J. Reuben Clark Law Society

Report on the JRCLS 2016 Annual Leadership Conference
in Utah, September 29-30


Virginia Tate Isaacson
Attendees of the Law Society’s Leadership Conference at Brigham Young University in Provo, and Aspen Grove, Utah, partook in a sensory feast of cool breezes and fall colors while receiving instruction and inspiration. Held on September 29-30, 2016, over 140 attorneys, law students, and guests were welcomed to the conference by Virginia Tate Isaacson, Chair of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society, who encouraged attendees to listen to the conference remarks with hearts open to the Holy Spirit to facilitate personal revelation. A luncheon followed with a keynote address by D. Gordon Smith, Dean of the J. Reuben Clark Law School.  

Dean Smith spoke about law as a leadership degree. Smith grew up in Wisconsin, from a long line of dairy farmers and cheese eaters, none of whom were leaders in their fields. He was the youngest in his family, and so he never felt like he was in much of a leadership position in his family.

D. Gordon Smith
Smith suggested that much time has been spent by law professors trying to determine how to teach students to think like lawyers. He espouses the ideas of Frederick Schauer, author of Thinking Like a Lawyer: A New Introduction to Legal Reasoning, who suggests that as lawyers reason through problems, they tend to elevate certain values above others: rules, precedence, authority, and reasoning by analogy. Schauer observes that sometimes lawyers elevate these values to maintain a rule of law at the expense of justice to an individual case.  Otherwise, it would be difficult to do justice in any case. This scenario reminded Smith of  a painting on the walls of Judge Thomas B. Griffith, United States Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit, and Elder Dallin H. Oaks, apostle of the LDS Church. 

The Forgotten Man, Maynard Dixon, 1934
The painting is titled “The Forgotten Man,” by Maynard Dixon. During the Great Depression, Dixson walked the streets of San Francisco and painted the sufferings of the people. In speaking with Dean Smith, Judge Griffith explained that as he reads briefs and writes opinions, the painting reminds him of the importance of the individual. Similarly, the painting helps Elder Oaks remember that while administering his ecclesiastical duties to the world, no man, woman, or child should be forgotten.

But to be simultaneously tasked with maintaining a system of rules, precedence, and authority while being attentive to those affected by the rules poses profound challenges. In contemplating this dilemma, Dean Smith looked to the Law Society’s mission statement for guidance:

“We affirm the strength brought to the law by a lawyer’s personal religious conviction. We strive through public service and professional excellence to promote fairness and virtue founded upon the rule of law.”


Smith explained that the religious convictions of attorneys who subscribe to this statement compel them to respect the rule of law and to seek fair results for those subjected to it.


Dean Smith concluded by describing the law school’s efforts to help law students become leaders at every level of their lives, and to help them be attentive to the rule of law but still care about individuals who it affects. He invited attendees to contribute their ideas on how to achieve these results.


Following Dean Smith’s remarks, a plenary CLE presentation was given on religious freedom by members of the Law Society’s Religious Freedom Committee: Jeffrey W. Shields (Chair), Brent J. Belnap, and Joshua D.K. Figueira. Brother Shields showed excerpts from talks by LDS Church Apostle Elder Dallin H. Oaks and LDS Church General Counsel Elder Lance B. Wickman at a religious freedom conference in Dallas/Fortworth, Texas, in September.


Elder Oaks urged cooperation among competing factions of religious and civil rights:  “If one voice can be stilled every other voice is potentially at risk of being silenced by a new majority that finds other arguments too bigoted or hateful for the public square.” Elder Oaks encouraged everyone to “cease fire in the culture war and join in efforts to achieve fairness for all.”


 Elder Wickman observed that it is unclear how to apply the First Amendment’s fundamental rights to numerous areas of life because of its broad language, i.e. whether a doctor has a right not to perform a medical procedure against his religion, or whether religious business owners have the right to hire people of their own faith. Such ambiguity, however, was the intent of the Framers. Elder Wickman explained that the Constitution serves two purposes: To secure our most basic rights, and to establish a democratic process to resolve issues or rights and social policies so that people with fundamentally different views can live together in peace. Elder Wickman asserted, “I sometimes fear that we have relied too much on the Constitution to do the hard work of citizenship for us. The Constitution—including the First Amendment—was never intended to make us lazy citizens, to absolve us from the duty and imperative to be vigilant in defense of our religious rights and interests.”


Brother Shields then added additional examples of challenges to religious freedom. Trinity Western, a Christian college in Canada, sought accreditation for its law school. The school requires students to sign an honor code which restricts sexual activity to heterosexual married couples. Opponents of the honor code sought to prevent accreditation of the law school, and to prevent law students graduating from Trinity from sitting for the bar.  In Christian Legal Society (CLS) vs. Martinez, a Christian Legal Society at University of California, Hastings College of the Law  required members who wanted to vote and run for office to sign a “Statement of Beliefs.”  The UC School system required the CLS to have an “all comer’s policy” which would allow anyone to join, vote, and become an officer without signing the Statement. The United States Supreme Court upheld the UC School System’s “all comers policy” requirement.


Shields brought to attendees’ attention a troubling report released on September 7, 2016 by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Law and submitted to President Obama. Chairman of the Commission, Martin R. Castro, stated in the report: “The phrases ‘religious liberty’ and ‘religious freedom’ will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy or any other form of intolerance.” The report concludes that any religious exemptions allowed by law should be interpreted as narrowly as possible.  


Giving a sense of the precarious times in which we find ourselves, Brother Shields quoted UCLA Professor of Law Eugene Volokh: “If I were a conservative Christian (which I most certainly am not) I would be very reasonably fearful . . . fearful that within a generation or so, my religious beliefs would be treated the same way as racist religious beliefs are.”


So what can be done? Brother Shields gave some suggestions:


Educate yourself, learn why religious freedom matters and is threatened today

Engage in your profession and community

Watch for developments

           • Stand up for religious freedom in your individual capacity

Be an example of the believers

Support organizations that promote religious freedom


Attendees also learned specific ways to advocate for religious freedom. Rather than solely focusing on religious freedom as a Constitutional right, strengthen your argument by sharing personal stories, and how religious freedom is fundamental to your hopes and dreams.  


Joshua Figueira cited some examples of how people have taken these suggestions to heart. Ryan Snow heard a religious freedom address from Elder Oaks in 2014 while he was a second year law student at Southern Methodist University. He felt a strong urge to make a difference. Despite being only a law student, he felt prompted to write an amicus brief for United States vs. Windsor. He sent the brief to Texas Values, the U.S. Pastor Council, and the Coalition of African-American Pastors. Parts of the arguments in his brief were then submitted by these organizations in an amicus brief to the United States Supreme Court.


In 2009, Elder Oaks gave a religious freedom address at BYU Idaho. His talk inspired BYU Idaho Professor Casey Hurley to form a social science curriculum at BYU Idaho, dedicated to helping students understand the issues of religious freedom. The course debuted this fall.
Nolan Taylor is a partner at Dorsey in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Brother Taylor and his wife wrote letters to their children and then held family councils on religious freedom. Taylor later convinced his law firm to offer up the services of summer associates to help the International Center for Law and Religion Studies map the religious liberty laws around the world.


Brother Brent Belnap concluded the religious freedom session by explaining how individual chapters can host their own freedom of religion weekend workshops. Belnap included a packet to help chapters formulate their objectives, find co-sponsors, seek locally respected speakers and relevant issues, provide CLE, and budget for and finance the workshop.


Kevin Kimball

Attendees were then treated to a plenary session about  “Best Practices” for chapters.  Kevin Kimball, Area Director of the Chapter Relations Council over Mexico, spoke about the amazing growth of the Law Society in Mexico City, Tijuana, Monterrey, Puebla, Tuxtla, and Guadalajara. Having participated in the reorganization and formation of chapters in these cities, Brother Kimball offered some “best practices” to assist future efforts to create successful chapters:



Pray to know where chapters are needed

Identify large population centers with a critical mass of LDS attorneys (usually three stakes)

Get input from the Area Presidency and Area Public Affairs Director regarding areas with religious freedom challenges

Seek help from the Area Presidency for recruitment

Be willing to change your plans; go with a grass roots approach

Identify one or more strong potential chapter leaders in the area

Set up and publicize an initial organizational meeting

Ask potential leaders to set up and organize a network of attorneys to publicize the meeting

Set agenda including a welcome by the JRCLS Area Director, introduction of attendees, introduction to the JRCLS, and possibly the Deano Ware video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gy3CbB61u64).


Brother Kimball also suggested steps to solidify the chapter: Have the chapter chair select a chair-elect, focus on pro bono activities, encourage the chapter chair to form a board, develop relationships with leaders of other faiths and local/state government officials.  



Steve West
Steve West, the Chair of the Chapter Relations Council, also spoke. He described the success of the Brazil, Fortaleza chapter, which was one of five chapters in Brazil that received an Outstanding Chapter Award at the Leadership Conference. Brother West described the elements of the successful Fortaleza chapter: A board with a chair, chair-elect and at least six directors (pro bono services, religious freedom, student, events, members, and women in law), a planned calendar, and pro bono work. For example, the chapter has helped restore benefits to a paraplegic that were being fraudulently received by someone else, and provided assistance to a man who had been neglected by his family for five years.

Jim Moss, outgoing chair of the Service and Outreach Committee, related additional stories of service. Angela Kennedy, who was a law student at the University of Missouri, volunteered to help the Samaritan Center, an interfaith social service agency organized to meet emergency or crisis needs of people in the Mid-Missouri area. After an applicant applied to the Center for help, Kennedy called the applicant, discussed his or her needs, and then wrote a memo to the attorney assigned to the case. But her heart was too big to stop there. She arranged for first year law students to volunteer, and then even solicited the local Law Society chapter for help from its attorneys. Moss challenged each chapter to follow Kennedy’s example to serve local communities as part of the American Bar Association’s National Pro Bono Week Celebration (which was from Oct. 23-29).

Incoming chair of the Service and Outreach Committee, Richard Sheffield, quoted Doctrine and Covenants 11:12-13:  


12 And now, verily, verily, I say unto thee, put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit.

13 Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy.


Brother Sheffield testified that the Lord’s promises of enlightenment and joy are real, and invited attendees to seek for the Spirit’s guidance in determining how best to serve. He promised that in so doing, the practice of law would become more enjoyable.


Michael Newton, Executive Secretary of the Chapter Relations Council spoke about planning with a purpose. Chapters need a plan: Meet and/or call regularly, delegate plans with an eye of getting younger attorneys involved, utilize jrcls.org/admin/future_leaders.php to view past leaders of your chapter and to find potential leaders, and view sample letters to potential chapter members, stake presidents, and people of other faiths in the chapter leadership manual at http://www.jrcls.org/?folder=resources&page=handbook.


Committee reports were then delivered from Vice Chair Todd Plewe from the Judge’s section, Brian Anderson from Student Chapters Board, Chair Angel Zimmerman from Women in Law, Chair Rick Richmond from Sections, Chair Annette Jarvis from Finance, Chair Scott Paul from Conference and Events, Chair Steve West from Chapter Relations Council, Chair Jim Moss from Service and Outreach, and Chair Gordon Foote from Media. The afternoon concluded with a presentation of the Outstanding Chapters Awards by Chapter Relations Council Members Steve West (Chair), Terry Higham (Chair-Elect), Martin Slater (Vice Chair, EMEA Region), Tom Isaacson (Vice Chair, North America Atlantic Region), Greg Clark (Vice Chair, Latin America Region), and Kent Cammack (Vice Chair, North America Central Region) to:

Africa West
Argentina Buenos Aires
Arizona, Greater Phoenix
Brazil, Belo Horizonte
Brazil, Curitiba
Brazil, Fortaleza
Brazil, Northeast
Brazil, Sao Paulo
California, Bakersfield
California, Los Angeles
California, Orange County
California, Sacramento
California, Ventura
Canada, Calgary
Canada, Edmonton
Canada, Lethbridge
Washington D.C.,
Mexico, Mexico City
Mexico, Monterrey
Mexico, Tuxtla
Missouri, Kansas City
Nevada, Las Vegas
New Mexico, Albuquerque
Oregon, Portland
Texas, Dallas
Utah, Salt Lake City
Washington, Seattle

On Friday evening, conference guests traveled to Aspen Grove for dinner and remarks by Elder Bruce R. Carlson, a retired Air Force General and emeritus General Authority of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Elder Carlson educated attendees about the religious origins and conflicts of the Middle East.


Armed with flashlights before dawn on Saturday,  some of the attendees hiked Stewart Falls. While singing songs of the Restoration, the group was rewarded with a most beautiful sunrise. After breakout breakfasts, a morning plenary session, and committee specific training, the conference concluded with a report from three Area Legal Counsel of the LDS Church: Kevin Kimball (Mexico), Mike Wood (South America Northwest), and Ryan Richards (Africa West).

By Julie Smith, Media Committee

Posted: November 17, 2016