1:36– About my specialty in my field
4:10– How did God lead you into a ministry through law instead of a traditional vocational ministry?
6:36– What does “advancing the Kingdom” look like to you in the context of practicing law?
10:58– As an attorney, have you ever had a tension between your faith and your profession?
14:26– A word of encouragement
15:58– What is it like being in a large firm with a lot of people that don’t share the same worldview? How do you try to influence and effect the culture of your firm as it relates to your faith?
18:33– What is the best piece of advice you ever received and who gave it to you?
22:00– What advice would you give the 20-year-old you?
24:02– My other passion
27:20– the 4:23 Question
Dave’s professional background is in the law and business. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, where he graduated with honors and was selected as an editor of the Michigan Law Review. After clerking on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Dave joined Latham & Watkins LLP in 1982. During his 35 years at the firm, Latham has grown into one of the nation’s largest law firms with over 2000 attorneys in over 30 cities worldwide. He is a senior partner in the firm’s litigation department and heads up a practice group representing corporations that do business with U.S. government agencies. He specializes in complex government contracts litigation.
While his day job is in the law, Dave’s passion is teaching Sunday School and leading Bible studies in his home, church and workplace. Dave began teaching Sunday School over 40 years ago near Detroit, where he and his family had attended Trinity Baptist Church. At Trinity, he met Beky Adams, his high school sweetheart and now wife of nearly 40 years. In 1982, Dave took a job in Washington, D.C. He and Beky moved to Virginia where they raised three wonderful children–Rex, Peter, and Katie. For over 30 years, he has taught Sunday School at Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church as well as hosted a weekly Bible Study with Beky in their home. He currently is an elder at Cornerstone and is also active in cross-cultural ministry.
Full Transcript:
Ray: Well hello, everyone. This is Ray Hilbert, and I am your host here at the Bottom Line Faith program. We would like to welcome you back to another edition. I am really, really excited to talk with our guest today. I am speaking with David Hazelton. He is a partner in a law firm in the Washington DC area with the office of Latham & Watkins, and he specializes in government contract litigation and transactions, and councils his clients on how to handle their legal affairs when it comes to government affairs. And David, thank you for joining the program here at Bottom Line Faith.
David: Oh, hi, Ray. I’m delighted to join you today.
Ray: Well, we’re going to get a chance in just a couple of moments, David to talk about specifically faith, integration of faith and how the Lord, you know, really has called you into your career and the integration of all that but would you mind just taking just a couple of moments here, help us understand your area of expertise in your practice and what you do for your clients?
David: Sure, I’ll do my best, Ray. So I work with a large global law firm. We have well over 2,000 attorneys in over 30 cities around the world. Our annual revenue is in excess of $3 billion, which makes us one of the worst largest law firms. And within that very large environment, I have a fairly small role. I head up our government contracts litigation practice, which means that I represent companies that are doing business with the US government and who find themselves in some type of dispute with the government about the award or performance of government contracts. My client base ranges from traditional defense contractors, you know, companies that make aircraft or tanks to information technology companies, to healthcare companies, just think of all the things the government buys, goods and services that the government buys, that’s my client base, our client base, and we represent them when they’re in disputes with the government.
Ray: And has this always been an area of interest to you or how did you really kind of hone in this area of specialty?
David: Well, Ray, let me just take a small step back when, when I was in college, I was asking the Lord, you know, Lord, where will you lead me? What am I to do with my life, and I, I thought about going into ministry, I thought about going into teaching, I studied history and thought about getting my Ph.D. in history and becoming a history professor. And I also prayerfully considered going into law. And I felt like in the end, I felt that God was leading me into this area for a couple reasons. One is that I felt like he would be able to use my skill set in a way that would advance the kingdom in the world of law, and also that it would give me a platform to have an impact on the kingdom, in church and parachurch organizations. So as I carefully thought about what I would be doing, I felt that God was leading me into the practice of law. And for the last 30 plus years, I’ve been delighted to have the opportunity to serve God as a lawyer.
Ray: I find this really interesting, and that’s one of the things you know, that we love to do here at Bottom Line Faith is kind of dig under the surface a little bit and, and find out how things came about, why things came about. So what was that process like for you, David? You know, in that ministry, as you know, traditional ministry is pretty, that’s holy, right? I mean, that’s what you’re supposed to do. At least that’s what I was always told. And yet you chose, or God led you down this path of practicing law. You said, you talked about your skills and talents, what was it, be as specific as you can to help us understand how this calling, and I do use that word intentionally, how you came to this calling, as opposed to traditional vocational ministry?
David: Well, when you think about the way in which God has gifted you when I thought about the way that God has gifted me, I saw him using me in different settings, in teaching settings. I am a lawyer by day, but my passion, much of my activity is teaching Sunday school and leading several Bible studies during the course of the week. And I was considering what should I do? How could I apply those skills and certainly from the pulpit or in a vocational Christian position, those skills could be used, but I was persuaded, and I am persuaded that when we bring those skills to bear, in whatever environment, and for me it’s a legal environment, we can then use them to advance the kingdom. So I’ve always been a fairly clear thinker, a fairly logical thinker. I’ve always enjoyed discussing and addressing policy issues, whether they’re theological or social policy issues. And as I thought through it, and as I saw the council of my pastor, those in leadership positions, and in Intervarsity Christian Fellowship in which I was actively involved in college, confirmed that God was leading me into the practice of law. Now, to be clear, I’m confident that God could have used me in any environment and what he is looking for most is a willing heart, I believe, and willing to look to serve the kingdom wherever you’re placed.
Ray: And I really love that. So if we could just park here just for a moment, David, I’d really like to dig a little deeper, we hear this phrase, “the kingdom.” And in the context of this conversation, you’re talking about, you know, advancing the kingdom, bringing about the kingdom from your perspective. From your experience, what does that look like in the context of practicing law? Because I’d love, I guess some of our listeners would be curious, they could learn from that. What does that look like from your perspective?
David: Sure. Let’s start with what I think is a fundamental biblical truth that work is good. When we look at Genesis chapter two, before the fall, God looked and said, there was no one to work the garden and then said, The Lord took man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work and take care of it. So the starting point that I bring to my job and I think we all should bring to our vocations, our jobs, our calling, is to realize that it is a good thing that God wants work. He endorses work. Now in chapter 3 of Genesis, we see the Fall, and part of the consequence of the fall is a hostility between your work environment and, and you, that it’s by the sweat of our brows that we’ll work to feed ourselves and feed our family. But work is a place where we can see God’s hand, and for me, when I think of what that looks like, it certainly means that in the workplace, that I act with integrity, that I act as God’s representative in seeing needs and addressing people with compassion and concern. It means working hard, working with my whole heart as if I were serving the Lord because I am serving the Lord in the workplace.
But let me take it a step further Ray. For me, work and faith fit together and should fit together well. It’s not as if my Christian faith is over here on one side of my life and work is distant away on another side of my life that they should rightly work together. And one area that I’ve seen consistently through the 30 plus years I’ve been practicing law at a large law firm has been that what I do at the job, can sit with my responsibilities at home, as a father as a husband, and can sit with my responsibilities in the kingdom. That includes at church, whether it’s leading Bible studies or teaching Sunday school, or in parachurch organizations that are dealing with, my family’s had the privilege of being involved with Central Union Mission here in DC, which is a ministry to the homeless and needy, or International Justice Mission, which is an organization that deals with anti-human trafficking. Those types of activities, do they all fit together? So for me, one fundamental question that I ask myself on a regular basis is how is work working harmoniously with family and ministry? And if it’s not, then something’s wrong, and I need to think through whether I’m putting too much emphasis on work, too much time or too much emotional energy into work. I quickly note I love my job; I love what I do. But I need to make certain that there’s a harmony, a fit between work, family, faith, and ministry.
Ray: And I’m taking notes. And I really appreciate that word. And that concept of harmoniously. That means it’s flowing, not a lot of force going on there, right? It really is all working together in a very smooth fashion.
David: That’s right, Ray. And on a day in and day out basis, when I come home from work, I feel contented, fulfilled, and that I’m working for the kingdom. Now, having said that, you know, as I mentioned earlier on, in Genesis chapter 3 is the result of the Fall, there is hostility between us and our work. And it’s not that everything always works out beautifully. In fact, it often takes effort; it takes prayer; it takes attention to family, church, ministry to make certain that you don’t neglect those areas as you fulfill God’s call in the workplace.
Ray: Yeah. And so I’d love to maybe just go down a pathway here, specifically as a practicing attorney, maybe you would share, have you ever had any struggles of this balance, you know, maybe representing a, you know, you know, where I’m going with that. Maybe you could just share an example where you had a tension, if you will, between your faith and your profession.
David: I rarely feel the tension in terms of the actual legal projects that I’m doing. And in fact, by way of analogy, I’d compare it to an athlete. If I were a basketball player, I was playing for some team, my job is to play as hard as I can, as well as I can, and try to win. And I wouldn’t expect a Christian basketball player to do anything short of that. I would expect them to play by the rules; I would expect them to play with integrity. But for me, I’m representing typically very large companies that are in legal disputes, often involving many millions or billions of dollars. And it’s not that there is one side that is morally right and the other is morally wrong. It is that we’re looking through the legal process to figure out what is the appropriate outcome. And in many instances, Ray, it means my bringing an attitude of humility and reconciliation as I seek to achieve settlements, which are often the right way to resolve cases, but also when necessary to be a tough litigator and to push towards victory. And so on a day in, day out basis, I don’t see that type of moral tension; I don’t represent criminal defendants; I don’t represent drug dealers; that’s not what I do.
But I do see, Ray, a tension from time to time between my ego and my commitment to serve Christ. I sometimes think that I have these abilities, I have this dedication, and therefore I’m going to be successful because I can do it. And God often reminds me that it’s not my effort that’s going to achieve the desired results that he wants; It’s going to be him working through me. And I remember so well, it was about five years ago, and I had several large cases going at once. And someone asked me, a Christian brother asked me, how are you going to manage this? And I foolishly said, just bring it on, I can handle all this pressure. And I found myself one day at about three in the morning in my office, dropping to my knees at my desk, and, and confessing that wrong attitude, that sinful attitude, that prideful attitude to the Lord, that I can’t do it, yes, we can do great things, but it’s through Christ who strengthens us that we’re able to do it.
Ray: I really appreciate the way you frame that up, you know, in terms of what you feel you do not have tension with, and what you do have tension with. And I’ve got great news for you and for those who are listening to the conversation: you’re not alone in that tension around you know, this pride, this ego, because sometimes we take on the gifts that God has given us, and we are like, those are our gifts, right? Those, we gave it to ourselves. And so I really appreciate the way you frame that up. So what, what encouragement, what advice would you have for maybe someone who’s listening right now, who may at times have that same struggle between what’s their role, what’s the Lord’s role, what’s, what’s their strength, and what you know, you understand what I’m asking there? What, how could you encourage our listeners today in this regard?
David: Well, first and foremost, I encourage you, your listeners that work is good when done in the power of Christ and as service to Christ. And I think those are fundamental biblical truths. And when we work, it doesn’t relieve us from the other commands of Scripture. Yes, work is good. Yes, we should work with our whole heart as unto the Lord. But that doesn’t excuse us from the other commands, the other truths of Scripture that call us to be good parents, good spouses, faithful members of the church, faithful to whatever ministry God has called you. And so the encouragement and the challenge I’d give to all of your listeners is to ask yourself, how is work fitting with the other commands, the other callings that you have in your life, as a spouse, as a parent, as a church member? And I think going through that reflection can be very helpful in giving meaning to your work and putting it in the right perspective.
Ray: Very well stated. And, and so talk to us a little bit, then, about what it’s like being in a very large firm. Some of our listeners, they may either own or run large companies or may work in large companies. But for you, as a follower of Christ, certainly, I would not expect all 2,000 of your fellow attorneys to share your worldview. What is that like for you, and how do you try to influence or how do you try to, you know, affect the culture there inside of your firm as it relates to your faith.?
David: You know, first and foremost, I’m supposed to be, we’re all supposed to be salt and light in whatever environment God has put us. And one of the influences that I have here is by lifting up the conversation with the tone or substance of language and, a conversation, if I can raise that up, I think I am being salt and light there. Frankly, because I’ve been here for more than 30 years, and I’m a fairly senior partner in the firm, I can see how others adjust their speech, both the words they use and the points that they’re trying to make when we’re together. And we can raise that positive feeling. I find myself in a very comfortable relationship with staff, with non-attorneys, being able to ask them how they’re doing this morning, as I visited with our receptionist and asked, well, how was the Easter service, there’s ways to, if you will, raise the Christian flag in the work environment.
And then also, we’ve had the privilege now for more than 20 years to have a Bible study group here at the office that I’ve had the chance to lead and to have a group of people who have expressed an interest to see my life and I pray have seen good things in the way in which I’ve reflected the truth of Scripture and wanted to come and join together in a Bible study. And I think that’s a, you know, there’s to me a natural process where, if you will, we raise the flag of Christ, where we share our Christian in a very natural way. And where we invite people in the Bible study. I think there was a video series that I watched, my goodness, decades ago, that used those three terms. It was raise the flag, share your story, and invite people to Bible study. I have found that to be a very effective way to be salt and light here in the secular workplace.
Ray: So let’s maybe shift just directions a little bit, I want to talk about kind of this theme around advice and counsel. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, and who gave it to you?
David: In terms of my Christian walk as it relates to work, a great piece of advice that I received from an individual at Heads-Up Advocates International, which is a Christian organization, was look for opportunities to use your personal, professional experiences as a platform for advancing the kingdom. So for example, as a lawyer at a large law firm, large, well-respected international law firm, it gives me open doors to speak at different associations, some Christian, some non-Christian associations or gatherings, and I’m able to have a sort of instant credibility with them, because of the professional back platform.
And, you know, so I’d encourage others to do the same, to think about how, as a believer in whatever position God has put you, how can you use that as a platform, both in the workspace, but also outside of the workspace, to advance the kingdom of Christ, to share the love of Christ, to teach the gospel of Christ? And I think of that, as I mentioned earlier, in context of working in the realm of homeless ministry here in DC with Central Union Mission, or working in the realm of anti-human trafficking with International Justice Mission, I serve as a trustee with Denver Seminary. And I don’t think it’s because I’m a great theologian that I’ve been invited to serve in that position, but because of the platform that I have professionally, and hopefully, the way in which I’ve lived my life. So that was a great piece of advice that I received early on, and that I’ve often looked, how can I use the platform, my professional platform as an opportunity to advance the kingdom?
Ray: And what’s so powerful about that, David, is, you know, as our conversation opened today, and you shared about kind of going through the discernment process of vocational ministry and ultimately felt like God had called you into the legal profession. That platform is far different, and you would probably never have been able to reach the same audience in the same communities, as you are now able to in practicing law, is that right?
David: Ray, you’ve made the absolutely correct connection. You know, when I felt God calling me into the practice of law rather than to vocational Christian ministry, I thought I believed I was persuaded that I would be in the position to have an influence in realms that I couldn’t have if I were the pastor of a church. Now, thank God for each and every one of our pastors who faithfully preach the gospel and serve. And you know, I am in no way saying that that is not an extremely important. Indeed, when you look at scripture, such an important calling, but each of us are called to use the gifts we have in the right environment that God calls you to, and then use that to advance the kingdom, to share God’s love, to speak and live out the gospel.
Ray: That’s just very encouraging. So just another question on this kind of vein of advice. And then I want to talk to you briefly about your passion outside of your law practice. If you could go back and advise the 20-year-old you, you could sit down across the table from your 20-year-old self, what advice would you give yourself of 20 years? I have the opportunity to talk to a lot of law students and young attorneys, and I hope I would say to myself what I say to them, when they struggle with the demands of studies, the demands of being a lawyer, to ask, what is the right balance, and are they doing what God’s called them to do in the workplace, with their family, and their church, and in ministry, and if they don’t see that fitting together, if they see work dominating and stopping them from doing what the Lord would have them do in those areas, because then you need to reassess. And to me, I was 20, 21 years old, thinking about where God was going to lead me in my career, that commitment to the church, to ministry, at the time, I was getting ready to marry my high school sweetheart, we grew up in the same church outside Detroit. We were married at age 22. Could I fulfill my obligations under God’s word to her, to my church, and to ministry, and also be the lawyer that I thought God was calling me to be. So striking that balance and realizing that work is a calling from God, but it’s not your only calling.
Ray: That is really powerful. And what a blessing it is that you can speak to those young future attorneys in the way that you’re able to. I think that’s very, very, very cool, very powerful. Believe it or not, David, we’re getting down dangerously close to the end, but I have one more question. But before I ask my final question, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least give you a chance to touch on, you have a passion, a deep passion that you invest a lot of your time, effort, and energy in outside of your legal practice. Would you just share with our audience a little bit about that?
David: Sure. As I mentioned earlier, my greatest passion is to teach Sunday school and lead Bible studies. And one expression of that has been, one outgrowth of that has been to write on the truth of Scripture. And so a couple years ago, I, I have found a publisher who picked up a book that I had written, a manuscript I had written on Paul’s letters to the churches, and I don’t come as a theologian, I don’t come as some great scholar, but I think I do come with a skill set that I’ve developed professionally, to think thoughtfully, analytically, and practically, about difficult issues. So in that book, I seek to lay out what Paul teaches in those nine letters, from Romans to 2 Thessalonians, on different topics. What we believe as Christians; he teaches us about how to behave as Christians, and how we are to build the healthy relationships that God intended. And the book surveys what Paul has to say in those nine letters on each of those three broad subjects. Right beliefs, right conduct, right relationships. I think that’s an example of being a, having a lawyers mind and a Sunday school teachers heart. And I’m currently working on a second book on the minor prophets, where, again, what I’m seeking to do is take something that may appear very complicated, but when read in a thoughtful, prayerful, careful way, you can see the truth of God unfold in a way that’s very practical to our daily walk with Christ.
Ray: Well, as I’m listening to what you’re describing there, Lee Strobel comes to mind, right? Investigative reporter, went out to disprove Christianity and became a converted believer because of the facts and the evidence. So it sounds like you’re taking a very intellectual, practical approach to helping us understand the scriptures. Would that be correct?
David: The word I would use is logical rather than intellectual. I don’t mean we take flights of fancy into detailed theological propositions, but rather Paul wrote in a very practical way to real people with real problems. And he gave practical instructions on how we’re to live our lives. And similarly, when we turn to the minor prophets, they dealt with real problems and what it meant to repent, what it meant to come back to the Lord, and how we see Christ in the minor prophets in a very practical way.
Ray: Well, David, as we wind down, if someone wanted to be able to get a copy of your book, how would they do so? What’s the exact title of it? And, you know, like I said, how could they order a copy of the book?
David: The title of the book is The Simplified Guide: Paul’s Letters to the Churches, and you can pick it up on Amazon, you can order it through your local bookstore, and it’s intended for individual study but also for small groups and Sunday school classes as well.
Ray: Fantastic. And when would you expect the next book on the minor prophets to be wrapped up?
David: Well, I prayerfully hope that it will be within the next 12 months.
Ray: Okay. It’s a lot of work. I know they’re a lot of work.
David: It is.
Ray: But it’s also a lot of joy, right?
David: Amen.
Ray: So David, we’re down to really the last question, and our regular listeners know that this is always the last question that I ask in every interview. It’s what I call my 4:23 question, based out of Proverbs 4:23, where Solomon writes, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it determines the course of your life.” So David, what I’d like you to do, as we kind of wrap up our time together today, I would like you to just kind of imagine you’re at the end of your time this side of eternity, and you have a chance to gather your family, your friends, your loved ones, those who are most precious to you, and you have a chance to pass along one piece of advice: your “above all else” advice. So if you would be kind enough, fill in the blank to this, above all else…
David: Serve the Lord with all your heart, mind, and strength. Don’t be distracted by the glories of this world, by the vain ambitions of this world, but in all that we do, in the work setting, in family, in church, and ministry, focus on Christ and His gospel.
Ray: That’s about the most important advice someone could give. I love it.
David: Amen.
Ray: David. I, gosh, I am so grateful. Thank you for taking the time to be with us here on Bottom Line Faith. And I am really, really encouraged that God has placed in his divine providence leaders such as yourself who really are called in the marketplace and so just thank you for the example that you are, thank you for setting the tone, setting the pace and specifically, thank you for investing the time with us today here at Bottom Line Faith.
David: Thank you for the privilege of sharing for a little bit with you today.
Ray: Well folks, there you have it. A great conversation with David Hazelton and just so grateful that he is, as I said, has invested the time with us today. If this is the first time you’ve checked out Bottom Line Faith, thank you so much. Maybe you could go to our website, that’s bottomlinefaith.org, and you could subscribe, and you can hear dozens and dozens of interviews just like the one we’ve conducted here with David. Also, if you are a Christ-follower and you lead a business or an organization and you would be interested in learning about what it might be like to be in a group of your Christian peers, then we’d like to invite you to check out a Truth At Work roundtable, and the website there is truthatwork.org; that’s truthatwork.org. So together folks, we can impact and influence the marketplace for Christ. And so until next time, I am your host, Ray Hilbert, here at Bottom Line Faith, encouraging you to faithfully serve God in the marketplace. God bless, and we’ll see you soon.