Missionality is commitment to Mission through dedication to cause.
I was not Missional on the day that I graduated from law school. In fact, I was cynical about the practice of law as a profession. I’m not blaming my law school for making me that way, I’m just stating a fact. If you had asked me on that day what my cause was, the question would not have made much sense to me. I probably would have said “to make a living”. It was just a job to me and not much else.
But then I began to change. The first impetus of that change was the bar examination. To pass it, I had to study for ten hours a day for thirty straight days. While I had studied hard in law school, that was nothing compared to the effort required for the bar. I studied so hard that I dreamt the law. It was like I was studying in my sleep.
The examination itself was the most difficult test I had ever taken. After the first day, I had an intense migraine headache, the only one I’ve ever had before or since. That’s how stressful it was for me. The ensuing month or so I had to wait for the results was agony. Usually I’m pretty good at putting things I can’t control out of mind, but not this. The anxiety dominated my thoughts.
When I finally opened the letter notifying me that I had passed, that I had earned the right to practice law, a feeling of profound relief washed over me knowing that I wouldn’t have to go through that experience again. I may not have become Missional on that day, but my cynicism was largely dissipated. The right to practice law had been so hard for me to obtain that I no longer viewed it as just a job.
A few days later I was sworn in to the county bar with 30 or so other new lawyers. The closer the judge officiating the ceremony got to my name, the weaker my knees felt. For a moment, I thought I might not be able to stay upright when my turn came. Taking the Lawyer’s Oath affixed a duty to the right I had earned to practice law by passing the bar, and that experience expunged any last vestige of cynicism from my heart.
It is hard to say why the Lawyer’s Oath had that effect on me. I had been an Army officer, so this was not the first oath I had taken. In fact, the two oaths are very similar in that both require allegiance to the Constitution and a commitment to defend it. But the Lawyer’s Oath had an additional averment that I would “honestly demean myself in the practice of an Attorney, according to the best of my knowledge and ability, so help me God.”
Demean is a unique word in the English language in that , like ‘cleave’, it is its own antonym. On the one hand, it can mean to lower oneself or another in dignity, honor, or standing. But demean can also mean proper conduct and behavior in conformity to a specified manner.
A detractor might argue that the negative connotation of demean is the one that should apply to lawyers, but I knew that it was the second meaning that was invoked by the Lawyer’s Oath. By taking it, I had sworn to conduct myself properly in the practice of law. That meant something to me, although exactly what wasn’t clear because I didn’t yet know what the proper conduct of the practice of law was. I knew what I had been taught in law school, but that was only head-knowledge. To make it heart-knowledge, I would have to experience the practice for myself.
Through that experience I came to believe important two things that bear on Mission. First, Dispute is an immutable characteristic of the human condition. Second, a Dispute can only be fully and finally resolved through the Litigation process. And third, without Resolution we would descend into anarchy, because unresolved Disputes will only fester and grow into something beyond our power to manage, like a boil that is too dangerous to lance.
Now, two decades removed from my post-law school cynicism, I unabashedly view the cause of the Litigator as essential to the preservation of a free and vibrant democracy. It is much more than a job to me, it is a calling to which I am wholly dedicated—which can be a little embarrassing to my family when I’ve had a few drinks and get on my high horse.
A man works at a job to get paid, but he answers a calling to serve a higher purpose (and hopefully gets paid as well). Observing how difficult it was for him, I once asked my pastor how he managed to stick it out year after year. He laughed and said “It’s a calling, I can’t not do it”. That, he said, informed his advice to all young people considering a life serving the church. Don’t start doing it it unless you can’t not do it—otherwise, you won’t be doing it for very long.
My pastor had succinctly expressed the primary factor distinguishing a calling from a job. It is that singular thing that you CAN’T-NOT do. That doesn’t mean it will be easy or that you will be showered with money because you stay true to it. In fact, it’s the opposite—you will continue to do it even though it’s way too hard for what you are paid to do it.
And the life of the Litigator, like all callings, is not an easy one. I thought about that a lot during the three days I spent lying on my floor recovering from Post-Trial Exhaustion after my Big Case. I was worn out, hopeless and sorely tempted to find something easier to do. But I didn’t. Actually, I couldn’t, not only because I had a family to support but because Litigation is something I CAN’T-NOT do. And knowing that I had to do it is what committed me to find a way to do it Effectively without burning out, so that I could continue to do it as long as necessary.
That search led me to the understanding that Missionality is the first pillar of Effectiveness