Lawyers deal in vast amounts of information. This might mean a huge number of documents to read in preparation for a case. It may not always have been so, but the advent of photocopiers and then email has multiplied the number of documents in any given case exponentially. Or it might be the volume of case law, legislation and regulations that may need to be considered. Modern technology enables large numbers of cases to be recorded, and legislation and regulations seem to be created or revised with increasing frequency. Perhaps it is the proliferation of blogs and legal updates available over email and the internet. Whether for business development, thought leadership or turning a profit through online resources, there seems no shortage of content to peruse for pearls of insight.
Of course, keeping abreast of all this knowledge (if that were possible) does not make a good lawyer. More than information alone, lawyers need judgement in order to know what to do with it all. It is no small feat to assimilate a lot of information, and then advise a client how best to use that information in their case. Which document should we rely upon? Which case is helpful, and which might trip the client up? Which arguments should we run full pelt, and which issues should be glossed over as far as possible? Who should we instruct for specialist advice or drafting?
But even these judgement calls rest as much on issues around personality as they do on facts or legal argument. The answers will depend on the character of the client and the lawyer – whether a more bullish approach is taken, or a more conciliatory one; whether there is obfuscation or narrowing of the issues. Which expert or Counsel is instructed will also depend on personality as much as technical skill – are they considered to be the “right” person for the job? And, in the midst of all of these considerations, is trying to second-guess what a very human judge might make of the case at the end of the day if it cannot be resolved first.
All of these complexities point to the need for something deeper than knowledge, and which finesses judgement. The Bible calls this “wisdom” – knowing how to respond well to the people and situations we face. A series of books in the Old Testament are devoted solely to considering what wisdom is (Job, Ecclesiastes and, famously, Proverbs), where it comes from and the character that it produces. It remains a golden thread in the New Testament, assumed throughout but perhaps most clearly highlighted in the book of James.
In doing so, Scripture is clear that the only alternative to wisdom is foolishness. There is no “third way”, no middle path to trace between the two. This is most clearly explained in Proverbs 9, which compares the persistent invitations of both wisdom (9:1-12) and folly (9:13-18). Both are constantly calling out to us, both invite us to live their way (9:3-6; 14-17). However, the destinations could not be more different – life on the one hand (9:6), and death on the other (9:18).
This may accord with our experience of legal practice – the lawyers we come across either have good judgement, or they do not; there is no middle ground. And the consequences can be just as stark – seeing good judgement is impressive and brings blessing, whereas poor judgement is embarrassing and leads to all manner of problems for the lawyer, their client and others.
How are we to receive this wisdom, which brings life and produces good judgement? The start of that path has not changed: it is to fear the Lord (9:10). Not to be terrified of Him (although that may sometimes be an appropriate response), but to respect Him above all else. To listen to His words before our documents, case digests, online updates and client instructions. And to ask Him for the wisdom that we need so keenly, because ultimately it is God’s gift to us by His Spirit. James reassures us that God will give us wisdom, generously and without condemnation, if we are conscious of our need and just ask Him for it (James 1:5). As we do so, we begin to grow in wisdom and exercise better judgement. And not only in our professional work, but in all aspects of our life.