Earlier this year, I had a chance to sit down with Rachel Anderson and Shannon Allen, two lawyers whose paths crossed several years ago as they sought a new way to practice law and serve families facing deep relational conflict.
They founded Anderson Allen LLC, a Christian mediation firm that uses Biblical principles to guide and instruct clients that find themselves in conflict. We talked about why they have intentionally chosen to pursue Christian mediation as an offering to their clients, and how their faith guides their practice as attorneys and mediators.
DIFW: Tell us the story of how you two met and decided to open your own law practice.
Anderson: We went to the same church for a long time, and maybe met through the Christian Legal Society, but we were just acquaintances at first. Then one of our friends – who is also an attorney – let us know that we seemed to be at similar tipping points in our careers.
Allen: We both were thinking that the law firms where we were working at the time were not sustainable with what we wanted for our lives. We were both at a place where we were willing to take a risk and start down a new path in order to balance our work and lives in a way that we felt was best. Once we met we realized we shared a vision for law practice and Biblical–based conflict resolution.
DIFW: Was family law a passion for both of you when you launched your practice?
Anderson: I fell into family law. I thought I was going into criminal prosecution and focused on that all through law school. But I did recognize that God gave me a heart for children and I wanted to prosecute crimes involving children. I started practicing family law at my previous firms, and I developed a passion for it. I knew I wanted to do something that touched people’s lives intimately, and I saw the impact that I was able to have on children.
Many of our clients are in divorce and custody cases. It is a huge responsibility and honor to help people walk through the darkest time of their life with integrity and with an attorney who is honest and who can bring some light to the situation. Even if it’s going to be a nasty divorce case, I can have an impact on the system because of the care and perspective I bring as a follower of Christ.
Allen: I fell into family law as well, but I found it did suit a lot of my strengths because it is really diversified. One day you feel like a glorified counselor, and the next day you’re crunching numbers and it’s really technical, and then next day you’re writing a motion and arguing, and then next day you’re in court. It uses all the skills that attorneys at some point have to employ. I like that. The practice of law is a solitary profession and could be isolating, but in family law you’re interacting with a lot of people.
DIFW: Why did you decide to incorporate Christian mediation into your practice, and what steps did you have to take to do that?
Allen: When we started our firm, it was my hope to do mostly mediation work, as well as some basic family law litigation. But we found that we were blessed to have a lot of litigation clients and a full plate right when we started, so we didn’t always have time to be integrating the mediation piece. There was a breaking point this past spring when we said: “Where are we? Where do we want to be? What is our mission?” We’ve made intentional efforts to reduce our caseload and not take on some new cases in order to have the space to start the mediation practice.
Anderson: Because we were so busy, and the litigation piece was paying the bills, it was hard to set the time aside. It almost required us to start a second business. But as I was participating in the 5280 Fellowship, I felt more and more that God was calling me – and calling us as a firm – to intentionally pursue mediation. It’s always been a part of our approach in litigation and the clients we take, but we’re making the very intentional call to bring the principles of Biblical conflict resolution to cases.
DIFW: What literature, mentors and church leaders have guided you as you have built the foundational principals for your firm?
Anderson: We have both been through training with Peacemaker Ministries, which offers training for interpersonal conflict, workplace conflict resolution, church conflict, marital conflict and more. So we engage with those concepts a lot.
Allen: We have met with many mentors and pastors. I have a good friend and mentor who practiced Christian mediation for many years, and she has passed a ton of her wisdom along to us.
Anderson: Statistically, divorce rates are just as high or higher in the church. So it’s happening. Our meetings confirmed that the church isn’t prepared to equip its members to walk through divorce in a God-glorifying way. Once they’ve exhausted the resources of counseling, many pastors said they didn’t know where to lead people after that.
Allen: We have found time and again that there is this huge gaping need for skilled professionals to walk alongside Christians divorcing in a way that allows them to honor the Lord through the unfortunate process of divorce. To try to make peace, to settle out of court, to address relational issues that will help them move forward and to care for their kids in the process.
When I sit down with a couple, I walk through the legal twists and turns as only a skilled attorney can do, but I’m talking to them relationally as only a Christian can do. It’s a really gratifying feeling to know we’re providing them something that they really need.
DIFW: What would you say to someone who is reading this and might be in the middle of challenging relational conflict today?
Anderson: I think that the Bible provides an approach that’s the best approach for all things, and especially conflict resolution. It’s very counter-cultural and unique. Our signature scripture is, “So far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18). That encapsulates what the Bible says about conflict resolution. We’re called to initiate reconciliation, regardless of who is in the wrong (Matthew 5:23-24). It isn’t fault-based. And if that call exists for all of us, we should all be pursuing peace in our relationships.
Allen: Social research shows that people who walk through conflict well are successful in every area of life. That is a huge indicator of success in a marriage and a business. We are passionate about helping people do exactly that, and to honor God in the process.
Anderson: Conflict is inevitable, and I think Christians assume that conflict is a sign that something is wrong. But that isn’t always true. Dig in and recognize that it’s not a mar on your record, but an opportunity to learn more about yourself and others and what God-honoring relationships look like. Conflict exists and handling it well is one of our most important callings as Christians.
Laura Bernero is our blog curator, overseeing both internal content and contributions from our amazing network of writers. She loves all things creative communications, acting on the belief that we all resonate with great narrative and connect to one another through story. In addition to her role at DIFW, she manages media storytelling campaigns at SE2, a Denver-based communications agency. She was 5280 Fellow in the inaugural 2016-17 class and can’t wait to see the program continue to empower leaders throughout Denver in their unique gifts and callings.