A New Way to Practice Law

Jeff Haanen

“I want to leave you with two practical things that changed the way I practice law and changed my life.” It was with these words that Judge Hegarty capped off the panel discussion at the law forum on February 25.

The panel brought together a unique mix of wisdom, professional experience, theological insight and humility. Prof. Dayna Matthew spoke about the law school experience and how she “practices God’s presence” in her classroom. Eric Hall, a partner at Lewis Roca Rothgerber, shared about the temptations facing lawyers, and the need for a justice system based on truth. Rev. Dave Strunk spoke about the inherent value of the work of law in God’s kingdom, and Hugh Jones shared about the hard decisions he makes on which clients to represent.

Take a lunch break to watch the whole video. (The time investment is worth it!) Also, below are a few highlights and quotes from the panel discussion, including the two things that Judge Hegarty says changed the way he practices law.

Judge Hegarty:

“The critical thing is you really can’t go on this path alone. You need to walk with believers.”

“When I went on the bench, having practiced on the US District court, I knew that putting on that robe sometimes can lead to changing people…and having an attitude of pride, superiority. So, I encouraged believers I knew, that if they ever saw anything like that in me they needed to tell me…I think it’s important not to be isolated, not to be alone, to sharpen one another…and to [have people] hold you accountable.”

“If Jesus Christ in your life is not changing who you are fundamentally, and making you different and actually standing out, then you have to question whether you are living the life God intended you to live.”

Prof. Dayna Matthew:

“One of the things we noticed a while ago is that students apply to law school with very lofty visions. The wrote essays saying they wanted to heal the sick, represent the downtrodden, clean up the planet and do all manner of justice. And then they left law schools doing none of those things…Something about the law school experience was a black box that transformed them from who they wanted to be to who they had become.

“And we had to own some responsibility for that as educators. So we made a very deliberate decision to begin to ask students regularly to take the tools that we were teaching and relate it to their paradigm, their goals, their values…That lack of taking your core and constantly upgrading it, instead of discarding it, is I believe the biggest depravity I see in law school.”

Rev. Dave Strunk:

“If you’re trying to think about integrating your faith [as a lawyer], we’ve got to press beyond two ‘e’s: evangelism and ethics. Your vision as a lawyer has got to be broader than just sharing Jesus with other lawyers or paralegals…It is that, but it has got to be more than that…The ethics piece is just ‘I’m going to be a lawyer with good Christian morals and values. You’ve got to see the inherent practice of law as having value in the created order of the universe.”

“One of the things lawyers do better than most people is bring order from chaos. That [legal document] was 109 pages of chaos to me. But it’s not to you.”

Hugh Jones:

“In public service, there is typically more clients than there are hours in the day. And so I have to decide what kind of clients I want to serve and sacrifice for…I was just talking with a colleague on the way up here about compensation matters - what we think is reasonable and how that should influence who we decide to represent. There are those in Christendom who make very substantial salaries and I think most of us have doubts about whether that’s good stewardship.”

Eric Hall:

“Thomas Aquinas said there are four big temptations for human beings: wealth, honor, power, and pleasure. As I think about those, well, if you’re going to be a lawyer, you’re always confronted with the wealth, the power, and the honor…I agree with what everybody has said - the difficulty [of being a lawyer] and thus the necessity of gathering with other believers and modeling Jesus Christ in my legal practice every day.”

“I would say the biggest depravity is the disconnect between the practice of law and truth. As a litigator, sometimes you get other litigators who don’t see any connection between the case we’re litigating and what actually happened - the truth. As if we can approach that truth - and I think we can as human beings in our flawed but pretty good justice system. But when people don’t even try to find what is the truth of what actually happened…when that separation starts to happen, either at the factual level or the moral level, I think that’s a great depravity we see in law.”

Judge Hegarty:

“I want to leave you with two practical things that changed the way I practice law and changed my life. (1) Learn to ask forgiveness of your opponent. I was litigating with somebody and I was overly harsh with him. I knew I was overly harsh. And in the moment I stopped and said, ‘Would you please forgive me? I shouldn’t have said that. I was wrong.’ And that opponent right now is a very good friend of mine. It was an incredibly powerful thing to do. When you mess up, ask for forgiveness, even in a very tough piece of litigation.

“(2) If you become aware of a prayer need that someone has, whether they are an opponent or an opposing party, whatever, if it’s appropriate, go ahead and say ‘Can I pray for you?’…I did that once to an opponent in a lawsuit. He told me something was going on in his life. I needed to pray for him. He graciously and gladly accepted my prayer. Eight years later he was the chairman of the panel who selected me for the US magistrate position. If you just apply those two things in your practice, it’ll change your life.”


Jeff Haanen

Jeff Haanen is a writer and entrepreneur. He founded Denver Institute for Faith & Work, a community of conveners, teachers and learners offering experiences and educational resources on the gospel, work, and community renewal. He is the author of An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life and an upcoming two-book series on spiritual formation, vocation, and the working class for Intervarsity Press. He lives with his wife and four daughters in Denver and attends Wellspring Church in Englewood, Colorado.