Does a Lawyer’s Religious Faith Affect Her Practice? Comments from a Torah Observant Lawyer
My name is Erin Sperger. I am an attorney and I am Torah observant. (If you’re not familiar with what this means, the video below is a good introduction.) This is what I call myself, since people demand labels. I serve Yahweh, the God of Israel, and follow His commandments as set forth in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. I believe He has sent His Messiah, Yeshua, who fulfilled the spring feasts laid out in the Torah (Passover, First Fruits, and Shavuot) and never violated one single commandment.
I remember sitting in Torts my first semester of law school, thin
king it all sounded familiar. The Torah goes into great detail about negligence and civil remedies, and the reasoning behind the modern and the Torah remedies is theoretically the same. The old adage “an eye for an eye” was actually a limitation on civil remedies prohibiting punitive damages; that is, if someone damaged your eye, your remedy was limited to a replacement eye or the monetary equivalent, less any diminution in value. This is why the penalty for harming a male of a certain age was greater than harming a child or a female; the male’s injury was more financially devastating to the injured family. This is the same formulation civil juries use to figure out a plaintiff’s monetary worth to his family. In that moment, I knew I could ace law school if I just read the law like I read Torah.
During law school, my classmates were surprised to hear that I wanted to be a criminal defense attorney. The classic reaction was, “You want to be a defense attorney?” — as if being a defense attorney and being moral was an oxymoron. I earned a reputation for being impartial and non-judgmental, yet classmates could not wrap their heads around why I would stoop to defending “scumbags” or the “obviously guilty.” My answer was (and still is) that until everyone in this world loves their neighbor as themselves, there will be people who are treated unequally, and those people need someone to speak on their behalf.
So I combined my criminal law background, my compassion for people, and my love of learning to create the perfect niche: providing legal research and writing for criminal defense attorneys. My true passion is working on appeals; an appeal is where an individual’s voice may be heard for the last time or a pattern of injustice may be revealed. This goes hand in hand with providing a voice to the speechless. I believe in justice for all, and my religion does not permit me to treat people differently based on how much money they have. I am commanded to do everything as if I were doing it for my Creator, and I take that to heart: Every project I take on gets 100 percent of my attention.
My faith affects my practice in many ways, some practical and some ideological. For instance, I have learned to manage my time efficiently, because my work has to be finished before sundown on Fridays, and I take several days off to celebrate the feasts. I do not go to court. I wear a head covering for reasons of modesty, even though it may make some people uncomfortable. Most are too polite to comment, but I can see the look of bewilderment on their faces if we have only had a phone or email conversation and are meeting for the first time. The legal profession has been very accommodating, and so far my personal and professional duties have not conflicted.
I became a lawyer because I wanted to advocate for the powerless, but I succeed because I have essentially done legal analysis my whole life, studying and analyzing the laws of Torah and applying them to each new set of circumstances. I think that is why I chose to pursue legal research and writing and why I am so intrigued by appellate work. I will not sacrifice my faith for my career; I believe they are compatible, and I intend to prove it.