Tuesday, September 23, 2014

To Think Like a Lawyer. To think like a Christian.

After completing his first year of law school, Jack was thoroughly convinced that his decision [to go to law school] was the right one.  In college, there typically was a right or wrong answer to any question under study and included in an exam.  A good memory basically assured the student of a good test score and a good understanding of the subject matter.

The study of law differed significantly from the approach taken in learning the course material in college courses.  In law school, there were rarely right or wrong answers.  Jack was soon convinced that the study of law, using the casebook approach to learning the applicable law and the so-called "Socratic" method of teaching law, that is, engaging the students in the discussion of the case under study, were designed to prepare the student to think like a lawyer – not necessarily to learn the then applicable law.

-from Gutierrez, Jr., Max, "The Life and Death of John J. Stevens, Esq. as a member of the Legal Profession," in ACTEC Law Journal, Spring 2013/Fall 2013, at 182,183.

I would say that to think like a Christian about a question ought to be very much the way a lawyer is to think about a question.  Underlying a case discussion in the law school classroom is the notion that somewhere in the facts presented in the given case and in the history of the law going back to Moses and before as that history might relate to the facts, there is an answer, there is a just rule for the case.  There is also the notion that we can never get to the just rule, the perfect application, because the whole thing is simply too complex.  So the matter is approached - or should be approached - with humility but also with the idea that we must come to a decision,  recommend it, be ready to defend that decision, and then move on.

I think this way of thinking would serve Christians well.  We have a crucial set of beliefs about a creator-God, his loving nature, his engagement with his creation, what  he expects of us, and how he has chosen to deal with us in light of the way we often choose not to meet those expectations. As to that expectation, we have the rule.  He calls us to apply that rule to "the facts presented [to us] in a given case."  In the difficult cases, we struggle to find the right answer - and there are many more difficult cases that come before us than we often think.  There is grace in the law school classroom, where we students, by educational necessity, are never able to come up with an answer that satisfies the professor, no matter what we do.  The grace is that we may come back again to the next class and struggle with more cases as we learn how to think lawyerly.  There is God's grace as well.  He does not expel us from the world in which he reigns.  Instead, we learn, we become more aware of the difficulty of cases that perhaps at one time we thought were easy ones.  We see that God calls us to struggle with them, to make a decision, and finally to move on.

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