Friday, June 8, 2007

Applying Jewish Values to a Lawyer's Search for Career Satisfaction


A week ago today, my wife, Joan, and I were driving to New York for the annual weekend with my sister and brother-in-law. There were two discussion topics.

The first was this Blog – the application of the core values of Judaism to the search for a just peace for Israel/Palestine – an important but only one of many efforts we have been involved with in the Jewish community over the last forty years. In 1971, Joan, and I helped form a "havurah" with several other families which for fifteen years shared Jewish holidays, retreats and celebrations. In 1981 our family spent five weeks working on Kibbutz Gevim and touring Israel. In addition, I: served in the past on the boards and social action committees of the Jewish Community Center, the United Way the North Shore Jewish Federation, and the national Tikkun Community Leadership Committee; worked on presenting a debate in 1982 on the invasion of Lebanon by Israel; co-founded a discussion group on the Israel/Palestine conflict; and am on the Board of Directors of the Israel Fund, a federation of the Combined Federal Campaign. Joan and I raised funds to build a medical clinic for the unrecognized Bedouin village of Wadi Na’am in Israel and, most recently, we founded the Center for Jewish Alternatives to advise people alienated from their local Jewish institutions who are seeking to incorporate Jewish values, principles and traditions into a spiritually meaningful life.

The other topic was my work through the Center for Professional Development in the Law which began after 20 years practicing law when I joined the staff of Harvard Law School as the Public Interest Career Advisor. There I counseled law students who hoped to use their degrees to help those with personal plight issues and edited Harvard Law School’s Public Interest Directory. After I left, I started the Public Interest Law Career Planning Center (now the Center for Professional Development in the Law) to help individual lawyers search for professional work consistent with their personal values and beliefs. I presented workshops at law schools and bar associations, wrote Lawful Pursuit: Careers in Public Interest Law, published by the American Bar Association in 1995 and am the co-editor of “ Find Satisfaction in the Law” an on-line career planning resource sponsored by FindLaw.

Joan pointed out the parallel involvement I have had within the law and within Judaism over the last 40 years, not only the belief that both the legal profession and Judaism are disintegrating and the thought that both could be repaired if they were to focus more on promoting justice but also that individuals would find satisfaction from applying their core values to decisions about issues that are important in their lives.

I realized that the fundamentals I had employed in career counseling had always been the same; i.e., for career satisfaction, you must search for and find a position consistent with your professional goals and your personal values and beliefs. I had, on a few occasions, gone further and made proposals that included within those values ones religious and spiritual beliefs.

In a flash, I decided it made sense to merge these two worlds and to specifically provide as a service of the Center for Professional Development in the Law advice on how to incorporate a client’s Jewish core values into his or her search for satisfying work within the law. My vision is that the client would become more aware of, and examine, these values; for example, do not wrong the stranger, pursue justice, what is hateful to you do not do to others, relieve the oppressed. He or she would then apply these as criteria when evaluating various options within and around the law.

Interestingly enough, the book that speaks to me most clearly on this subject is one by Matthew Fox, no relation and, in fact, a defrocked Catholic priest. In “The Reinvention of Work” he says, “Spirit means life, and both life and livelihood are about living in depth, living with meaning, purpose, joy and a sense of contributing to the greater community. A spirituality of work is about bringing life and livelihood back together again.”

My friend and colleague, Dr. Mark Byers, says, “The importance of incorporating spiritual beliefs is based on the fact that a concern for proper vocation and calling is central to all religious and spiritual traditions that have recognized the value of work in the path to spiritual development. The culture of the professions, including law, has incorporated many of the features of spiritual and religious callings in the context of a nominally secular outlook.”

Last night I sat and listened to a talk by Tom Wolfe. He referred to Nietzsche and his writings in 1880; i.e., God is dead (religions no longer guide people); we are entering an age of barbaric nationalism; there will be cataclysmic wars between nations in the twentieth century; in the twenty-first century it will get worse as society becomes totally de-moralized, no longer even knowing or remembering what values are (by these I think Wolfe meant what we usually acknowledge as the “higher” standards since fascists have values). While he devoted too much time to it, he focused on present day free sex as his evidence as well as the lack of attendance in churches.

So this week I begin to offer advice and assistance to lawyers (and law students) who would like to pursue justice or Tikkun Olam and incorporate their Jewish values into their search for meaningful work. I hope my efforts will encourage others to provide a similar service for those from the Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Buddhist and Humanist religious traditions and that this might be a small step in the attempt to counter the falling apart of the legal profession as well as Judaism.

1 comment:

eac94 said...

I just happened to see you blog from a Google Alert I have set up. I am a career and life counselor and have been in the field for over thirty years. I really enjoyed your comments and your focus on spirituality in your discussion about work and the journey all of us are on. I have been bringing spirituality to the table as a main course in all the work I have been doing with career development activities for older and younger clients and students. I deal with and write about calling and purpose. I have worked with many lawyers including people from a wide variety of occupations.

I agree with much of what you have shared, especially the insights your wife Joan shared about the need to repair whatever is disintegrating through a focus on promoting justice and a focus on core values to decisions about issues that are important in people’s lives.

The quotes by Matthew Fox and your friend and colleague, Dr. Mark Byers, are excellent. I disagree with Tom Wolfe when he interprets present day free sex and lack of attendance in churches as evidence that our society is getting worse and moving towards a totally de-moralized downward direction based on a lack of memory about important values (I assume he is speaking about certain core values). On the contrary, while there is strong evidence of a disintegration in our pop culture, television, most of the advertising world, etc., I believe there is a quiet, steadily rising, well-grounded awareness in young and older people about their need for meaning and purpose in not only work, but across career and life roles. People want more out of work than simply a paycheck; people want less stress and more balance in their lives. Many more people than ten or twenty years ago are more willing to leave their stressful job and look for another “bridge job” as they focus on creating a career that is more fulfilling. Many more people today are searching for calling in their career choices. Many of these people are wanting to deal with spirituality very openly, perhaps in a non-religious way.

People may not be flocking to churches, but they are spending more time reflecting on their inner feelings, pondering who they are, why they are here, and how they can best contribute themselves to this world and solving some of our common porblems. That sounds pretty spiritual to me.

Thanks for your comments and thanks to Joan too for her insights. I have a website at if you are interested. Feel free to contact me if you have an interest in further dialogue.
Thanks again, Ed Colozzi