Mar 13, 2010

A Radical Way to View the Lawyer-Client Relationship

When I spoke at the Seattle CLS attorney/student retreat last month, I was privileged to have some extended conversations with my friend Andy Toles, who is a business lawyer in town and one of the hosts at the retreat. It was encouraging and challenging for me to hear Andy share about God's power and love and how the Lord has shaped his view of law practice over the years as he trusts him on a deeper and deeper level.

At one of the breaks during the retreat, Andy and I recorded one of our conversations, and I've posted it as Volume 14 of the Cross & Gavel Podcasts available on iTunesU. In some ways, the conversation is a simple discussion about what it means to advise clients with integrity. But the more I think about it, the more I believe that Andy is articulating a radical vision of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in our client relationships. Here is a taste of Andy's vision for the lawyer-client relationship:

It is about seeing the image of God in our clients, recognizing the desire of clients to do the right thing, and understanding that we can actually help them do that . . . . We need to take some ownership of the client's decision. I think it is a cowardly act to say, "here are the three very unattractive approaches you can take to this problem; it's your call." [Instead, we can say], "If I were in your situation, here's what I would do. Let's walk through it together." That is really what my clients are seeking. But it's a risk.

Having practiced as a transactional and estate planning lawyer for 15 years, Andy has some practical experience and stories to demonstrate his vision. One of the most challenging aspects of his vision is the idea that we have the very risky call to "bear the burdens" of clients and that wearing "the mask of God" (Luther's picture for vocation) involves pain.

This all begins with surrender. Near the end of our discussion, Andy raises these questions:

Lord, what haven't I surrendered to you about my law practice? If you were in my chair right now speaking with this client, what would you say? I want to fearlessly go after that question. When they see me, they see Jesus as their lawyer. Wow! Now that's a tripping question. It's a heavy calling. But I think that's what we all wanted when we applied to take the LSAT and headed our way into law school. We wanted to matter. We wanted to do something significant.

Listen in on the whole 23 minutes. Whether you're a law student wondering what it looks like to serve clients or a lawyer looking for a little encouragement, I think you'll be blessed.

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