How Can You be a Priest and a Lawyer?


I have made a career of defending the rights of the accused. I am also an Anglican priest and Canon Lawyer of the Diocese of Quincy (ACNA). I am often asked how I can function in both vocations. We in the church refer to someone like me as bivocational. The Church has a long history of clergy who work in the secular world. St. Paul was a tent maker. My father, also a priest, is a licensed psychologist. I think people assume that because I am a criminal defense lawyer, that I am required to do morally and ethically questionable things on a regular basis. The simple fact is that nothing could be further from the truth. Lawyers are held to a high ethical standard in the way we deal with clients, their money, their information and the courts. In fact, I find that my two vocations have a great deal of overlap.

Representing Guilty Criminals

The most common question I get is related to the guilt or innocence of my clients. “How can you defend someone you know to be guilty?” I explain that I am part of the system. I am a check on the power of the State that seeks to convict and possibly imprison my client. The beauty of our system is that it is adversarial. I read a book by Seymour Wishman years ago called *Confessions of a Criminal Lawyer. *The author, a respected attorney, surveyed other judicial sytems and concluded from personal experience that our’s is flawed but still the best on earth. That system requires able counsel on both sides of the aisle to enforce the law. In fact, I know a defense lawyer who always raises her hand during jury selection when the judge asks if anyone is in law enforcement. This raises an eyebrow or two, but clearly drives the point home. Sure, many of my clients have committed a crime. However, these people are guaranteed able counsel under our constitution and protecting their rights is a noble pursuit. As for any conflict with my other vocation, I am pretty sure it was our Lord who was crucified as a result of an unjust legal proceeding. Remember how the authorities sought individuals to bear false witness against him as Jewish law required two corroborating witnesses before a capital charge could stand.

“Publicans and Sinners”

And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
– Mark 2:16-17

It seems that there are those who think it is somehow unseemly for clergy to spend time associating with those who have committed crimes. I personally cannot think of anything more seemly for a Christian than to provide care for these people. As a priest, and one who represents Christ in His Church, I am called to reach out to those who have separated themselves from God through their sinful behavior and lead them to reconciliation. As a lawyer, I am often called on to help the broken find their way. Those same people who are scandalized by certain elements in society must also remember that “Publicans and Sinners” show up in all kinds of places, sometimes as regular churchgoing people. Sometimes even they need to be made familiar with the voice of the Good Shepherd.

How can I, a priest represent the rights of the accused? How can I not?

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  1. July 21, 2014 at 6:32 pm

    After I originally commented I seem to have clicked on the
    -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now every time a comment is added I get 4
    emails with the exact same comment. Perhaps there is
    a means you are able to remove me from that service? Kudos!

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