The Ideal Lawyer

Charlie Carr was no ordinary man. He had been a city councilman longer than I had been alive. He was the senior citizen of Cleveland, Ohio, politics. Everyone in the city knew him, and many would have given anything to cherish his friendship and acquire his influence.

And now he was on trial, indicted for taking bribes. The trial had gripped the city. Fresh out of law school, I came to court to see how the attorneys handled the case. There he was seated, next to his lawyer. Dressed in a garish suit, Carr looked a little seedy, all right. Certainly he didn't look like the kind of man you would buy a used car from. He sat squirming in his chair. "He looks guilty," I said to myself.

But the lawyer he had chosen to defend him was one of Cleveland's finest. A senior citizen himself, the attorney was well-dressed, articulate, and impressive. When he rose from his chair, walked over to Carr, placed his hands on his shoulders, suddenly transference seemed to have filled the courtroom. The jury no longer saw Charlie Carr. In his place stood his competent, confident lawyer. When the lawyer began to speak, his eloquence and persuasion held the jury spellbound. They no longer saw the seedy, corrupt Carr; in his place they saw the attorney and heard his effective presentation.

I was not surprised when the jury returned a verdict of not guilty. But I was impressed that even though, in my personal opinion, Charlie Carr might have been guilty, he was found otherwise because of his effective representation by counsel and the transfer of personalities where the attorney effectively became Charlie Carr and convincingly argued his case before the jury.

The point is not the guilt or innocence of Carr, but the effectiveness of a lawyer who could take his place and obtain a verdict in his favor.

Cleveland is my home town. As I grew up in that city, I always dreamed of working for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. In fact, as a child I had grand plans of becoming the General Conference president one day! My local church encouraged me in my desire to become a church worker, particularly a minister. The congregation was supportive. But they were really dismayed when they learned that I eventually chose law school. They chided me for wanting to become a "liar"--their perception of a lawyer.

I know that lawyers in general have a low reputation in society. In fact, one study conducted in the United States ranked lawyers below used car salesmen in terms of people you can trust. I also know that many lawyers do make money. And yet, on reflection, what called me to be lawyer 25 years ago? Not money. Not prestige. Not power. It was the idea of helping people, of using the law to protect the rights that each of us believes in and is entitled to under the laws of the land where we live. It was this dream that led me to choose law as a profession. And I have not been disappointed. My work for the Seventh-day Adventist Church allows me to achieve those goals--to help individuals pursue their rights, particularly in the area of religious freedom.

My concept of the lawyer is not the used car salesman, but a person who argues before the courts, who appears before the judges in defense of his or her client. It is the image of the attorney who represented Charlie Carr in that criminal case in Cleveland: He took a risk for his client. In fact, my ideal image of a lawyer is Christ Himself, one who risked everything, including His own life, to be my lawyer at the bar of divine justice.

Before the heavenly court, we stand condemned as sinners. "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God," and "we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ" (Romans 3:23; 14:10). On that fast-approaching day, "God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil" (Ecclesiastes 12:14). We shall stand exposed. Our mistakes, our faults, our pride, and our selfishness will stare us in the face and make us squirm before the justice of God.

But we will not be alone. As Christians we will have Jesus Christ, our Lawyer, appearing before the Father, before the Judge of the universe. He will place His nail-pierced hands on our shoulders, and suddenly it will be Christ that God will see, not us. A heavenly transference will fill the courts. The perfect righteousness of Christ will cover all our iniquities. We shall be seen as clean, wearing the white robes of that righteousness.

But for that transference to become a reality in our lives, we should choose our Lawyer here and now. And not wait. As the apostle John states, "If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:1, 2, NRSV).

With Christ as our Lawyer, we have the assurance that He will not only not lose our case but that we will be found "not guilty."

Walter Carson is an attorney in the Office of General Counsel, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.