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Ethics for antinomians

November 16, 2007
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Once again, what’s obvious to me is obvious to me. However, what’s obvious to me is evidently not obvious to lawyers afflicted with the great oxymoron, “worldly wisdom.”

I listened today to a series of six addresses on legal ethics via internet teleconference for continuing legal education credit. I lost count of how many times my jaw dropped in appalled dismay.

What should have been clear-cut, unequivocal ethical practice was parsed into ethical dilemmas. I spoke to my husband about it later, and we decided the Professional Responsibility professor we had in law school must be one of the last best in the country for teaching old-school common sense ethics a Christian could conscionably follow. Back then it was easy, since the Rules of Professional Conduct essentially followed those guidelines.

The world remains subject to law, but the law is subject to situational ethics, utilitarianism’s good of the many, and ever-lovin’ Kant’s categorical imperative: essentially, “Like it? Make everybody do it.”

One speaker said mediation should proceed from love, and drove around a few cloverleafs and through a few tunnels making her point, sidewound past the “what would Jesus do” byway, and ended up in “all the world’s great religions” alley. I guess that ensures a destination approaching an ethical outcome, if anything could.

My favorite example I’ll call “Jezebel’s necklace.” A party, call him Bahb, is suing another party, call him Ahab. The Bahbs run into Ahab and Jezzie at a party. Jezzie is captivated by Mrs. Bahb’s diamond necklace. She is sure it’s worth $100,000. She is hot for it. So Ahab gets his lawyer to call Bahb’s lawyer in the morning and says, “Hey, can we settle this claim for Bahb’s wife’s necklace? Jezzie loves it and thinks it’s worth a hundred grand.” So Bahb’s lawyer calls Bahb and relays the offer. Bahb says, “Hey sure, that necklace is junk paste, worth two grand at best.” What is Bahb’s lawyer to do? Suggest to Ahab’s lawyer that Ahab get the necklace appraised? Relay the truth of the necklace’s value? Relay Bahb’s acceptance of Ahab’s offer? Would that be fraud or zeal?


The appalling thing is that the example is considered an illustration of an ethical dilemma. Well, to someone who has worked very hard to beat back any trace of God’s moral law embedded in his heart and mind, I suppose it could be a dilemma. Unfortunately, lawyers are as likely as anyone else to be antinomians.

The speaker who cited this example in his address was fond of oxymorons and cited several, none of which I can now remember, because my mind was skimming for principles, which were in sparse supply. But I decided the apt oxymoron for the day was “worldly wisdom.” “Legal ethics,” alas, ran a close second.

  1. November 16, 2007 8:01 pm

    Now would be a good time to bring up my favorite verse for my profession, Luke 11:52:

    “Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.”

  2. November 16, 2007 8:03 pm


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