There are certain occupations that are obviously incompatible with being Catholic. For example, a doctor who performs abortions or assisted suicide; any business involving prostitution or pornography; selling illegal drugs or performing any other work that requires you to engage in illegal activity. But what about other occupations that might have a whiff of moral downside? I am interested in this question because I am a lawyer. Real estate law is my specialty.

Real estate is a tough and dirty business here in South Florida. Unfortunately, bad behavior is the norm. It is difficult to stay above it all when so many people you deal with are looking to gain an upper hand at your or your client’s expense. My greatest challenge has been figuring out how to be “tough” in litigation and in negotiations without going too far. As charitable as you may strive to be, when you threaten to sue someone on behalf of a client, you are threatening to take them to court. There’s no nuance there.  I cannot help but wonder if my work and my faith can easily integrate.

Of course, I am not required to pursue frivolous cases. Nor am I required to do anything that is unethical or immoral. I often review my day and think about the times when I could have done better as a Catholic lawyer. It is not easy to be a good lawyer and a good Catholic at the same time. Not because I find myself engaging in bad behavior, but because as a Catholic I am called to a higher standard than just doing what barely passes as ethical by a licensing board. Catholics are called to love others heroically. How is that possible when you are someone’s advocate in an adversarial legal system? I might behave in a loving way toward my client as their legal representative and advocate. But what if my client was less than honest with me about their case? And what do I do about the opposing attorney who is abusive, unethical or unprofessional? When is it acceptable to ”fight fire with fire“ as the saying goes?

So, I continue to wonder. Are certain occupations like the law simply incompatible with being Catholic?

While the law is not per sean immoral or unethical occupation, the profession opens the practicing Catholic up to many challenges every day that people in other occupations never have to worry about. If you are a lawyer who plays by the rules, for example following the rules of civil procedure, and you are accommodating and understanding with opposing counsel, but opposing counsel breaks the rules of civil procedure, fails to meet deadlines, ignores your calls and e-mails, delays, postpones, lies to you and behaves unprofessionally, all of which cause your client to spend more money, this puts occasions of sin in your path. It could even be argued that a lawyer who does not “fight fire with fire” or submit to the occasions of sin might be less effective than other lawyers who have no scruples about bending and breaking the rules of procedure, ethics and professionalism.

So, what does a Catholic who finds himself in an occupation like the law do?

Pray. If your occupation interferes with your Catholic faith, then God might be asking you to make a choice. You cannot worship God and mammon and you must take up your Cross and follow Jesus. That might mean that a career change is in order even though you may not know how to make that happen. So,pray.

  • I’ve asked myself the same question, as I occupy the same profession.

    To add to it, there’s the added question of whether or not our common profession has portions of it that are becoming impossible to occupy, or will become impossible to occupy in the foreseeable future. That in a direct way, of course.

    Additionally, as conduct seemingly declines in the profession (and over my nearly 30 years it has), the question increasingly becomes if simply occupying it, at some point, becomes a challenge to the preservation of your soul. By way of a truly bad analogy (that isn’t really applicable, as it involves gross exaggeration), I suppose you can work as a baker in a mafia owned bakery, but at some point does the overall conduct in the business begin to have an impact on everything else?

    Well, having said that, I’m going to work this morning so apparently I’m okay with things so far.

  • Carol Goodson

    I left a job in a library because I was in charge of purchasing books for children–and many of today’s books for kids contain content–mainly advocating immoral lifestyles–which violates my Catholic Faith. I realized that this was just not a job I could do properly in the public arena, and still have a good conscience.

  • Thomist

    I appreciate your thoughts. Living your life by ideals that our Lord Jesus Christ gives us certainly makes many “morally neutral” jobs a challenge. I see it all the time in business, regardless of the field. I can’t imagine the challenges an attorney faces. Thanks for sharing the struggle, it’s good to hear other striving for something more…

  • Well, we are a Catholic Apparel brand so we hope not!

    That said, our jobs that actually pay the mortgage are a different story. It’s tricky and there are lots of gray areas that pop up on a weekly basis. This article points out something that almost all Catholics run into at the workplace and there isn’t usually a clear answer. At the end of the day though….trust God, fear not and do his will.

  • Matthew McCormick

    They crucified the Son of God. Go from there.

    I’m glad I’m an engineer. I love being an engineer. I do. There is a lot (total?) nonsense in corporate, too. But, the one thing I always have to look forward to is 1) facts are an inconvenient thing, and 2) computers can just make dumb happen faster and MUCH, MUCH BIGGER!!!! I just feed ’em rope. Don’t worry. They ALWAYS hang themselves!!!!!! YEAH!!!!! Schadenfreude, no doubt. God is merciful. He is also just, in this life. We shall ALL come to the mercy of God, even in this life!!!!

  • Doug R.

    An excellent reflection, sir.

    My wife is also an attorney, and I’ve watched her navigate this tightrope for more than 20 years, although it may be easier for her than for you, since she practices exclusively in the field of child welfare law. Having watched her for this time, I can certainly say that it is possible in the practice of law.

    With the exception of some of the obvious examples, such as you noted, most professions are morally neutral; its entirely where one chooses to devote one’s efforts. As an example, look at IT, a profession that’s certainly morally neutral. Does one choose to practice one’s profession for a company that pushes pornography or, as the husband of a former coworker does, does one work for the Red Cross, travelling from disaster to disaster to support the IT infrastructure used to save lives?

  • Dominic Vieira

    This is a thought-provoking article, Mr. Garofalo, thank you.

    As a law student, I agree that the practice of law does open one up to many considerations that are otherwise alien to other professions. However, the system was created to provide the honest lawyer with all the tools necessary to gain a fitting outcome for his client and to protect him and his client against the machinations of less scrupulous actors, whether they are alien to or an integral part of the system.

    A lawyer who “awakens” to the siren-call of unscrupulous conduct that permeates the atmosphere of the world should take stock of himself and his aims in the circumstances that gave rise to the call. A sincere appraisal of the situation and one’s behaviour in it will lay essential groundwork for future action. No lawyer should ever resort to unethical or immoral conduct. Ever. To do so would injure not only the lawyer, but also his client, the opposing side, the judge and the system as a whole.

    Lawyers who find themselves or their clients on the receiving end of mischief can handle these situations in disparate ways. A lawyer who finds himself the target of an unscrupulous colleague can choose either to report this misbehaviour or to turn the other cheek. However, one should never “turn the other cheek” of his client. Take all reasonable steps to accommodate the failings of opposing counsel (treat other lawyers as you would wish to be treated), but never countenance letting a client just take one on the chin. Without a doubt, report the misbehaving lawyer to his bar and make some note of this to the judge (if that is possible).

    But without prayerful consideration, these simple tasks are sure to become impossible.

    All the best.

    • You already have a reply from Mr. Garafalo below, but as you are a student I’d be very careful not to presume too much concerning remedies for improper conduct.

      I’ve generally found that lawyers who behave well, of any religion, do so. Those who do not, do not. In order to really obtain judicial relief for misconduct the misconduct has to be plainly severe. Reporting an opposing lawyer to the bar really requires something phenomenal, no matter what the Rules of Professional Conduct may say.

      Added to it, our institutions haven’t helped much. The ABA was founded over a century ago to promote an increase in professionalism in the bar, which was very low at the time, but now if you look at its subparts it’s so left leaning it is frequently operating directly against our values. Nearly every state bar association has branches devoted to rescuing lawyers tho descend into crisis, but very few will confront the nature of the root of that crisis, which is now widespread (I’ve forgotten the statistics) but something like 25% or more of all lawyers fall into depression and substance abuse, and that’s not all). There’s sort of an old style military medicine approach to the topic which basically amounts to “patch ’em up and put them back in action”.

      Law schools are part of this as they do a very poor job as a rule giving students any clue what actual practice is like. That’s nearly inevitable as law schools are largely staffed by refugees from the law who quit it very early in their careers and who are personally unfamiliar with what lawyers actually do. So students graduate and go right out into practice, and with the spread of the UBE they sometimes go far from their schools right off the bat, into environments that are, at the end of the day, focused on money quite often in a way that hardly anything else is. To survive right off the bat they’re soon in the thick of it. Lots of new lawyers, if you follow the blogs, forums and subreddit where lawyers congregate, are shocked and wonder if its where they are at, at first, but soon (if they don’t drop out of law completely, which they often cannot afford to do) they accommodate themselves to it and are part of it.

      Not a cheerful synopsis, I know, but one that’s based on observation. In other words, careful, bumpy road ahead.

      • Matthew McCormick

        St Thomas More was a terribly successful and popular lawyer, even becoming Chancellor of England, i.e. non-noble ruler. He was so successful and popular because he was uncorruptible unlike many of his professional peers. When the winds of change blew, Thomas did everything practical to avoid becoming a martyr without violating his conscience. He resigned. He withdrew. He refused open critique. He was so well and deeply known and respected in 16th century Europe as a legal scholar and thinker, his silence spoke deafening volumes to the crisis of his day. In the end, evil wants a positive, a sin of comission, not merely a sin of omission. In the end, Thomas knew who He was, who God was, who the State was, and to whom he owed what, in justice.

        “The devil is a proude (sic) spirite ( sic) and cannot bear to be mocked.”. -St Thomas More

    • Andrew Garofalo

      Thanks for your comments. In my experience I have found most judges in state court unwilling to get involved in maintaining civility and order between opposing lawyers. If one complains about an opposing attorney, the complainer is likely to get an eye roll from the judge and something like “Figure it out yourselves.” I don’t necessarily blame the judges either. After all, they are not our babysitters.

      • Phil Alcoceli

        Most professions are neutral but the chance to be vicious, unethical and corrupt is everywhere, especially in the realm of law. Doctors, lawyers, etc. were stereotyped in the past as leaning toward playing God, but today law has become the Devil’s Den in self-deification, even pushing our Nation toward immorality through judicial despotism. To overcome this in any practice of law, I refer you to the devotion to Bartolo Longo, who became saintly through God’s Grace after having consecrated himself to Satan. He stood firm through the Holy Rosary. It helps to add the prayer of Saint Patrick’s Breastplate. It helps to see those corrupt ones in the eye for who they are; a false, pathetic, exalted, elitist, demonic royalty which your True Royalty in Jesus Christ absolutely demolishes (Eph. 2:6, Rev. 1:5-6). When they read that Absolute Truth in your eyes, even their arrogance will turn against them, one way or the other. One more: ask God to put His Most Holy Silent Presence in the center of your heart, mind, body, soul, spirit and life. Evil is noise.

  • Jed Levron

    Maybe you can turn the other cheek. Good ethical lawyers are needed. You may lose a lot but think what you will gain in heaven. Will pray for you.

    • Indeed one of the oddities of the law is that the profession of lawyer is one of the professions that are usually reflected in minority groups. Doctors and lawyers show up in identifiable minority groups long before other professions. That’s because the needs of the group exist in real terms.
      I note that as as Catholics become increasingly marginalized in our society due to their beliefs, the need for both of those professions may in fact increase. It is the case that our society is over-lawyered, but just watching the recent debates in the U.S. Senate over the Supreme Court alone shows to what extent Catholics are supposed to avoid appearing as if “the dogma lives loudly” within us. As that continues to develop, having Catholics in these professions is going to be increasingly important.

    • Andrew Garofalo

      Thank you.