Love and Lawyering
In my Negotiations class today, we were discussing a mock-negotiation exercise we had all just done. One student mentioned what he thought would be a “fair” price in the exercise – a sale of land. The professor proceeded to criticize – if not outright mock – the idea of “fairness” when one is a lawyer representing a client.
Fairness is such a nebulous concept, she said. If your client paid $7,000 and the other guy is willing to pay $20,000 for the same land, who’s to say whether that’s fair? Furthermore, she said, your responsibility is to your client. You should be seeking the best interests of your client, not pursuing some idea of fairness.
This infuriated me. First, off, she’s got a nice, morally neutral hypothesis to work with. But the world isn’t always that way. If you are a lawyer representing, say, the government buying land from a poor family that has nothing in the world but their house…..is it ok, to pull the power of eminent domain as a bargaining chip and force them to take a pitiful price…..thereby leaving them destitute? You haven’t lied or otherwise violated the rules of legal ethics…..BUT IT’S STILL WRONG!
Then, 10 minutes later, the professor was talking about lawyer-client relations. She was talking about how, in the real world, a lawyer’s ego or desire for fees can lead him to NOT take a settlement that would be in his client’s best interests. Now she was advocating selflessness. No matter how much it might benefit you, she said, you cannot think of your own interests when representing clients. If it was your own money, you could do what you want with it. When you are representing someone else, things are different.
And here I encounter my central dilemma.
I know what my duty is as a Christian. Jesus told me so. First, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Second, “Love your neighbor (read: everyone) as yourself.” And this is what I want to do. All I ever wanted to do with my life – when I thought long term about what I want my life to mean, as opposed to when I let my short-term selfishness get in the way – was to love.
And Jesus, hanging up there on that cross for us, provides me with the perfect example of what love is. Love is sacrifice. Love is more than just infatuation, or liking a person. Love is the willingness to put another’s interests ahead of your own.
But what does it mean to love as a lawyer?
I was infuriated by my professor’s comments about fairness, but when she mentioned that this isn’t my own money/interests/whatever that I’m dealing with….well, that muddied the waters. If I was in a position to harm Person X for my own benefit, and did so….clearly that’s wrong. That’s not love.
But what if it’s not for myself? If I’m in a position to benefit my client – even if it harms Person X – and fail to do so….am I then loving my client? Even if that leaves my client in the lurch? In failing in my duty as a lawyer – which is surely what my professor would say I was doing if I didn’t take this action to benefit my client – am I failing in my calling as a Christian? As a Christian, I should sacrifice my own interests rather than harm Person X. But what right have I to sacrifice my client’s interests for the sake of Person X?
Where does love fit into this picture? This is my dilemma.