J. Reuben Clark Law Society

A Chat with Our International Chair Elect, Stephen L. West

International Chair Elect Stephen L. West will begin his tenure as Chair during the leadership conference at the end of this month. West comes to the table with a wide array of experience in both the legal profession and law society. He is a partner at Udall Shumway PLC in Mesa Arizona, where he has spent the last 30 years representing small and medium size businesses in a variety of transactions, as well as numerous individuals in estate and business planning. Educationally, West earned his Bachelor of Science from BYU in 1980 and received his Juris Doctorate, cum laude, from the J. Reuben Clark Law School in 1987. Prior to entering law school, he worked at the Midland, Texas office of Main Hurdman (now KPMG) and became a certified public accountant (Texas 1982). In the Law Society, he has served for many years on the board of the Greater Phoenix Chapter. He has also served the Law Society as an Area Director, as Chair of the Service and Outreach Committee and, most recently, as chair of the Chapter Relations Council. Although we have been blessed by his commitment to a growing international society of lawyers, West has also dedicated significant time to his community. He has been affiliated with the Maricopa Association of Governments, the Mesa Museum and Cultural Advisory Board, the Mesa Baseline and Mesa West Rotary Clubs, the Mesa United Way, the East Valley Partnership, Paz de Cristo and Visit Mesa. He has also been professionally involved with the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, as a volunteer for the State Bar of Arizona, as a board member and president of the East Valley Estate Planning Council and as a presenter at a number of continuing legal education courses. In the LDS Church, West has served as a bishop, stake president and as executive secretary to two members of the Seventy. He currently serves as President of the Mesa Arizona Easter Pageant and as a Sunday teacher of 17 year-olds. Steve and his wife Julie have 5 children and 12 grandchildren and have lived in Mesa for 30 years. We wish him and his family the very best, and thank him for his willingness to chat with us before he begins his International Chair responsibilities.


JRCLS: As a wife of a CPA, I have to ask, why did you switch to law?  

SW: I admired Abraham Lincoln as a boy. I even wrote a poem about him in the 3rd grade which my teacher published on the editorial page of the El Paso (Texas) Times. I always wanted to be a lawyer and working with my clients as a CPA in Texas, I was able to get a close look at the work of estate planning lawyers. That, and the example of a good Catholic lawyer-client who helped me get to law school, paved the way for the final decision. Julie was very supportive of the change and she is the true center of the story. We took 3 children, one of them a brand new baby, back to law school. But neither she nor I have ever regretted our decision.


JRCLS: This must be a busy time getting ready to take over the reigns as the international chair.  As current chair Virginia Tate Isaacson passes the baton to you, what, if any, advice has she given you?  

SW: Ginny passes on advice through her marvelous example. She puts into practice the skills she acquired in law school and then developed as a lawyer which lend themselves to leadership: She carefully reviews the facts. She listens empathetically to opposing views. She treats like cases alike. And she gives proper deference to prior decisions, principles and opinions. Ginny has vision and drive but she is also very empathetic--a marvelous leader in all that she does.


JRCLS: But you’re certainly no neophyte to the Law Society, having served for almost 10 years.  How has your experience helped prepare you to be chair?

SW: Working with local attorneys in Phoenix to find a better way to help priesthood leaders address the needs of their members with legal issues was one of the great experiences of my life. I was able to see firsthand the great blessing that members of this Society can be in addressing the needs of those who may not be able to afford legal representation, particularly those referred by priesthood leaders. I’ve also been able to see how the Law Society works at the area, regional and international levels. This has given me a good sense of some of the opportunities before us and some of the challenges we face.


JRCLS: In the last few years we’ve seen countries like Mexico take off with the formation of many new chapters. How can you apply what you’ve seen from your tenure as chair of the Chapter’s Relations Council to encourage growth in other countries?   

SW: The growth in countries like Mexico and Brazil is the product of courageous leadership. Local leaders caught the vision of how the Society can make a difference. Their vision and hard work have translated into meaningful service and increased respect for the work of the Law Society among their peers and among governmental and ecclesiastical leaders. The experience of our international leaders shows us how much can be done when lawyers are not afraid to lead.


JRCLS: Over the course of your service for the JRCLS, what developments or milestones have most excited you?

SW: I think the growth of chapters outside of the United States has been one of the most exciting. This is a direct result of the close ties between the Law Society and the Office of General Counsel. I have great respect for those Area Legal Counsel who have taken on the added responsibilities of service to the Law Society. I have also been grateful for the increasing number of our members who have become involved in explaining and defending religious freedom and the number of efforts around the world to bring legal services to those who can least afford them.


JRCLS: I’m sure you’ve enjoyed forming relationships with other outstanding members of the Society, and feeling inspired during its conferences. Can you describe a time when you really felt blessed to be a member?  

SW: I have felt blessed to be a member of the Law Society many times. Most recently, I felt blessed by the examples of those who worked so diligently to put together a marvelous conference on the rule of law at Downing College in Cambridge England. I make particular mention of Charlotte and Martin Steinfeld who have been so valiant in their service to the Law Society in the United Kingdom and Europe over many years. They exemplify that rare combination of professional excellence and religious conviction for which we all strive. Their examples, like the examples of so many others within our Society, inspire me to be a better lawyer and a better man.    


JRCLS: The JRCLS mission statement affirms the “strength brought to the law by a lawyer’s personal religious conviction.” This year marks the 30 year anniversary of your profession as an attorney. Can you share examples of when a lawyer’s personal religious conviction has strengthened the law?   

SW: I had the privilege of sitting next to Judge J. Clifford Wallace of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals at the special dinner arranged for attendees at the Downing College conference. Judge Wallace is, I think, one of our greatest living examples of the two pillars of our mission statement: professional excellence and religious conviction. We would all do well to study his life and follow his example. At 89 years of age, he continues to travel the world as a special ambassador of the United States Judiciary, a true friend of the Law Society and a servant of the Lord. His example, his leadership and his teaching have strengthened the law in many countries around the world.


JRCLS: With the decline of personal religious conviction, we’ve also seen the erosion of religious freedom around the world. What role do you think the JRCLS plays in protecting and promoting religious freedom?   

SW: The role we play is at the local level. Lawyers making friends, developing relationships of trust and finding opportunities to teach the great principles of freedom to all who will listen. Our role is to educate ourselves and then link arms with others and share the message about religious freedom in as dignified and sophisticated a way as we can, listening and responding empathetically to opposing views but reaching out to key decision makers and helping them see the importance of religious freedom to all the other freedoms we enjoy.


JRCLS: What do you feel are the Society’s biggest challenges, and how are you planning on addressing them?  

SW: Our biggest challenge is leadership. We are only one leader away from a chapter losing steam or going dark. Continuity and sustainability are our greatest challenges. We must continue to emphasize the need for Society members to step up and take their turn in leading the Law Society at every level. This is not a one and done experience. Each member of the Society should look for ways to contribute. Get involved. Reach out. Lead. We are working to improve our systems so that lawyers can receive more training online and to give our members better connections with the great library of resources we have developed over the last 30 years. We will continue to emphasize continuity and sustainability.


JRCLS: What’s at the top of your list of things to do on day one?  

SW: Working on a strategic plan that will hopefully bless the Law Society for many years to come.


JRCLS: Reminiscent of John F. Kennedy’s famous quote, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” our Society focuses on public service. What do you think we as individuals can do to do to strengthen the countries in which we live?    

SW: Be committed to professional excellence. Professional excellence gives us an unmatched platform to explain the reasons for our religious conviction and the strength it brings to the law.  And then live your conviction. Look for ways to serve publicly, whether it’s volunteering at the local soup kitchen, helping organize a symposium or volunteering to serve on a committee of your local bar association.  


JRCLS: And how about for the Society? What do you want us to know and do to strengthen the JRCLS?  

SW: As noted above, the best thing a lawyer

Steve, Julie and their son
Russell in Cambridge, England
 can do is have courage and get involved. Ask existing leadership how you can help. Become a board member. Help organize a conference. Draw from your experience to provide vision and strength to your chapter. Every one of us is needed. We have only scratched the surface of the difference we can make.


JRCLS: And finally, what do you love to do for fun?

SW: I've had fun traveling with my wife Julie, snow skiing with my son Sterling, scuba diving with my son Russell, salmon fishing with my son Daniel, paint balling with my son-in law Emery, cooking with my son-in law Adam, spending time at our cabin with daughters Jen and Alyssa, attending my grandkids' concerts and games and walking my two Labrador Retrievers, Bruno and Rogue, every morning at 5 a.m..

By Julie Smith, Media Committee

Posted: September 26, 2017