I’m a Lawyer. Here’s What the Bar Taught Me About Christ’s Advocacy for Me.

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My first courtroom experience as an attorney is still vivid in my mind.

My supervising attorney called me into his office around 6 p.m. “You will need to catch the train to Philadelphia at 6 a.m. tomorrow for a hearing.”

As I sat in that rigid office chair, it pushed back, unyielding. 6 a.m.? That was twelve hours away! I rushed to murmur my thanks, then left.

I spent that entire evening balancing the nauseating sensation that had taken residence in my stomach and studying the case file, taking notes in preparation for my sudden introduction to the courtroom. I somehow managed to nab a few hours of much-needed sleep, then armored myself with an absurd amount of coffee early the next morning.

Arriving early, I took a seat on a cold wooden pew with about a dozen other men and women in suits. Why are courtrooms and churches the only places with pews? I wondered, reminded of the way the office chair had pushed back in my supervisor’s office the previous evening. Massive, golden-framed portraits of former judges covered the walls, glaring down at me, seeming to judge me before I had uttered a word.

Imposter syndrome overwhelmed me. I was out of place despite my law degree. My freshly cleaned suit did nothing to reassure me I belonged. My tie seemed tighter than usual, like a noose ready to mete out my punishment as I stood before the gallows. I felt like two kids in a trench coat waiting for the judge to rip off our costume and expose us like a Scooby-Doo villain.

However, I forced myself to remain outwardly calm. Eventually, the judge called my client’s name, and I stood. The gaze of every lawyer and every portrait rested heavily on my shoulders as I walked to the bar.

Before I continue, please allow me to provide some clarity regarding the bar. In one sense, the bar refers to the entire legal profession. Attorneys are members of the bar. Passing the bar (exam) is a requirement for law graduates to be admitted to practice law. And finally, in a very literal sense, the bar is the wooden barrier that separates the judge from courtroom spectators.  Everyone beyond the physical bar is an active participant in court. Once I graduated from law school and passed the bar exam, I was qualified to advocate for my client beyond the bar. Of course, in that moment, I certainly didn’t feel that way.

As I pushed my way through the bar’s swinging, saloon-style doors, I noticed a small sign that read, “Attorneys only.” In that instant, a surge of confidence rushed through me like adrenaline. The imposter syndrome vanished. That small sign reminded me that my years in law school and the time I spent studying for the bar exam meant something. Despite my initial insecurity, I was indeed qualified to advocate beyond the bar.

Every piece of evidence, every exhibit, recalls Calvary. The scourging whip, the crown of thorns, the soldier’s spear, and the rugged cross are offered in my defense.

What began as a day of uncertainty had morphed into a day of conviction. I made it through the hearing in one piece and hopped on the next train home.

I still think about that small sign from time to time. When I saw it for the first time, it cemented my confidence as an advocate. Years later, reflecting on that seemingly insignificant sign prompts me to think about Jesus. After all, you’re likely to hear the word “advocate” in two primary contexts: lawyers and Jesus.  But can a wooden barrier and an “Attorneys only” sign really teach us about Christ?

1 John 2:1 says, “Little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” What does it mean that Jesus is my advocate? The Greek word for “advocate” in this context, paraklētos, means “one who pleads another’s cause before a judge.”[1]  When I sin, Jesus pleads my case to the Father. But what case is he pleading, exactly? It can’t have anything to do my merit.

In Romans 3, Paul notes that each of us have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. My most righteous deeds are filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). I don’t have much of a case if soiled rags are my only defense before a holy and righteous judge. No lawyer, no matter his credentials or experience, could make a good faith argument that I deserve God’s favor.

Certainly, I have no authority to cross the heavenly bar to plead my own cause. But that is where Jesus, the great high priest, steps in. The sign on the heavenly bar reads, “Immanuel,” and the Son of Man stands beyond it, pleading my case at the Father’s right hand. Unlike a lawyer, Jesus is not pleading my case based on anything I have or have not done. Instead, Jesus points to his redemptive work on the cross as my only defense. Every piece of evidence, every exhibit, recalls Calvary. The scourging whip, the crown of thorns, the soldier’s spear, and the rugged cross are offered in my defense.  In each horrific moment of the crucifixion, Jesus was building my case file. My death sentence was born by my substitute, and his righteousness is imputed to me. Jesus canceled the record of debt that stood against me with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross (Colossians 2:14). May the courtroom bar serve as a constant reminder of Christ’s continued advocacy for me.

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[1] Strong’s Greek 3875

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Stephen Howard

Stephen Howard

Stephen is an attorney and M.Div. student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He holds degrees from the Pennsylvania State University, Dickinson School of Law and North Greenville University. He resides in Enola, Pennsylvania with his wife, Abby, and their two children. If you need to find Stephen, he is probably fishing at the river.

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