[CUA Office of Public 

CUA Professor Sees Place
For Spirituality In Legal Field

March 26, 1998

The concepts of spirituality and law may seem unrelated, but Lucia A. Silecchia, associate professor of law at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., sees the need to bridge the gap between the two.

"In many respects, spirituality and spiritual perspectives are lost in our profession," she said. "With the focus on winning and competition, it may seem that spirituality is inconsistent with the traditional notion of what lawyers do. Yet having a spiritual perspective - notions of compassion, service, and understanding the sufferings of others - helps us serve better and results in increased satisfaction for lawyers."

Silecchia discussed the integration of spiritual perspectives with law practice during a conference on externships held at Catholic University's Columbus School of Law. Through externships, second- and third-year law students are placed with judges, government agencies, law firms or legislative committees for what often is the students' first experiences of daily operations in a legal environment. The question of spirituality sometimes comes up in classes held in conjunction with the externships.

Silecchia suggested specific ways to incorporate spirituality into the legal profession:

  • Allow time each day for thought and reflection. Because law is a fast- paced profession, lawyers must put a priority on finding this time, or it won't happen.
  • Find people with whom to discuss spiritual issues.
  • Learn the spiritual traditions within your own faith, focusing on developing spiritual practices that are suited to you and in keeping with your religious beliefs.

    Other professions are addressing spiritual issues. "You see it most often in the healing professions," Silecchia said. "Studies show that patient care is better with a spiritual component. Business and industry are also looking at this. The legal profession may be one of the last to look at spirituality in the workplace; law traditionally is not thought of as a helping or healing profession."

    Silecchia would like to see this perception change by focusing on how lawyers incorporate spiritual perspectives into practicing law. "For me, the topic came up because I think it's important to see the work you do as part of a vocation, and not just a job. Studies come out year after year about how unhappy lawyers are. There seems to be a sense that the profession is callous, less attuned to the real suffering that is out there."

    Silecchia draws a distinction between spirituality and ethics. "Ethics focuses on the things we should not do. One of the dangers that lawyers run into is setting only minimum standards, those things we can all agree on that we won't do," she said. "Spirituality calls us to do more than the minimum. It's not merely a rule-based code of conduct. Spirituality is a personal challenge to individuals."

    The law school, which is marking its centennial this year, is one of 10 schools at Catholic University, the national university of the Catholic Church, the only one established by the U.S. Bishops.

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