Spirit in the Law by Judge Michael Mosman

April 2, 2015

Judge Michael Mosman, federal district court judge for the District of Oregon, spoke to law students about conflict and confrontation as part of the Spirit and the Law series. Judge Mosman is also serving a 2013–2020 term on the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Judge Mosman's remarks focused on the role of conflict and confrontation in the life of one striving to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. He divided his remarks into two sections. In the first, he discussed how “the ability to engage in conflict is not just a necessary evil in a fallen world but an intrinsic part of being a child of God in a world of eternally opposing forces,” while in the second he gave “pragmatic advice on how to engage in confrontation in the practice of law consistent with discipleship.” In preparation for his remarks, Judge Mosman sent out a questionnaire to attorneys and judges who have been exposed to substantial conflict in legal practice.

He began his remarks by telling about his father, a role model in his life, and an attorney who engaged in conflict with a stalwart passion for justice. Judge Mosman said, “At his funeral, I remarked that if there had been more early Christians like my father, there would have been fewer martyrs and more dead Roman soldiers.”

Judge Mosman used examples from scripture to suggest that the life of a disciple of Christ carries confrontation with it. Judge Mosman pointed out that even Christ himself did not back away from conflict. “Jesus calls Peter ‘Satan,’ and asks his disciples how long he'll have to put up with them. Twice he braids a whip and beats people with it to drive them out of the temple,” Judge Mosman said. “There is another, quieter tradition running through our scripture and our faith-culture in which meekness and pacifism are proposed examples for our lives.”

Having established that conflict has a place in the lives of disciples, Judge Mosman discussed how to handle conflict without running from it. Speaking of the responses he received to his survey, Judge Mosman reported, “The lists shows these conflicts are: internal, with clients, with legal assistants, and with other lawyers in their own firms.”

Judge Mosman offered a list of tips for all attorneys to cope with conflict in their practices. He he said, “Almost uniformly my respondents said that the most confrontational lawyers they deal with are young ones.” Because young attorneys tend to become more aggressive when nervous or scared, they come across as less professional. Reading from his responses, Judge Mosman advised, “Make it about issues, not egos. Don't personalize it. Make it about the dispute that you have with the other side, not their personalities.” Judge Mosman also counseled not to respond with threatening behavior, but rather to respond in a non-confrontational way for as long as possible. “Know your limits,” Judge Mosman counseled, adding: “Humor can help.”

“The practice of law has been hard in many ways, confrontation is hard,” Judge Mosman said. “And it's a dark world. I cannot deny that it has changed me, changed my relationship with the world, the church, and other people. But I don't really regret any of it. I am grateful for what conflict and confrontation have taught me.”