J. Reuben Clark Law Society

AALC Highlight: JRCLS Husband-Wife Team Gary and Elizabeth Smith Experience Eastern Europe


The JRCLS Media Committee is pleased to include an article interviewing Elizabeth and Gary Smith, one of two husband-wife attorney couples serving as Associate Area Legal Counsel (AALC) worldwide. Sister Smith is especially dear to the Media Committee, as she served as our Newsletter Editor before her current assignment as AALC. The Media Committee thanks both Elder and Sister Smith for their time and insight.
 
General background

Elder and Sister Smith both received their Juris Doctors from University of Utah College of Law in 1965 and 1983 respectively. Together they hung out their shingle in Southern California, U.S.A. for thirty years: Elder Smith specializing in civil litigation and Sister Smith in transactions and trusts and estates. Despite loving the ocean breezes, they retired in 2012 and now live in Springville, Utah. The Smiths have three children and three grandchildren. Their service began in October of 2014, and will finish in April 2016. Currently, they reside in Moscow, Russia and serve under the direction of Area Legal Counsel Brent Belnap. 
 
AALC Duties
 
Elder Smith: We are full-time missionaries called by the First Presidency. We are not called to a specific mission, although the Moscow Mission President does ask us to do quarterly inspections of the young missionary apartments. We have enjoyed that. We work in-house for our client (the Church), under the direction of ALC Brent Belnap. He gives us assignments, and we provide regular reports to him. 
 
We don’t have time to proselyte, except when we may be shopping for food on the weekend. We do not litigate. Litigation is handled by local counsel or by counsel in SLC. We do not practice law, but we oversee and coordinate work by local counsel in the various countries in the Area. We review contracts, ask lots of questions, and think about possible issues.  
 
Division of workload as a husband-wife team
 
Sister Smith: Our desks are right next to each other. Because we practiced together in our own law firm for twenty-five years, we are used to sharing our work. It’s great to have a friend and legal advisor always sitting just three feet away. Brother Belnap has generally assigned real estate matters to Gary, who might assist local counsel with acquisitions, construction, leases, sales, or some use issue.


Everything else is assigned to me, but there are frequent exceptions and often, with Brent’s approval, we agree as we go along on who will do what, depending on how busy we each are and which one of us may have the greater expertise. Some of the other issues we’ve handled are whether missionaries can put out street displays, specific limits on proselyting in various countries, software licensing, visa issues, contracts for humanitarian projects, how to keep Church-affiliated legal entities fully compliant with local and national laws, and the amendment of entity charters to allow PEF (Perpetual Education Fund) or other activities.
 
We also have help from two Russian law school graduates in our office—Vladimir Mochalov and Denis Smogluck. They have seen many AALCs (and ALCs) come and go over the last fifteen years and are patient with our learning curve. 
 
Typical Day
 
Elder Smith: We have a nice apartment which is a 15 minute walk from the office. We arrive by 8 a.m., usually take ½ hour lunch, and leave to walk home anywhere from 5-7 p.m. during the week. Occasionally we work at night or on Saturdays. We are at our computers almost all of the time. We have weekly staff meetings, and occasionally we attend meetings at the office of temporal affairs. On Thursday evenings we meet with other senior missionaries in the Moscow area for an hour where someone does a presentation.
 
Sister Smith: In November, December, and January it was dark as we walked to and from work, which had its own special kind of beauty, given the snow and the lights and the trees.  Spring has been euphoric—a burst of green and lilacs everywhere. We feel very safe; there are police standing on almost every block and in the metro. We have learned a lot about where to shop for what, what the food words mean, how to cook in Celsius, which metro exit puts us on which side of the street, and how the Lord rewards even meager sacrifices like ours. It’s a great adventure.
 
Opportunities to Travel
 
Sister Smith:  Our visas must be renewed every three months, and so we must travel out of Russia for this purpose. When we travel we try to meet with local counsel and Church employees in that country so that it will enhance our ability to work more cooperatively with them. We spent a few days in Kiev, Ukraine, in December; in Ankara, Turkey, in January; in Yerevan, Armenia, in April (pictured); and in Tbilisi, Georgia in June, where we gave a presentation on the legal aspects of Church humanitarian contracts. We also helped the International Center for Law and Religion Studies with logistics for a law-and-religion conference in Yerevan in May. 
 
Becoming acquainted with local laws
 
Sister Smith: It certainly has been interesting to learn something of the different legal systems in Eastern Europe. However, we greatly depend on the expertise and knowledge of the attorneys we retain who practice in the countries within the Area. Fortunately, some of the law rubs off on us. We have become familiar, for instance, with particular restrictions on religious activities in various countries. Obviously, our area does not have a long history of freedom of religion and belief and the Church is still testing the waters in some ways.
 
For example, Church-related entities owned or leased several meetinghouses in Crimea. When control of that area shifted from Ukraine to Russia, we dealt with matters of international “first impression” as we worked with Ukrainian and Russian lawyers to make sure the buildings remained available for use by the Saints there.
 
Elder Smith:  Although some laws are very different from what we are used to, the general concept of spotting and framing legal issues remains the same. The formalities of buying property or “registering” a lease are different, and powers of attorney and notaries, which played a minor part in our U.S. practice, are huge here. Experience with analyzing legal issues in general is probably more helpful than specific expertise. 
 
Most of our training is “on the job,” although the SLC Office of General Counsel provided three days training before our mission to familiarize us with computer programs with which we would be working.
 
Creating goodwill
 
Elder Smith:  The ALC and Public Affairs department handle most government relations, although in January we attended a meeting in Russia where the U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Teft spoke. After his speech, Elizabeth spoke personally with him, thanking him for all he has done for the Church in Russia. He responded warmly, referring to his experience going through the Kyiv temple before it was dedicated. 
 
We also recently assisted in providing information to a local government entity about the humanitarian work that had been done in the subject city, in an attempt to reverse an adverse action taken against Church property. A favorable TV news clip on local television was the result. 
 
Language
 
Elder Smith: The language we speak and work in as AALCs is English. It is not that difficult to pick up a few words of Russian for our personal shopping needs, and we have found that gesticulation, sometimes even singing, by Elizabeth helps a lot. Our Area covers several different languages, so the rule is that all dealings with OGC are in English as the common language.
           
Greatest reward as AALCs
 
Elder Smith: It is amazing to see the work go forward by wonderful, faithful, and courageous attorneys, most of whom are not members of the Church. Their devotion to the resolution of legal issues on behalf of the Church extends far beyond interest in the fees that they earn. 
 
Sister Smith: I am greatly impressed by the dedication and expertise of the members who are Church employees (approximately 300 in the Europe East Area) who deal patiently with an ever-changing panoply of senior missionaries. I appreciate the personal relationships I have made with some of them, the humor, the kindness which penetrates the language barriers. I love that I can serve on a mission, with that kind of single-minded focus, and still do legal work, which I blush to admit that I still like to do.
 
Greatest challenges as AALCs
 
Elder Smith: Our predecessor Jon Jensen was a very bright, hard-working AALC, and it is difficult for the two of us to keep up with what he was doing by himself. There is always more work than we can do. We encourage more husband-wife attorney teams to serve.
 
It was also a challenge for me to put the harness back on full-time after having been retired for a while and being in my mid-70s. I overcame it by just doing it. President Grant was fond of the quote sometimes attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson: “That which we persist in doing becomes easier for us to do—not that the nature of the thing is changed, but that our power to do is increased.”
 
Sister Smith: Even though we work primarily in English, the dominant language is still Russian.  Contracts between two Russian entities are sometimes in Russian, and while Google Translate is handy, it isn’t up to snuff with legal terms. We do get all the translations that we need eventually. And I long to be able to read the labels in the grocery store or the bus schedule. We are making progress, though. 
 
Recognizing Heavenly Father’s hand in the work
 
Elder Smith: I feel Heavenly Father’s hands are constantly in our work. He softens hearts and guides thinking toward resolution of problems. At the same time, He allows all men and women to make choices, and although those choices sometimes slow the work, it will still go forward. 
 
Sister Smith: I pray for Heavenly Father’s influence in my work relationships. We all have the same basic goal, but we all have particularized hurdles, whether time, or resources, or biases. I have felt help in being able to work with many different people, in many different countries, to meet deadlines and accomplish tasks. I have, on occasion, felt a prompting to write something specific or state something in a particular way in an important email. 
 
Love for the people
 
Elder Smith: Our most direct connection to the people in our Area is with Church employees who handle the temporal affairs that constantly need tending. Their dedication and expertise are amazing. They are patient and helpful with us as we come in not knowing anything at all about the lay of the land. They have kindly led us as we negotiated the new territory of our calling. They are my heroes.
 
Sister Smith: I would add to that the experience of attending the Moscow International Ward, which is English speaking primarily, but also a mix of French, Spanish, Filipino, and other languages. I have great respect for these Saints who have left their native countries to come to work or study in Moscow and who remain faithful in difficult circumstances (e.g., traveling more than an hour to get to church, braving cold and snow, faithfully performing Church callings with which they are unfamiliar).
 
New insights
 
Elder Smith: I have learned too much to describe it all, but here is a start: the complicated structure of Church legal entities, the structure of the departments of the Church, how those employed by the Church are dedicated and competent, how much all of the Saints in Russia support and serve the missionaries who come here, and much, much, more.
 
Sister Smith: I would add to that the sometimes fragile nature of the Church’s presence in a country. Public opinion, a government ruling, a missed filing deadline, a Facebook post somewhere can all damage the Church—or help it stay in a country.
 
Culture shock?
 
Elder Smith: We haven’t had any “shocks,” but there are some customs that are different such as not shaking hands across a threshold, and always taking your shoes off when going inside an apartment.
 
Sister Smith: No smiles on the street. All the street vendors. Survival tactics in huge, close crowds. Instinctive kindness of people when we ask for help in pidgeon Russian.
 
Favorite local foods
 
Sister Smith: There are wonderful apples and fruit juices of all kinds. Lavasa bread. Beef stroganoff (Russian style), many new cheeses, mushrooms—so many kinds, cooked so many ways. And they have some of the Western restaurants we are familiar with.
 
Favorite places to visit
 
Elder Smith: I visited Red Square twice during Soviet days, and it is still the eye-popping place I first saw it as. Now GUM’s department store across from the Kremlin will challenge any department store in the world for class and price. The Bolshoi Theater is just a block away, where we saw the ballet company do the Nutcracker last Christmas. St. Basil’s Cathedral! A photographer’s paradise in central Moscow. Also the underground Metro stations that look like mansions. We haven’t been to the Circus yet, but its reputation is calling to us. 
 
Leisure time
 
Sister Smith: We are usually pretty busy, but when there is any time we iron shirts, vacuum the rugs, wash the dishes, and tote whatever groceries we can carry between us. Occasionally we will go to dinner with another senior couple, or host missionaries and their investigators at dinner in our apartment. On weekends, we explore Moscow. We have seen a ballet at the Bolshoi and a concert of the Vienna Philharmonic in the Kremlin Palace Concert Hall. We have visited museums, cathedrals, parks, and palaces, like most good tourists. We have loved it all.
 


Belnaps, Woffindens, and Smiths stop for a photo op inside the Kremlin Palace
 
By Julie Smith, Media Committee Member


Posted: July 7, 2015

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