Many people feel called to law practice because they sense that law can be an avenue for helping others and improving society. This is almost always true for persons of faith pursuing a career in the law. But what should the lawyer of faith hope for, and expect from, law? Within the Christian tradition, several long-established theologies give very different answers to the question of what law can do in this world.
One tradition, the natural law tradition, believes that God's eternal law is reflected in natural law, which then in turn should and can be reflected in human law. Thus, a young lawyer whose faith is shaped in this tradition could believe that, by reason and effort, by participating in and improving human law, legal work can shape people's inclinations towards just laws, and can help bring the world more into conformance with God's law.
Under other views, law cannot change people's hearts or incline them differently; law can only restrain and order society. These are good ends, to be sure, but they are more modest than the purposes that law practice might achieve according to a natural law view.
Do these different viewpoints matter in the real world or are they just theoretical distinctions? This question is the focus of the 2008 Louis D. Brandeis Lecture. Ellen Pryor discussed how, as a young lawyer, her law practice in the area of representing people with disabilities brought disappointments that clashed with the natural law viewpoint in which her faith had been formed. Professor Pryor Ellen, joined by commentators and Pepperdine law professors Ed Larson and Professor Doug Kmiec, tried to explain this clash and critique its meaning. Is there a problem with a natural law understanding for someone who is going to practice law? In what ways do the different theologies underlying Christian formation shape the way in which law practice is both challenging and rewarding to lawyers of faith?
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