Advertisements ad

The InterVIEW

Attorney finds satisfaction in helping others

A regular feature of The Catholic New World, The InterVIEW is an in-depth conversation with a person whose words, actions or ideas affect today's Catholic. It may be affirming of faith or confrontational. But it will always be stimulating.

Daniel R. Murray says he has no idea why he was selected as Catholic Lawyer of the Year, joking that there must have been a “precipitous decline” in the number of Catholic lawyers, leaving the committee with no other choice. But the 37-year veteran at Jenner & Block has an impressive resume, serving as chair of the firm’s Bankruptcy, Workout and Corporate Reorganization Practice and Co-Chair of the Commercial Law and Uniform Commercial Code Practice and as an adjunct professor at University of Notre Dame’s School of Law, teaching a course on corporate restructuring. In addition to worshipping at Holy Name Cathedral and Immaculate Conception (North Park) parishes, he serves on the boards of several Catholic institutions, including the Big Shoulders Fund, Catholic Theological Union and the Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Center.

He is to be honored at the Catholic Lawyers Guild brunch following the Red Mass at Holy Name Cathedral Sept. 30.

Catholic New World: What’s the difference between a Catholic lawyer and any other lawyer?

DRM: From my perspective, I have many values as a lawyer that I’ve acquired in part from my colleagues at the law firm of Jenner & Block, in part from other sources and in part, I would think, from my faith. They are mutually reinforcing and it’s hard to separate out from whence those values derive. For example, one primary example I would think of is the importance we place as professionals on the importance of giving back to the public, the importance of giving back to the profession.

We are very fortunate to have a license to practice law. It’s a great responsibility and a lot of trust is given to us. Because we have this responsibility, we have an obligation to give back, and that is something that has been taught to me from my earliest days as a lawyer at Jenner & Block by my mentors, people like Bert Jenner, Jerry Solovy, Tom Sullivan. These people who have practiced what they’ve preached in terms of giving back to the profession with pro bono work and other service work of various kinds. My faith obviously reinforces that because that kind of sacrifice for the public good is something that is very compatible and reinforced by the Catholic faith. The two are mutually reinforcing.

It’s hard to say that a Catholic lawyer would have a completely different perspective on things, but I do believe that our faith does reinforce and strengthen us in this whole objective of trying to give back to the profession and the public. That evidences itself in the pro bono work we do at the firm and the public service we do.

CNW: Is there an intersection of law and morality? Where do you find it?

DRM: Sure there is—at various levels, I think. From the point of view of ethics, ethics is an important dimension of the practice of law and increasingly so, I think. As I teach my students at Notre Dame Law School, whenever a problem comes up, I try to bring in the ethical dimension of the practice and the students are very receptive to that. That’s one of the things that gives me great hope, that students are very receptive to discussions of the ethical aspects of the practice of law, even in an area like corporate bankruptcy.

I also think there’s something deeper, a religious aspect to it. As a lawyer, you’re called upon at the core of your vocation to help other people. That’s what an advocate and a counselor does, at heart: help other people, the client. Sometimes those people, whether they be pro bono clients or paying clients, would not be the first people you would choose to help.

I used to think when I was in law school that the pro bono clients would be the most exciting people to represent. Sometimes they’re pretty difficult. I’m not speaking about any one client, but they can be difficult to work with. You have to have a commitment, because their life has value, even though they may be in deep trouble. You have to help them. For somebody coming from a religious tradition that places such a high value on a person even when they seem unworthy, that’s very important. To me, and to many others, both religious and non-religious, you have to have a strong commitment to your client, even though sometimes they’re not the easiest people to deal with.

CNW: Why is ethics increasing in importance?

FDM: In the practice of law in the last 10 to 20 years, we have witnessed an increasing emphasis on making money, on profitability in the practice of the law. That has to some degree been an unfortunate development because there are instances where lawyers have cut corners. They’ve done things they should not have done.

The pressures are greater. It’s all the more important that we emphasize the ethics of the profession and avoid some of the scandals that have occurred. Here in Cook County, we had the Cook County Court scandals, Operation Greylord, that sort of thing. We have to be much more vigilant in terms of seeing that this profession operates at the very highest ethical level. The Illinois Supreme Court has tried to emphasize that in terms of requiring regular updates for lawyers on ethics. That’s a new development. It’s to try to make this profession a profession of the highest caliber, ethically and morally.

CNW: How does your faith come to bear on professional life?

DRM: I talked about how the faith reinforces your commitment to give back to the profession and the public, to do pro bono work and other activities like that. Another way it makes a difference I think is that we talk a lot about civility in the practice of law, that lawyers have to be civil toward one another, respectful toward one another. There are a lot of pressures in the profession, let’s say when you’re in a trial and people are adversaries or battling with one another in the trial. On occasion, attorneys become uncivil with one another, and of course the judges have spent a lot of time and effort trying to address that problem and ameliorate it. One of the things you derive from your faith is a sense of forgiveness, a sense of tolerance, a sense of respect for your adversaries even when you deeply disagree with them.

I think that sometimes when you get agitated by your adversary and the inclination would be to lose your temper and get angry, you can derive some support from your religious faith. You can derive support in several different ways. The one I think of is the need to forgive others because you know that you yourself have done some things in your life— you need forgiveness, too.

If there’s one way in which I think our Catholic tradition makes a difference to me, it really is the worth that you accord to another human being. You are helping other people, and I don’t think you can ever lose sight of that.

That seems to me to be at the absolute core of what the practice of law is all about. It’s not unlike being a doctor. For a doctor, it’s all about the patients. For a lawyer, its all about the clients, trying to help those clients. I tell my law students at Notre Dame that when you are a corporate bankruptcy lawyer, and a necessitus client comes to you with great need, economic needs or what have you, it’s almost as if you’re a doctor practicing in the emergency room. They have tremendous needs, and you’ve got to be sensitive to those needs, and sometimes it can be quite harrowing because you’re under emergent circumstances and you have to give that client all the service you can and they’re bleeding profusely. Somehow you’ve got to stop the bleeding and get them on the road to recovery. There is nothing more satisfying than when, at the end of the day, that client emerges successfully in a successful reorganization.