do so successfully.
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