The spirituality of lawyering

The author: What keeps a lawyer going through the difficult moments?

By Johnson Lazaro

Just this week I got a call from a woman whose dad just died from a car accident, a family man whose house was foreclosed, an undocumented worker caught by immigration agents and detained, and another individual nabbed for embezzlement and whose mother was sobbing in my office.  These are brand new cases. 

In my docket are dozens of clients the government is trying to deport, and several who just filed for bankruptcy.  People with very heavy personal problems come to my office and pour their hearts out.  These are men and women in pain and mentally and emotionally beaten.  My job as a lawyer is to listen, absorb, and take on their problems if needed.

When I take on a case, I take on that person’s anxiety.   I shoulder whatever burden he is carrying and make it my own.  I fight his fight.  And oftentimes I feel his pain.  Not much has been written about the emotional and mental part of lawyering.  Lawyers are supposed to be logical people who are mentally tough and brave in the courtroom.  Some are fighters for justice.  But when a woman whose father just died of an accident hands you that emotional load and expects you to somehow make things whole again, the pressure can be overwhelming.

It’s no wonder some lawyers turn to alcohol and drugs for escape.  We tackle other people’s problems as well as our own.  Lawyers in California are required to take classes on alcoholism, stress reduction, and substance abuse every three years. For lawyers who can’t handle the heat, they change careers or find a field of law that is less stressful. 

Without spirituality at work, this job can lose its meaning.  And once that’s lost, then a career may be over.  Spirituality requires stepping back, taking a deep breath and a search for meaning.   

William Jennings Bryan; Clarence Darrow: Great lawyers who found meaning in their work.

What is spirituality in lawyering? 

For me, it is an inner journey in search for some affirmation that what I do for others somehow enhances their lives. And this affirmation is what keeps me going during difficult moments in my work.

When a mother sobs and asks why her son needs to be removed from the United States and thrown into a country he barely knows,  the response cannot just be an intellectual or analytical exercise of what laws apply or what rights are violated. And it is not a matter of making a few bucks here and a few dollars there.  We all know that money is artificial and non-sustaining.  Many lawyers practice “door law” or take on whatever case walks through their door.  But few lawyers ask why.  Why should I take on the fight? What will I personally achieve by tackling this person’s problems?  This requires some self-examination that many are not comfortable with. 

The great lawyers of the past, such as Clarence Darrow or William Jennings Bryan, must have undergone some serious self-examination to be great defenders for justice.  Darrow devoted himself to opposing the death penalty, which he felt to be in conflict with humanitarian progress.  William Bryan is the lawyer best known for his crusade against Darwinism.  He believed the evolution theory undermined morality.  Bryan worked tirelessly for his belief and in some accounts is said to have died of exhaustion.

Spirituality in lawyering is relevant, to use a popular legal word, because there is so much at stake.  Each file that we handle is someone’s future.  Each case is a living, breathing human being.  If lawyers cannot find substance and meaning in the cases they handle, not only can they fail their clients but they fail themselves.  But we don’t learn spirituality in law school.  Law schools do not emphasize this inner journey to find meaning in work.  We are trained to know the law and to make money in the process.  We are trained to be analytical sharks, to devour opposing counsel by our wit and speech.  But spirituality connects you to work.  It is the energy that pushes you to attain your goals and achieve greatness. 

I have encountered lawyers whose sole purpose in life is to crush the opposing counsel.  I have faced litigators who take pride in embarrassing and even humiliating the other attorney.  This cannot be spiritual.  On the other side I have also seen professionals who would go out of their way to help and to give their time to empower others.  This is the way it should be.  To empower someone is a powerful spiritual act.

Johnson Lazaro, the founder of Lazaro Law Group, has been helping immigrants across the United States and the Philippines to solve legal problems related to U.S. immigration for the past 25 years. Please contact him at or 866-237-9555. 

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