Exposing the Idol of “Tough Guy” Lawyering

David Hyams

Whether from law school, pop culture, or the actual practice, we learn that lawyers are tough, confident, and strong. We are "sharks," the "hired guns" who will destroy the adversary, get the deal done, make stuff happen. With one dial of the phone, click of the mouse, or swipe on a screen, we can assert our power on the world. We went to top notch law schools, held prestigious clerking positions, work at big shot firms, and have the paycheck, cars, house, office space, and book of business that prove we're "kind of a big deal."

Such thinking doesn’t confine itself to big law. The public interest lawyer fights “the system.” The plaintiff’s lawyer “takes on” the big corporations. The government lawyer wields the power of the state.

Wherever we practice, to admit weakness, failure, or uncertainty is tantamount to admitting that we're not much of a lawyer. Or so we’re told. Or do we just think that? Like a virus we unwittingly caught somewhere along the way, we know exactly what a good lawyer is and isn’t.

But what about the Christian Lawyer? What place is there for bravado in the lawyer who calls upon the name of Christ?

What if, instead of leading with our credentials, we lead with our weakness?

After boasting about his credentials in response to the “Super Apostles” perverting the gospel in Corinth, Paul wrote about the thorn in his flesh:

Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:8-10)

Did you catch that? The power of Christ works through our weakness. It’s in our weakness that we find His strength. Thus, the thing we lawyers scoff at, suppress, and try to hide in our efforts to appear strong and confident is the very key to true power.

Does this mean we have to be legal marshmallows to serve our Lord? Of course not, for we were not given “a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (2 Tim. 1:7).

It does mean, however, that following Jesus as a lawyer invites us to a different kind of lawyering. To be a strong lawyer is to be a weak lawyer. What else do we expect from the one who is the Lion and the Lamb?

So the next time opposing counsel baits you, don’t take it. If you’re feeling inferior in a conversation with a colleague, don’t respond with your latest accomplishment. If a fellow lawyer lets down their guard and reveals a struggle, reward and encourage their humility by letting down yours. You may be surprised at the fruit—and power—that follows.