Russell and Duenes

Just a Work-a-Day Attorney

with 2 comments

I came to law school with a keen interest in bioethics and constitutional law issues pertaining to abortion and religious freedom. My interest in those things has not particularly waned, but somewhere along the line I sensed that I simply wanted to be a work-a-day attorney for awhile. I’m not totally sure why, but I think I initially believed it would give me some kind of credibility should I ever get back into teaching. I think that’s right, as far as it goes. If I do end up teaching in some kind of pre-law program at, say, a Christian college – which I should very much like to do – I would want to bring in the experience of being an average-Joe attorney.

However, it’s not just that. There’s something else to it, and I wonder what it is. I wonder what God is up to. One thing I can say, and I’m not even a full-fledged attorney yet, is that many work-a-day attorney’s interact with a segment of our population that I almost never come in contact with. My brief experience over the last few months with a couple of Kansas municipal courts has shown me that.

This past week I shadowed the city prosecutor in a small Kansas town south of here through her court docket, which means I sat through a bunch of people’s names being called, people who then came and stood before the municipal court judge and generally worked out what kind of monthly payments they were going to make toward the fines they owed. These monthly payments were typically on the order of $30 to $50 dollars a month. If the person could not afford to pay even that much, they were likely going to end up working off their fine at the local recycling plant. I also sat through a couple of misdemeanor bench trials (i.e., no jury) where all the parties were, from the looks of things, south of 25 years old. One gal was 21 and had already given birth to a child and then had that child die. Her ex-boyfriend, he the tender age of 21, had a child of his own and could only pay so much of his fine because he had child support payments.

And I thought to myself, “There are a lot of people out here in our world unseen by me and my kind. A lot more than I think. This country, this world, is much different than I imagine. Oh sure, it’s God’s world, and the reality of what He says is unchanged. But I live a largely insular life, and I would welcome the opportunity for that to be different.” Being a work-a-day attorney offers me that opportunity. I have an arrogant self-satisfaction in my soul by which I somehow think I’m better than a lot of these people; you know, smarter, wiser, and generally more put together. But that’s bogus, and I think it’s something that God would rid me of, in His mercy.

Now, do I know that that’s the reason for my desire to be a work-a-day attorney? No, I don’t. But I should like to be disabused of my elitist contempt for others all the same, for my smug sense that I understand a heckuva lot about this world and about other people, when really I don’t. I’d like to become more comfortable with the thought that I’m just one of them, nothing special, a person as much in need of God’s grace and mercy as the next guy, no matter what his or her situation or background. I want to learn to love my neighbor, as Jesus gives me the strength and power to do so, without having to ask, as the indifferent lawyer asked, “And who is my neighbor?” I don’t want to continue to have that place of condescension reserved in my heart for “those people.” I want to know them, love them, and bring to bear Christ’s love through my work with them.



Written by Michael Duenes

January 11, 2014 at 8:48 pm

Posted in Duenes, Reflections

2 Responses

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  1. Thinking of you and glad to read your perspective on your journey into seeing the harder side of life. I’ve always lived it, poor paycheck to paycheck and lately not even that. I have struggled most of my life and as a single parent sacrificed for the sake of my child, really nothing we all don’t do, but when God intercedes and your raising a girl without her Dad, and a man like you is in her life as a teacher, friend and example of what real men do, show up, day in and day out. Be a dad and husband, well it shows and what you have given in just being you and letting my daughter see that, well the impression remains in your life and the glimpse of goodness lets people like me see God in you and encourage me to know the sacrifice and struggle is so worth it in the life I strive to live. As an every day man,
    teacher or lawyer, Duenes your Gold.

    Elena Trujillo

    January 11, 2014 at 9:57 pm

    • Thanks, Elena. Your words are very encouraging, and I have been so grateful to see the fruit in Jennifer’s life. As you know, none of your sacrifices have been wasted or in vain, and as you continue to run the race, you know you have a sure reward in Jesus. And you have the joy of seeing your daughter follow Him. As you also know, it is indeed in the day-in and day-out things we do that we hold out Jesus for others, particularly those closest to us. And as John Piper says, none of us relates to others out of perfection or wholeness. We come to them as broken people ourselves, bearing the disappointments with ourselves and others who inevitably let us down (and some let us down in terrible ways, as you also know). You are the one who is an inspiration to persevere. May God help you to continue, and may you continue to trust him each day, for the daily bread – both physical and spiritual – that He provides. It was a privilege to be one of Jennifer’s teachers.


      russell and duenes

      January 12, 2014 at 2:20 pm

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