J. Reuben Clark Law Society

Lawyers Can Be the "Bug of the World": Asia-Pacific Conference Report

Most have never heard the expression – “to be the bug of the world.”  Nor has anyone thought to add a bug to their bread dough. But that is how the Law Society’s Asia-Pacific conference in Auckland, New Zealand, June 6-8, began – with a unique experience in bread-making.

The theme of the conference was taken from Matthew 13:33: “Leavening the whole – how lawyers of religious conviction can lift the profession, the community, the Church and the family.” To understand how leavening works, the conference participants engaged in a little bread-making. But the experience was more extraordinary than just mixing and kneading bread.

Josh Shaw, a Crown Prosecutor and co-chair of the conference organizing committee, told the "parable of the Rewena bread."  Carly Tata led 60 lawyers through the steps of creating traditional loaves of this bread which was leavened with a yeast bug began more than 70 years ago in her husband’s family. The participants learned how the native Maori leaven their bread, with the Rewena “bug”--not a real bug, but a portion of leavened bread that has been handed down in some instances for generations.

This theme, that lawyers of religious conviction can and should be the light of the world and the salt of the earth, was skillfully woven through every conference session.  Presenters included judges, professors, practicing lawyers, and law students.

In a memorable and inspiring segment, one law student recounted that “more than help and solutions, people want to be heard.” The law student realized that she could be that kind of lawyer because, said she, “someone listened to me.” Soraya Baker, a practicing lawyer and former chair of the Hamilton, New Zealand chapter, recounted that “when I went to law school, I knew I wanted to help people who could not help themselves.” And she has.  Leaders throughout the region also committed to engage in more efforts of service before the next Asia-Pacific conference to be held in Sydney, Australia in 2015.

A 6:30 am Takapuna beach walk along part of New Zealand's “America’s Cup Alley” attracted early risers, followed by a breakfast which included Rewena bread and various condiments ranging from New Zealand butter and jams to vegemite for the American visitors.

Jeremiah Morgan, the International Chair of the Law Society, from the Kansas City chapter in Missouri, attended the conference with his wife Rebecca. Jeremiah brought greetings from other members of the international board, explained how the Church is responding to contemporary challenges to Religious Liberty in his country, and tied pro bono service by various law society chapters in Asia, the United States, and South America to the conference theme.

Professor Paul Rishworth, former Dean at Auckland University’s School of Law, shared material he had just presented at a course in Comparative Law and Religion at the Virginia School of Law. He noted that Jeremy Waldron had rejected John Rawls’ idea that religious views were not appropriately aired in the public square and that Abraham Lincoln’s most powerful political addresses were carefully blended appeals to religious values from a faith perspective. He joined Jeremiah and Pamela Jefferies, New Zealand’s former Chief Human Rights Commissioner, on a panel which responded to questions about how Christian and LDS lawyers could respond as leaven in their communities when their moral and religious values were challenged. Pamela counseled, “Join the public debate with confidence; know your values; never burn your bridges, and stay humble.”

Judge Jonathan Moses, now of the New Zealand District Court, a famous New Zealand Christian lawyer and founding member of New Zealand’s most famous Community Legal Centre in Mangere, Auckland, encouraged Law Society involvement in pro bono work.  He discussed the highest reasons for choosing a legal career and bore testimony with examples of how spiritual reasons had motivated him and how his service had blessed his life both spiritually and temporally. Particularly poignant was his story of a visit by a massive tattooed Samoan man  who came to the Centre after the end of a particularly trying day when he was ready to go home, but who did not need legal help after all, but rather presented a $23,000 cheque which sustained the Centre through its darkest hours.

Judge Moses also explained how New Zealand’s largest law firm, Russell McVeagh, has subsequently supported the clinic and given it considerable clout when challenging loan sharks seeking to foreclose on homes in Auckland’s poorer suburbs. He also noted from his eight years prosecuting war crimes in Rwanda, that international law firm Sherman and Sterling had greatly enhanced that work with fully funded interns who worked with him from Tanzania in East Africa. Jonathan then led break-out groups of attendees from Australia, the United States, and the New Zealand chapters on how they could be more actively involved in pro bono work – from where they were.

Doug Bush, immediate past president of the Law Society, then led an interactive session on work-life balance by Skype from his home in Maryland.  He was followed by Jonathan Down (an English barrister whose emigration to NZ fifteen years previously had been enabled by the sponsorship of Tom Sutcliffe, the former chair of the Hamilton New Zealand chapter), who taught attendees what he expected from LDS lawyers in his court following his 2012 appointment to the New Zealand District Court bench.

Following a ferry ride from Devonport on Auckland’s North Shore. the conference dinner featured the cuisine of Peter Gordon at Orbit Restaurant in Sky Tower, revolving high above downtown Auckland, and a visit to Eden Park stadium where the New Zealand All Blacks were playing the first test of the international rugby season against the national team from England.

Area Legal Counsel Art Edgson’s inspiring devotional address on Sunday morning followed a panel discussion of the spouse’s perspective on what constituted a healthy legal career.

Debbie Spencer told how her husband Steve had chosen an in-house career with a multinational gas company so he could work with people and help construct healthy commercial relationships. Their family has lived in Bangkok, Shanghai, Beijing, Singapore, and Sydney. Steve has always participated by telephone and more recently by Skype in family home evenings and daily scripture study when he was traveling, and Debbie convinced Steve to negotiate time in lieu of vacations lost when work still intruded 4-5 hours a day when they were on their annual home leave.

Kelly Watts responded to questions about how she coped on the rare occasions when her husband worked late in his ten-year environmental practice in downtown Auckland. Her stories resonated with those of Deette Edgson who had not wanted to know about the details of her husband’s cases as a barrister in Vancouver Canada, but who said that when Art was home from work, he was truly home. Amber Buckley had supported her new husband Tyler through a demanding judicial clerkship during their two years of marriage, but she noted that she still found it difficult, as a town planner in her own right, to interact with lawyers and judges in social settings.  John McLean supported his wife Gaynor through her law degree when their last child was in high school and watched her develop her career as a commercial property partner in downtown Auckland firm.  John’s good-humored evening phone call reminders to his wife that "she had a house to come home to" resonated with several other spouses participating from the floor of the conference.

The conference served not only to strengthen members and participants through presentations and discussions, but also through opportunities to socialize, build relationships, and deepen ties. It was clear from the conference that we can be the “bug of the world” and thereby raise the level of our profession, communities, Church, and families. 

By A. Keith Thompson and Jeremiah Morgan

Posted: July 9, 2014