AS a lawyer, Helene Coley-Nicholson has to practise the law of the land and takes pleasure in dispensing legal advice to her clients, but as a Christian she has to subscribe daily to the rulings of an even higher judge whose laws are not man-made, but based on the tenets of love, faith and hope.
Being the newest president of the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship (LCF), Coley-Nicholson hopes to inspire other Christian attorneys like herself to acknowledge their greater calling and be God‘s witnesses in their public and professional lives.
She believes the sense of comradeship that the group fosters can help to in some way mitigate a number of the issues affecting lawyers daily which at times affect how they carry out their duties.
“Lawyers — including Christian lawyers in the cut and thrust of life — are affected by things that affect ordinary human beings; but on top of that, the nature of the profession is so brutal, so stressful, that lawyers and Christian lawyers alike can fall like flies if they are not careful,” she said.
She pointed out that “among the profession — not just the men, but the women — there is a high rate of divorce, there is a high rate of fractured families, stress levels are high, there are health issues, hypertension and so on”.
No stranger to stress
Coley-Nicholson is no stranger to working in a stressful environment, having been a practising journalist for many years — but her deep connection with the Supreme Being has been her solace and has got her through many of the trials she encountered along the way to becoming the phenomenal woman she is today.
For years, her voice and face were what many Jamaicans heard and saw as they switched on their televisions to take in the local news, and this same calm and reassuring voice were what greeted the All Woman team on a visit to her private practice recently.
Not looking a day older than she did back in the days when she anchored the nightly news, the attorney updated us on life beyond the media glare and shared her personal testimony of how God brought her back to the fold after years of doing her own thing. She also shared her vision for the growth of the LCF.
“The organisation is looking at structuring itself to establish a permanent office, to go through its archives of members and look at exactly where we are now with a view to determining what we have to work with and charting a course forward,” she said.
Coley-Nicholson became a Christian in first form at Ardenne High School, and was very active in the Inter-School Christian Fellowship and Jamaica Youth for Christ. But by the time she entered the University of the West Indies, Mona, to pursue her first degree, everything changed.
“It was when I went to university, I really thought that I was in charge of my life, because I now had my own independence and I was working full-time,” she said.
As the public relations officer for the university’s Guild of Students, Coley-Nicholson was now assisting in planning secular events such as carnivals and parties. She was also earning a salary as a full time employee at the then Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) and felt she was therefore in a better position to assert her independence from God.
“I lived life, not mindful of any commitment that I had made to the Lord,” she said.
But for God’s grace
She was forced, however, to rekindle her relationship with God when her brother died in 2001. At first, she was in search of answers from the one source she acknowledged was the only authority over life and death. What she found, instead, was a supernatural encounter, which saw her turning away from her old life and charting a different course for herself.
Pursuing a law degree at the University of London was a part of that new plan and she did so with honours. She later entered the Norman Manley Law School and excelled there as well.
“It was at that time that I really called on God. I called out to God and I would not have got through law school without divine intervention,” she said.
“When I finished law school, the temptation was to go back to my old life, because now that I had this practising certificate, I felt the world was my oyster and there are so many lawyers in Parliament, there are so many lawyers on various boards, and there are so many lawyers who are doing exceptionally well, so I can go back to my world,” she added. But, she said, “By that time, the relationship I had with God was so personal that I simply could not go back to the default position of thinking that I was in charge of my life.”
After completing law school, Coley-Nicholson was able to land a job as the group legal officer for CVM Communications Group and while there was also the co-host of Drive Time Live. The attorney later got to sharpen her legal skills while working in the chambers of noted Queen’s Counsel Lord Anthony Gifford and alongside legal luminaries like Garth McBean.
One of the issues she couldn’t help but observe in today’s legal fraternity, is the fact that there are not as many men pursuing law at the various training institutions as in years gone by. In fact, there is only one man on the eight-member committee of the LCF. She said going forward, the group hopes to try and attract more men.
“We are mindful of the fact that, even now, graduating from law school, there is a preponderance of women graduates and the men are diminishing in numbers, so eventually you will see, I think based on what is happening now, mostly women judges too.”
In addition to trying to build a relationship with lawyers, she said the LCF wants to partner with other groups in civil society, particularly those which have an interest in strengthening the family and the country at large.
“We think we have something to say and we think that we are stronger if we bond together people of like mind who are concerned about the health of this nation, and that includes the spiritual health, the economic health and the social health of this nation,” she said.
In 2004, she decided to open her own law practice and today offers her services in a wide range of legal matters.
Given her personal testimony, Coley-Nicholson can greater appreciate the need to sustain the LCF, and along with the members of the fellowship’s committee, is on a drive to increase the membership, start chapters islandwide, and pursue activities that would help to foster relationships of trust and care.
“I would say that in Jamaica, we have hundreds and probably thousands of lawyers who are also Christians, so we want to be a source of fellowship to bring those persons together,” said Coley-Nicholson, who also sits on the Press Association of Jamaica committee.
“It (law) can be a difficult profession, but there is a way to navigate it and to serve without bending or breaking under pressure, and the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship wants to be that place where we can show how to practise without breaking,” she said.
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