Religious law plays central role in new firm
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Theresa Sidebotham is the daughter of Christian missionary parents and the wife of the founder of a Monument-based Christian ministry to military personnel. So it’s perhaps no surprise that she has focused her new law practice in part on providing legal services to churches and Christian ministries.

Sidebotham started Telios Law in March to serve churches and ministries, as well as individuals and businesses, by representing them in litigation and alternatives to litigation; she’s also serving families with children who have disabilities or special-education needs.

“Telios” is a Greek word that means “complete,” “whole” or “mature.” Sidebotham said she selected it as the name for her law firm because “excellent legal work is important, but wasted unless it makes your business, personal life or ministry more whole and helps achieve your vision perfectly.”

Sidebotham was born in New York, but grew up in Indonesia during the turbulent period that followed the overthrow of the country’s first president, Sukarno She lived in seven countries for at least a summer or more before she enrolled in Wheaton College, a Christian liberal arts college in Wheaton, Ill., when she was 16. While at the college, she met Bruce Sidebotham, a student on a Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship, and later married him, moved with him during his career with the Army Corps of Engineers and had four children born on three different continents.

After his military career and further education, the family spent seven years in Sumatra, where Theresa Sidebotham taught English literature at a university, helped start a quilting home industry for Sumatran women and ran a small international school. After the family returned to the United States, she home-schooled their children and later enrolled in law school at the University of Denver. She received her law degree in 2005, was a law clerk for four years for Colorado Court of Appeals judges and worked in the Springs office of the Rothgerber Johnson and Lyons law firm for 2½ years.

Telios Law also sponsors the Religious Law Network, a websit (www.religiouslawnetwork.com) that provides free listings of religious law attorneys as well as news stories, blogs, podcasts and commentary about religious law issues. The site is not limited to any denomination and has no faith requirement for participation.

Question: Why did you leave Rothgerber Johnson and Lyons to form your own firm?

Answer: I loved my time there, but I get to carry out my own vision of how to serve people with my own firm. There is a real niche in the market for a small or midsize firm. Holme Roberts and Owen (now Bryan Cave HRO) and Rothgerber both do religious law, but they appeal to the high end, the large churches and ministries. There are plenty of smaller churches and organizations that can’t afford that.

I grew up as a missionary kid around the church, and I have a vision for helping churches. I picked the Telios name because it means ‘wholeness’ or ‘completeness,’ and I believe the law should have the goal of solving problems in a way that makes the client more complete. It helps me remember what I want to do and what the client wants to do.

Q: Why do want to specialize in religious law?

A: Because of my background and the world I grew up in and the fact that my husband is in ministry, I am drawn to this area of the law. For many churches and ministries, legal services are seen as something you have to deal with. I want legal services to be part of their vision. If they are a missionary organization, and somebody is going into a dangerous location, you probably want them to sign a release of liability from the legal side, but from the vision side, you want to explain why you go into a dangerous area, such as to help the poor or share the Gospel. The release is a bit like you would sign when doing extreme sports — you have to waive liability to be able to do it. The same applies to a Christian organization — you waive liability against the organization but explain the reasons for doing that.

Some examples of religious law issues would be what a student can do or say in school to express their faith, child protection, when and how can churches and religious groups fire employees and whether those employees are protected by other statutes. There also are nonprofit tax and corporate governance issues and questions in some jurisdictions about whether churches can rent space in public schools. The issues go from very practical to constitutional liberties — getting these issues right is good for everybody.

Q: Is there enough demand for Christian legal services in Colorado Springs to support a law practice?

A: We will see if there is. I think there probably is enough demand here, but I can broaden the geography of my practice to include missionary organizations all over the country. As a solo practitioner, if I don’t have the depth or breadth to handle something, I have other attorneys I consult with, and we can share ideas.

Religious law is not the only area of my practice. I also do general litigation, business litigation and special-education law — there aren’t many local attorneys with that specialty. Special education is a complex administrative area, and we want to help parents and schools work out a solution — the more collaborative, the better. It is a fascinating area of the law with a lot going on. I got into it because I had some issues with one of my children with processing information and high-autism symptoms. Schools want to do the right thing, but often don’t know what is required. Sometimes, I just listen to parents, and their issue is not a legal matter, but listening for 30 minutes seems to help.

An example of a special-education case might be a child with strong attention-deficit (hyperactivity) disorder symptoms whose parents are being told by the school that the child needs to work harder or focus more. Is that child entitled to an evaluation, and what services might the child be entitled to? Some schools handle it well; others do not. The issue is the expense of these services at a time when budgets are tight. It takes careful attention to tell the difference between a child acting up or one with a disability.

Q: Do you plan to add other attorneys to Telios Law?

A: I want Telios to grow into a small firm. My vision is collaborative — bringing in people to meet client needs.—Questions and answers are edited for clarity and brevity.Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234 Twitter @wayneheilmanFacebook Wayne Heilman

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