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Law should become “a vehicle for creating a loving and caring world,” said Peter Gabel, who spoke at a conference on faith and law held at Emory University School of Law on Tuesday. Gabel, a law professor at New College of California in San Francisco, and other participants discussed how faith — whatever the religion — can become a part of one’s law practice. The conference was a joint effort by Gabel’s Project for Integrating Spirituality, Law and Politics and Atlanta Faithful Lawyers, a multi-faith group of local attorneys and judges who meet periodically to talk about how their beliefs play out in their legal practice. Atlanta Faithful Lawyers was born when seven Atlantans — four lawyers, a judge, a rabbi and an Episcopal priest — went to a religion and law conference at Fordham University School of Law in 1998. After the trip, the group and other attorneys began meeting regularly to discuss their faith and their legal practice. “The foundation of law as a search for justice almost necessarily gets one into moral and ethical, if not religious and spiritual, issues,” said Thomas A. Cox of Weekes & Candler, one of the seven who started Atlanta Faithful Lawyers. For this reason, he said, attorneys perhaps grapple with theological issues more than members of other professions. This notion that law has a spiritual as well as an ethical dimension gets back to law’s beginnings as one of the original healing professions, along with medicine and ministry. However, in the day-to-day demands of practicing law, it can be a struggle to mesh one’s faith with one’s legal work, Cox and others at the conference said. One of the speakers, C. David Butler of Shapiro Fussell, said that in the past he, like many lawyers, had been “hamstrung by his inability to integrate faith and work.” Butler, a bankruptcy lawyer, said he was caught up in concerns over “retainers, [legal] issues, the clients’ prestige and my prestige.” But one day, a client started asking about suicide clauses in life insurance contracts, Butler said, and the incident sparked a reorientation toward seeing his work in terms of people instead of cases. “There are a lot more lawyers walking around struggling with these issues than I realized before I got involved in this movement,” Cox said. The interest in how law and faith can intersect is growing among both academics and practicing lawyers, according to Douglas B. Ammar, executive director of the Georgia Justice Project and a participant in both Atlanta Faithful Lawyers and Gabel’s project to integrate faith and law. Atlanta is a place that “encourages these conversations,” he said. It is also the home of the International Alliance of Holistic Lawyers and the Georgia Justice Project, which combines lawyers and a landscaping company to help people accused of crimes rebuild their lives. Ammar helped organize the joint conference, which was sponsored by the Georgia Justice Project, the Atlanta Bar Association, the Chief Justice’s Commission on Professionalism, Emory’s law school, and the Georgia State University College of Law. Speakers at the conference were a mix of practicing lawyers and professors, including Frank S. Alexander, a law professor at Emory; Fatima El-Amin Ziyad of Ziyad Group, a law firm; Karen B. Baynes of the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia; A. Craig Cleland, a former minister and employment lawyer at Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart; Michael G. Leeper, who practices criminal defense and workers compensation at Leeper Lindsey; as well as Butler and Gabel. Even attorneys who don’t practice public interest law for a living said they have found ways to mesh their legal work with their faith. Cynthia B. Brown started attending Atlanta Faithful Lawyers breakfasts when she was at a transition point in her career, she said, and the group helped her to be “very intentional” about the next job she took. At that point, she had worked for a large firm, in-house and in solo practice as an outside general counsel. “I’m not sure I would be in the job I’m in now if I were not in this group. My thinking and reflection both within and through this group helped me realize that my next job needed to reflect who I am more than my previous career moves,” she said. Her new job is as the head lawyer for the Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission, which arranges financing for state building projects. The position allows her to “be a steward of my gifts and of the resources of the citizens of Georgia,” she said.

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