Contemplatives in Action: Can a Corporate Lawyer Bring God to Work?
Each of us is a member of a parish grounded in the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola. That calls us to be “contemplatives in action”, deeply engaged in God’s work in the world. We are invited to accept God’s invitation to save and heal the world—in our jobs, families, and community. But, seriously, can a corporate lawyer bring God to work?
After 37 years of practice, I recently retired as a lawyer. I wasn’t a public interest lawyer and I didn’t represent persons denied their rights or those facing deportation or any of the many uses of a law degree that can directly and meaningfully change the world for the better. Rather, I was a corporate lawyer. Mostly, I represented companies and their boards of directors. Oh, I did a little—very little—pro bono work, representing elderly persons in preparing wills, health care proxies, and powers of attorney, and I did contribute to organizations that did the “doing good” kind of legal work. But the huge bulk of what I did 24/7 for 37 years wasn’t that.
Did I think I was saving and healing the world at my job? Did I think I was engaged in God’s work in the world as I drafted contracts and advised on thorny legal/business issues? In fact, I did.
A lot of my legal practice involved advising clients on how to achieve their business goals in a way that complied with the law and preparing disclosures to the public and governing Boards that included all information they would want to know. Anyone who reads the newspapers knows that clients can pressure lawyers to interpret laws and rules in ways that let the client do what it wants to do or let the client omit damaging or unflattering disclosures. Not uncommonly, when told their approach was “on the edge,” clients would ask whether they would get caught if they did it. This might sound weird but I tried to remember that the persons employed by my corporate clients and who were making the decisions were on the way to salvation just like me, and part of my “job” was to help them “do the right thing.” Of course, that allowed for many shades of grey as most tough legal questions are not black and white.
Interactions with my colleagues were also chances to live my faith. We often operated in stressed conditions. In those moments, it could be difficult to treat one another with civility and respect, let alone anything resembling patience or kindness. Being slow to anger—part of the description of love in Corinthians 13–could be tough when assignments came in late or with careless errors. Also, temptation was always there to ingratiate myself with the important—those who could advance my career—and ignore (or worse) those who couldn’t. I am competitive and have a bit of ego, and I could easily fall into talking myself up (often necessary, particularly for women) but also tearing others down. If truth be told, Corinthians’ description of what love ISN’T was often a part of my daily fare—envious, boastful, self-seeking. But my faith acted as a standard against which I could evaluate my actions, and I could try to do better.
One important area for trying to “walk the walk” of what I believe had to do with juniors on my team. Mentoring juniors takes time, which just meant my day was even longer. Also, both affirming them and giving them constructive feedback takes time and compassion. Giving them some slack when they needed it, even when it meant the work they were doing for me was delayed. Backing them up when clients unreasonably wanted instantaneous answers. Supporting their career development as an inherent “part of the job”. I only wish I had done more of it.
If I reflect on it, my job was a kind of school presenting endless situations where I could learn to act in loving ways, or not. I suspect yours probably is too. Though some of us serve in parish ministries, our primary ministry is likely to be out in the world, which means our homes and families and our jobs. And while I, like many, decry the exclusion of women from leadership in our Church, I don’t want to minimize all the other spheres where I and other women can and do fully exercise our faith and leadership. I want to celebrate it! The Church is always a few hundred years behind anyway (e.g., Galileo). In the meantime, let’s continue to let our lights shine, all over this world of ours.
– Rose DiMartino, Parishioner