Lawyers Seek 'Spirituality for the Long Haul'

Article excerpt

In certain midtown Manhattan elevators, just coupling the words "religion" and "lawyering" is enough to stop conversations, turn heads and draw comments of disbelief and intense curiosity.

Amy Uelman knows this all too well. When she beheld the breathtaking vistas of New York from the law offices of Arnold & Porter, where she worked for several years, she began to ask herself: "What am I doing here? Am I really going to sellout? How can I work for justice from the 34th floor?"

Uelman's fears of losing her soul as a litigator are typical of what countless lawyers experience in their chosen profession. Many have been told to check their values at the door before going into a room with a client.

"Discontent and feelings of spiritual aridity are widespread in the profession," said Scott Wood. "While many lawyers are affluent, they are deeply unhappy too." Wood was a trial attorney for 21 years before joining Loyola Marymount Law School in Los Angeles, where he is an associate clinical professor.

"There's something that forces lawyers to compartmentalize--to leave part of their soul at home." The antidote, Wood said, is "bringing your spiritual and religious values to your lawyering."

Patrick Schiltz of the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis called the dominant culture of law one of "greed and materialism."

Amid such a moral landscape, Catholic law schools need to build into their students "a spirituality for the long haul," said Virgil Wiebe, associate law professor at St. Thomas.

Loyola, St. Thomas, Boston College, St. John's University, Villanova and Ave Maria are part of a recent movement by religiously affiliated law schools to integrate faith and the legal profession. The movement is not solely Catholic, but has its Catholic locus at Fordham University's School of Law in New York. The Jesuit university is home to the Institute on Religion, Law & Lawyer's Work.

Uelmen quit corporate law to direct the Fordham institute in 2001. She left, however, more confident that a religious person can be a big firm litigator than when she'd first arrived on the 34th floor.

After obtaining her law degree at Georgetown, Uelman had been drawn to Arnold & Porter by its commitment to pro bono work. But there was not always agreement about what kinds of cases were good for the community, she noted.

E-mail was sent to all attorneys in the firm, declaring that some aspects of the analysis that went into winning a partial-birth abortion case for an abortion rights advocacy client could be deemed a "victory for the firm. …