Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Prof. Robert Cochran remembers Prof. Thomas Shaffer (RIP)

Prof. Robert Cochran (Pepperdine) gave me permission to re-post this remembrance of my late colleague, Tom Shaffer (RIP), who passed away yesterday:

Tom was my teacher, mentor, co-author (Lawyers, Clients, and Moral Responsibility), and friend for 43 years. He mentored me in law school and into and through law teaching. Most of what I know about law and religion I learned through his guidance.

Tom was a visiting professor at the University of Virginia during my third year of law school, 1975-76 (shortly after he left the Notre Dame deanship).  He taught a course on law and religion in his and Nancy’s rented home.  (The afterword of On Being a Christian and a Lawyer identifies that class as the genesis of the book and identifies each student by name.)  Three aspects of the class stand out.  First, when Tom discovered that all in the class were Christians—though of almost every stripe--he had us open with prayer.  That, no doubt, would have been troubling to the University’s founder, Thomas Jefferson.  We envisioned him looking down on us, and he was not pleased.  Second, we closed with beer.  That would have been troubling to my Baptist forbears, but to this Baptist boy it seemed to balance out the prayer.

The third thing I recall was that the class changed my life with a message that runs through Tom’s books.  Prior to the class, I lived a schizophrenic existence.  I saw little connection between what I learned in law school during the week and what I did in church on Sundays.  The following extended metaphor from Tom's American Lawyers and Their Communities captures Shaffer’s central call to Christian lawyers. Shaffer envisions a town square.  On one side is the church; on the other is the courthouse.  “We American lawyers learn to look at the community of the faithful, rather than from it.  We stand in the courthouse looking at the church.  We see the [church], even when we claim to belong to it, from the point of view of the government.” (210-11) 

“[The legal] part of the academy, more than any other, has systematically discouraged and disapproved of invoking the religious tradition as important or even interesting.  It ignores the community of the faithful so resolutely that even its students who have come to law school from the community of the faithful learn to look at the [church] from the courthouse, rather than at the courthouse from [the church].” (214)   

Tom encourages lawyers to "walk across the street and look at the courthouse from the church. . ." (210)   “Faithfulness to the tradition of Israel and of the Cross means that the lawyer stands in the community of the faithful and looks from there at the law.  Faithfulness means that a lawyer imagines that she is first of all a believer and is then a lawyer.” (198) 

From the vantage point of the church, Tom called on lawyers to do many things. 

  1. Consistency - A lawyer should be (as was said of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird) the same person in town that he or she is at home.  Lawyers should bring the values that they are taught at home and church—truthfulness, justice, and mercy—to the legal profession, rather than playing a role. 
  2. Concern for All - Lawyers should be concerned about the interests of all who might be affected by legal representation.  Lawyers should resist the “radical individualism” encouraged by exclusive focus on client’s worst instincts.  
  3. Concern for Clients – Lawyers should be concerned with the whole, client, not their most selfish instincts.  “[T]he goal and purpose of a virtuous life in a profession is to help others become good persons...” (94) 
  4. Moral counsel – The apparent tensions between concern for other people and for clients is overcome if lawyers raise moral issues in client counseling as they would with a close friend, not imposing their values, but raising them for serious discussion.    
  5. Speaking Truth to Power –Christian lawyers should speak prophetically to those in power (both government and wealthy clients).     
  6. A Preferential Option for the Poor – As the holder of a prestigious chair at Notre Dame, he chose to serve poor people in the law school legal clinic (one of the less prestigious positions at most law schools). 

I am sorry to see Tom pass, but I look forward to spending eternity with him and Nancy in the New Heavens and the New Earth.  I am grateful Tom's and Nancy's influence in this world on me and so many others.   


Garnett, Rick | Permalink