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Litigation to Liturgy: Interview with Reverend Father Matthew Attia, Lawyer turned Priest

Father Matthew Attia

Religion and the law often seem to be two quite distinct and divorced categories in life. But this wasn’t the case for Reverend Father Matthew Attia, a priest at Saint George Coptic Orthodox Church in Sydney. Earlier this week, I spoke to Fr. Matthew about his previous career as a lawyer and his move into the religious ministry...

What interested you in studying law and working as a lawyer?

My interest in the law primarily stemmed from my fascination with justice and defending people who were struggling or in need of help or assistance but didn’t have the resources to defend themselves. Also, being bilingual and bi-cultural I believed that it could be very beneficial to use my ethnicity and culture to help minority groups.

What kind of work did you do as a lawyer?

I worked in litigation and property. I used to call it the three C’s: commercial property, compensation (workers compensation/public liability) and conveyancing. I occasionally did some criminal representation of clients charged with white-collar crimes.

Did you ever feel like your work as a lawyer conflicted with your religious beliefs and morals?

No. I always strove to obtain the best possible results for my clients, whereby most of them who were charged with white collar crimes had made mistakes (albeit serious, was rarely malicious). My role was to mitigate the consequences and punishments they faced, particularly when clients were contrite and remorseful. This often involved negotiation with the DPP or for example the medical association if I was representing a medical practitioner.

Also, every February there is a service held at St. Mary’s Cathedral and St. James’ church to mark the start of the law year, where Christian judges and barristers attend, asking God to bless them in their administration of justice. I still attend this service.

What was your favourite part of being a lawyer?

I really enjoyed litigation and making appearances in court as well as securing a successful outcome for my clients, which was always very rewarding.

Why did you leave the legal profession and enter the religious ministry?

Being a priest is a great blessing and joy and it allows me to dedicate my life to Christ and to serve humanity full time. Although I was able to do a lot of great work as a lawyer, I really wanted dedicate all my efforts and energy to the church, to the people within the church and community and to God.

Are there any parallels between the religious ministry and the legal profession?

Absolutely. In both we’re required to provide advice, assistance and counselling to people from various fields and there are many skills I acquired as a law student and a lawyer that are very useful in my role within the ministry. These include communication skills, research, organisation, time prioritisation and management and most importantly, conflict resolution, particularly when resolving issues between family members or members in the congregation.

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