Balancing Ethics and Religion in the Workplace

Alumni Networking Group YU Legal Professionals Explores Faith and Business

The role of ethics and religion in the workplace from the perspective of a general counsel was the topic of the YU Legal Professionals panel conversation on Wednesday, February 7, hosted by Morgan, Lewis and Bockius LLP.

Andrew J. Lauer, vice president for legal affairs and secretary and general counsel for Yeshiva University, moderated a conversation among Lawrence Burian ’91YC (executive vice president and general counsel and secretary for The Madison Square Garden Company and MSG Networks), Rabbi Daniel Feldman ’96YC, ’98R (Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary) and Seymour Liebman (executive vice president and chief administrative officer and general counsel for Canon USA Inc.).

(l-r): Seymour Liebman, Andrew J. Lauer, Rabbi Daniel Feldman, Lawrence Burian

(l-r): Seymour Liebman, Andrew J. Lauer, Rabbi Daniel Feldman, Lawrence Burian

The event celebrated the revival of the Legal Professionals group, which had been on hiatus. It is now one of several networking groups, including the Wall Street Group and the Real Estate Group, that Lauer described as “achieving a record-level of success” in the many events they have held throughout the year.

Lauer set the stage in his opening remarks, saying the conversation would focus on the “day-to-day ethical and moral dilemmas that religious general counsels face in the workplace, with some halachic [pertaining to Jewish law] insights from Rabbi Feldman. At YU, we believe in taking the lessons of our religious practices into the workplace, we believe in applying them to the world in which we live, and that ethics and moral behavior and being civil to one another is how to build a meaningful life in the world.”

Both Liebman and Burian acknowledged that no day in their respective corporate worlds passes without their having to engage in a balancing act between protecting the interests of their employers and clients as general counsels and the life values they bring to their workplaces. Both also expressed the hope that, more often than not, they have achieved a balance that honors their values while also upholding their corporate obligations. They can achieve this because, as Burian described it, their upbringing as Orthodox Jews has given them the “muscle practice” for acting with ethical restraint and moral discernment. He especially praised YU for giving him this kind of education, having “tremendous HaKaRat HaTov [gratitude] for what YU has done for me.”

Liebman agreed that being an Orthodox Jew imposes on him a higher responsibility to respect the Torah’s lessons about honesty and fair dealing when he manages his day-to-day business. “I was the first non-Japanese executive officer of Canon Japan,” he said, “and I am looked at not just as an American but also as an Orthodox Jewish American, which makes me feel very careful about how I make my decisions. Being a frum [pious] Jew is a great asset in this situation.”

Rabbi Feldman, in describing how he teaches his ethics classes to business students, said that the primary point he tries to get across is that students must act in the world in a way which they are “constantly aware of the rules of their world and but also attentive to the necessity that the spirit of the law is emerging from how they follow the rules, a spirit that is divinely ordained and rooted in eternal wisdom and which allows us to connect to the highest sources of moral values while doing so in a realm that is very practical.”

Joel Straus ’82YUHS, ’86YC, ’92C, who is on the group’s event committee, has, for a number of years, run a seminar for the University’s Career Center titled, “Being Orthodox in the Unorthodox Workplace,” and so the event touched upon a very important topic for him. “These alumni groups have been incredibly successful in engaging and re-engaging alumni who may have lost touch with YU. They remind us of the uniqueness of the YU experience and what it means to be a YU alum, while at the same time allowing us to catch up with old friends and provide great networking opportunities.”

Rabbi Feldman agreed, noting that “these networking groups are valuable for the way they bring into the lives of our alumni the real-world struggle to maintain what we have been taught is right within the duties and obligations of working within the world. I hope the Alumni Office can extend this effort into other disciplines and professions so that they have the time to share and ponder these inevitable challenges within their professions.”

Lauer was especially pleased by the feedback he received, saying that, “many participants were already asking about the timing of the next event. Yeshiva University benefits from this lifelong network of supportive alumni, where our graduates bring what YU has taught them to the communities in which they live and the professions in which they serve.”

To learn more about the professional network groups, go to www.yuprofessionalnetworking.com In addition, connect with other YU alumni on YU ALUMinate (www.yualuminate.com) and through Facebook and LinkedIn.

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