J. Reuben Clark Law Society

Pioneers and Our Lives in the Law

July is a time for remembering pioneers—those who have come before us, showing us the way to follow. Lives of great men and women from the past can move us to action, give us needed perspective and lift our spirits in times of challenge. As members of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society, we are richly blessed by the example of many great lives. 
Serving as the Chair of the Law Society’s Chapter Relations Council, I am a witness to the current pioneering efforts of many great men and women around the world who are working to extend and build the Law Society. Reflecting on this extraordinary service in 2015 and on the examples of pioneers from the past who have enriched and strengthened my own life in the law, I have come to realize that membership in the Law Society is much more than just an affiliation.  It is, in reality, an invitation to make a difference in the lives of both current and future generations, a call to each of us to leave our own "foot prints in the sands of time" (quoting Longfellow).1   

John and Jasmine Edmunds
Chapters of the Law Society need men and women with the pioneering spirit—men and women of faith whose lives of service and professional excellence become beacons of hope and inspiration not only to their peers but to those who come after them. One such pioneer was John K. Edmunds, a graduate of Northwestern University Law School and a respected lawyer and Church servant in the Chicago area during the middle years of the 20th century. In 1995, Professor Carl Hawkins (himself a great Law Society pioneer), in a speech to students at the J. Reuben Clark Law School, reflected on the influence of John Edmunds in his life: 

As a beginning law student at Northwestern University in Chicago, the first time I went to church at the Logan Square Ward I saw an old Studebaker Champion drive into the church parking lot. A Studebaker Champion was one of the cheapest, small American cars you could buy in those days, and this one was nine years old. Rust had eaten as many holes in the fenders and rocker panels as the lace on an old dowager’s petticoat. The man who stepped out of that car was John K. Edmunds, a lawyer and president of the Chicago Stake.

John and his wife, Jasmine, moved from Salt Lake City to Chicago in 1927, when he went to law school at Northwestern University. After John graduated from law school, he and Jasmine stayed in Chicago because a Church General Authority counseled them to help build up the Church in that area. The few organized branches of the Church in that area were then part of the old Northern States Mission. That was just at the beginning of the Great Depression, and jobs were not easy to come by in the established law firms in Chicago, so John set out to build his own private practice in a city where he had no prior connections. He later told me that, from the beginning of his law practice, he resolved to limit the number of his clients so that he could devote half of each working day to Church work. You can understand how this would keep him from developing a large or lucrative law practice.

John K. Edmunds became stake president in 1945, shortly after the Chicago Stake was carved out of the Northern States Mission. At that time the stake extended beyond the vast metropolitan area of Chicago and its suburbs to include Milwaukee, Wisconsin on the north, and South Bend, Indiana, on the south. For 18 years John was not only the president of the Chicago Stake, he was the soul of the Chicago Stake. Not only did he provide administrative leadership to the stake’s scattered and understaffed wards and branches but he also provided spiritual leadership to its people through his personal ministry. Hundreds of LDS students who came to Chicago for postgraduate and professional degrees were inspired by his example and encouraged by his personal interest in them. Many of us who were law students found in his example the assurance we needed that our professional careers could be combined with active Church service.  Among those who are proud to claim John K. Edmonds as a mentor—like me—are Rex Lee, Monroe McKay, and Dallin Oaks.2

The spirit of pioneering service evidenced in the life of John K. Edmunds lives on. Unencumbered by concerns over who might get the credit or what he might lose in the process, John simply rolled up his sleeves and lifted where he stood. He could hardly have foreseen the countless number of lives who would be touched and bettered by his sacrifices and humble devotion. This same spirit is evidenced in the lives of Law Society leaders and members around the world who unselfishly give of time, talents and means to further our lofty ideals and critical mission. Long live pioneers!

By Steve West, Chapter Relations Council Chair

1 “A Psalm of Life, “Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Poems and Other Writings. Ed. J.D. McClatchy, New York: Library of America, 2000.  The full stanza reads:

Lives of great men all remind us
   We can make our lives sublime.
And, departing, leave behind us
   Footprints in the sands of time.

2 “The Work of Serving Others,” Carl S. Hawkins, in Life in the Law, Religious Conviction, Ed. Jane H. Wise. Scott W. Cameron and Galen L. Fletcher, J. Reuben Clark Law Society, Brigham Young University Press: Provo, 2013, 95.

Posted: August 28, 2015