The Creation of Mormon Lawyers

Brigham Young and Joseph Smith had some very harsh things to say about lawyers, but from the beginning, Mormon attorneys sought to create an ecclesiastical identity for themselves other than that of lying tricksters bent on stirring up litigation. For example, in 1850 one Mormon lawyer noted in his diary that his client’s case was resolved by an “Elders meeting,” a method that he praised for “sav[ing] the time expense & hard feelings of a long and tedious lawsuit” and which he commended to the assembled “people.” Brigham Young eventually came to adopt this self-conception of Mormon attorneys as working in the spirit of the church courts. Despite his hell-fire and damnation sermons against lawyers in the 1850s, his opposition to attorneys was never absolute. As early as 1852, for example, he said, “We want every branch of science taught in this place that is taught in the world,” including the “study of law.” An 1872 sermon shows a further softening. While insisting that he did not “want any lawyers in our society,” he went on to say:

There are many lawyers who are very excellent men. What is the advice of an honorable gentleman in the profession of the law? “Do not go to law with your neighbors … .” Why not … say we will arbitrate this case, and we will have no lawsuit, and no difficulty with our neighbor, to alienate our feelings one with another? This is the way we should do as a community.

From the amoral tricksters of his earlier sermons, Young’s thinking developed to a point in which he envisioned wise and learned men who acted in the spirit of church-based reconciliation rather than court-based litigation.

Young’s rapprochement with the legal profession went beyond mere rhetoric. In 1868, he spoke with Franklin S. Richards, the son of a close associate, about his future plans. Young Richards replied that he was studying medicine. Young insisted that it would be better if Richards were to take up the study of law, “because the time will come when the Latter-day Saints will need lawyers of their own to defend them in the Courts and strive with fearless inspiration to maintain their constitutional rights.” Richards went on to become an attorney, eventually serving as general counsel to the church. An 1883 sketch of Richards presented him as the incarnation of Young’s later vision of learned lawyers embedded within the context of church courts. “As a churchman and High Councilor, [Richards’] advice has uniformly been to litigants to settle their difficulties themselves or by arbitration in the modes prescribed by Church discipline; that only such cases should go to the courts as could not be adjusted by these methods.”

As the nineteenth century progressed, Mormons continued to treat the legal profession with suspicion, but they simultaneously sought to sanctify it by embedding Mormon lawyers in the narratives of priesthood authority and revelation that stood at the core of the church judiciary. Hence, one Latter-day Saint attorney recorded that in the early 1880s he and his law partner were rebuked from the pulpit by their local bishop for having “blossomed out as full-fledged lawyers.” At about the same time, the stake president of another young man who was considering law school told him “You will go to Hell!” and urged him to consult with Brigham Young’s successor as president of the church, John Taylor. The young man met with Taylor, who attempted to dissuade him. When he was unconvinced, Taylor laid hands on his head and gave him a blessing that cautiously sanctified his legal education. “Brother Moyle, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by the virtue of the Holy Priesthood, we lay our hands upon thy head to seal upon thee a blessing,” Taylor began. He continued, “we say unto thee that [law] is a dangerous profession, one that leads many people down to destruction.” The blessing, however, went on to affirm the young man’s choice. “[I]f thou wilt abstain from arguing falsely and on false principles maintaining only the things that can be honorably sustained by honorable men … the Lord God will bless thee in this calling … with wisdom and intelligence, and with the light of revelation.” Using language normally reserved for men chosen as missionaries or for other church positions, the blessing concluded, “We set thee apart … to go forth as thou hast desired to study and become acquainted with the principles of law and equity.” The trend continued when a decade later, Taylor’s successor, Wilford Woodruff, issued a “call” to one young school teacher to travel east to Cornell to study law. In doing so, he fused the study of law with the mechanism – a call from the prophet – through which earlier generations of Mormons had been sent forth to proclaim Joseph Smith’s message of restoration or to found distant settlements as part of establishing Zion in the Great Basin.

72 comments for “The Creation of Mormon Lawyers

  1. Nick Literski
    June 29, 2007 at 3:36 pm

    Many LDS members have yet to catch up with this positive trend. When I had my solo office in rural Illinois, I did some pro bono work for a member of the ward. Rather than filing a claim for her that she could easily handle herself, I advised her on the process, thus saving her thousands of dollars in legal fees. She was grateful for how I handled this, since she had no idea the process was so simple.

    Soon after, her husband sent me a recent talk given by an LDS apostle at the BYU law school, which dealt heavily with the subject of honesty. His accompanying e-mail made it clear that he felt I *needed* counsel on being honest in my dealings. I confronted him, asking where he ever saw me act in a dishonest way. He couldn’t name any such incidents, but pointed out that I had previously practiced in Chicago, so I was “one of those BIG CITY lawyers.” No good deed goes unpunished, as they say.

  2. June 29, 2007 at 4:21 pm

    I think that there is a similar transformation (though perhaps not quite as drastic) in regards to medicine. In the early days of Utah, Brigham was quite skeptical of physicians and compared Thompsonian medicine to the restoration. Later, you see the First Presidency calling individuals to go study medicine and setting them apart in the work.

  3. June 29, 2007 at 4:29 pm

    J.: Do you have a citation for the physician stories?

  4. June 29, 2007 at 4:34 pm

    “he envisioned wise and learned men ”

    One of the frustrating (to the core) things about the JRCLS broadcast last February was the mono-gender voices. Our student society got sick of watching after a while, and turned it off after all the men started talking about how they balanced family and law and church callings. Yeah, they all had wives at home. But what if the lawyer is also the wife and mother? Or a single relief society president, as my co-student had been in her 1L year? (Sorry, that rant has been saving up for months).

    Now we need to see the creation of female Mormon Lawyers.

  5. June 29, 2007 at 4:40 pm

    FWIW, the LDS Law Students conference at Columbia a couple of years ago had an excellent panel of female LDS lawyers on work-family balance issues.

  6. June 29, 2007 at 4:53 pm

    Thank you, Professor Oman. That sounds like it would have been very cool. Our chapter has hopes of getting a speaker here this fall on that topic. Were there any published reports of the panel discussion?

    I’m sorry if this seems like a thread-jack, but in some ways, part of the process of the Creation of Mormon Lawyers has to include both women and men, and I think we may still be undergoing that process.

  7. June 29, 2007 at 5:16 pm

    I think there is definitely a real ethical dilemma in an honorable person in working at a large law firm however.

  8. June 29, 2007 at 5:29 pm

    “I think there is definitely a real ethical dilemma in an honorable person in working at a large law firm however.”


  9. June 29, 2007 at 5:36 pm

    I’m not saying you can’t be ethical working in a big firm. But you have to work at it a lot harder.

    If you really want to know where I’m coming from on this, I’m basically griping about the billable hour and partnership profit schemes.

    I am also of the opinion that a large and sophisticated firm that uses a billing method that inherently encourages lawyers to cheat their clients is per se unethical behavior.

  10. Adam Greenwood
    June 29, 2007 at 5:47 pm

    What’s the billing method that doesn’t have inherent moral hazards, Seth R.?

  11. John Williams
    June 29, 2007 at 5:55 pm

    Didn’t John Edwards only collect on his class-action lawsuits if he won? (I may be way off base here).

  12. CS Eric
    June 29, 2007 at 5:57 pm


    Try my billing method. As an attorney for the military, any military member, dependent, or retiree may use my services at no cost. All they have to do is show a valid military ID card.

    Of course, those services are limited, but how many firms do everything for every one?

  13. June 29, 2007 at 6:21 pm

    It’s a fine distinction. But we live in a profession that considers it a breach of ethics to leave client folders open on our desks where the office staff can see them, yet finds nothing wrong with a system that is built to encourage bill-padding.

    I use flat fees for all my clients. That’s easy to do with bankruptcy law of course. But I plan on moving into consumer protection work as well and won’t move into it unless I can determine workable flat fees for those services.

  14. Jonovitch
    June 29, 2007 at 6:24 pm

    I heard a Book of Mormon professor (who had practiced law in California for many years before teaching at BYU) plead with his students, if any of them were considering law school to go for it, because the world needed all the good lawyers it could get. That said, there is nothing inherently unethical about the practice of law or of those who practice it. Each individual decides how honest he is going to be, regardless of occupation. The same holds true for car mechanics, financial investors, nurses, journalists, athletes…

    I know (through a friend and very loosely) the dean of the BYU law library. In my brief encounters with her, and through what my friend has told me of her, she is a caring, generous mother and a brilliant lawyer. As I consider going to law school in the near future, hers is one of the examples of a “good” lawyer that I keep in mind, along with my bishop (who is humble and spiritually sensitive), and a member of our stake’s high council (who is extraordinarily friendly).

  15. John Williams
    June 29, 2007 at 6:27 pm

    I have a question about billable hours. I have no formal legal training so I don’t know the answer to it. If a lawyer bills by the hour, and he is doing some research on a contract or a case and he’s feeling a little under the weather with an upset stomach and ends up spending 30 minutes in the men’s room, does he count those 30 minutes in the men’s room towards hours billed to his client?

  16. June 29, 2007 at 6:38 pm

    Seth R.: It seems to me that flat rates create their own moral hazards, in particular the incentive to do the abosolute minimum to deliver the service, even when the best interest of the client points in the other direct. Furthermore, for all of its virtues, a flat fee system simply isn’t practical in many cases. Eschewing complex cases on ethical grounds because they can’t be pushed into a system of flat fees strikes me as putting the cart before the horse. There is nothing wrong, of course, with practices that focus on particular sorts of cases, but we live in a world with big, very complex disputes where one simply can’t predict in advance how much effort will be necessary to resolve it.

  17. Bill MacKinnon
    June 29, 2007 at 6:47 pm

    An excellent essay that captures s lot of the ambivalence in BY and early Mormonism about lawyers. My recollection is that not only did BY have harsh words at times about lawyers but that the original laws of Utah Territory (and perhaps those of the Provisional State of Deseret from whch they were initially derived) forbade the payment of fees to lawyers. (How they were expected to support themselves given such a prohibition I’ve never understood, unless the implication was that the practice of law — like church leadership positions — was not to be a full-time paid activity.) Out of the same set of anti-attorney biases came a prohibitioin in UT courts re citing precedents under British or American common law. Notwithstanding these hostile attitudes, BY always saw to it that he was surrounded by several very smart, able attorneys. In the early days of the UT period there were lawyers like Seth M. Blair, Hosea Stout, and James Ferguson. Even George A. Smith was a lawyer, and it fell to him to argue the defense of Howard Egan — perhaps GAS’s first and only case — during 1851. Smith took the position that Egan had been justified in executing Mr. Monroe, the man who had seduced Mrs. Egan in Howard’s absence and was the biological father of William Egan. Smith carried the day on behalf of Howard Egan with what became known as the “mountain justice” defense. Thomas L. Kane, BY’s closest non-Mormon friend, was, of course, an attorney and had had to resign his position as clerk of his father’s U.S. district court in Philadelphia to go to Utah during the winter of 1857-58. Perhaps another example of this ambivalence was the fact that BY’s grandson, Richard Whitehead Young, took a law degree at Columbia after graduating from West Point, so we see the anomaly of a man who pitted himself against West Pointers duuring 1857-58 while railing against lawyers sending his own grandson to USMA and having him go to Columbia Law School, although the latter may have been after BY’s death in 1877. I think it’s, uh, interesting that on January 6, 1857 BY and the members of the UT legislative assembly signed and sent to Congress and the president a petition nominating attorney William Adams Hickman to be U.S. attorney for UT if their first choice wasn’t appointed.
    As indicated by J. Stapley (#2), BY also had it in for physicians, among other professionals, but here too there were important exceptions. BY’s longest-serving territorial delegate in Congress, John M. Bernhisel, was a physician, and so too was Thomas L. Kane’s wife, Elizabeth, for whom BY had the highest regard and respect. I think one of the Mormons called to medcine whom J. Stapley had in mind was the BY nephew-physician who attended him during his last illness, which was probably appendicitis. As I recall, there is quite a bit about BY’s prejudices against doctors in Lester E. Bush, Jr., “Brigham Young in Life and Death: A Medical Overview,” “Journal of Mormon History” 5(1978): 79-103. If we’re good to her, perhaps Ardis will share with us the text of a letter that BY sent in response to a request for advice from a presumably non-Mormon dentist in Connecticut who wanted to know the prospects for migrating to UT to open a dental practice there. So Brigham Young was full of cross-currents and ambivalence about well-educated, professional people (especially but not exclusively lawyers), yet despite his harsh criticisms and even vindictiveness he always surrounded himself with a few of the right kind, and they helped him mightily. BY also disliked novelists and urged his daughters not to waste time reading novels, although he was a huge admirer of Charles Dickens, and, of course, daughter Susa Young Gates became, among other things, a — gasp! — novelist.

  18. Bob
    June 29, 2007 at 6:52 pm

    #7,9: I agree with Seth. I spent 30 years with a large Insurance Co. in their Litigation Dept.. Half my day was spent red lining Defense Atty bills, and calling them about their billings. I guess 10s of thousands over the years. But I always spoke to the ‘dilemma’ they had, never the ethical part. I did not see them as dishonest, only working for the man.
    I must says, the Doctor bills were not any better, Or the Auto repair shops. But my Expense Report was clean!—Right.

  19. June 29, 2007 at 6:52 pm

    I think a large firm is better served using the value billing method – just like every other services industry in the world (except law).

    And a flat fee is agreed upon up front. I am not being presented with constant opportunities to redefine my profits at my client’s expense.

    I never said it can’t be done ethically. But it is an incredibly outdated and stupid billing scheme.

  20. June 29, 2007 at 7:18 pm

    Bill, Yep, Seymour B. Young is a great example, along with the women physicians like Romania Pratt. Ultimately, First Presidency set apart every graduate of the nursing school that RS Physicians set up.

    Nate, check your email.

  21. jimbob
    June 29, 2007 at 7:40 pm

    “If a lawyer bills by the hour, and he is doing some research on a contract or a case and he’s feeling a little under the weather with an upset stomach and ends up spending 30 minutes in the men’s room, does he count those 30 minutes in the men’s room towards hours billed to his client?”

    The short answer is that most states’ ethics codes require that you swear that the fees you billed were reasonable, necessary, and actually rendered. Thus, a trip to the bathroom should not be billed.

    The longer answer is that many lawyers will take that contract with them to the bathroom, or will seriously think about the contract while indisposed–multitasking at its finest. And while I do think that probably solves the ethical issues, it also brings up a host of epidemiological concerns.

  22. John Williams
    June 29, 2007 at 7:46 pm

    Jimbob, I noticed from another blog that you are trained in the field of law, so will take your response in (21) as legitimate. Should I ever retain an attorney, I would hope that he would at the very least as a courtesy “seriously think about” my contract should he ever bill me for time spent in the gentlemen’s room.

  23. June 29, 2007 at 8:34 pm

    The problem with the billable hour is that a lawyer’s hour is always worth the same amount, no matter what she’s doing with it.

    A lawyer making photocopies will cost you the same $300 per hour as a lawyer arguing in the courtroom.

    Which is patently ridiculous.

  24. Tom
    June 29, 2007 at 8:47 pm

    But what if you set your rate for approximately the average amount that your time is worth? If making photocopies is worth $8 per hour and arguing in court is worth $500 per hour, you could find some reasonably fair flat hourly rate between those figures so that in the end you’d charge about the same fee regardless of how you do the accounting. You might overcharge a bit for paperwork-heavy cases and undercharge for light-paperwork cases, but it could be pretty close to fair, no?

  25. June 29, 2007 at 8:53 pm

    A sane businessman would ask why the hell you aren’t outsourcing these tasks to cheaper labor.

  26. Bob
    June 29, 2007 at 9:09 pm

    The one that would always get me going was the Attorney would would send out Interrogs that would have little to do with the case that he knew would never be answered, the bill me $500 to go to court to Motion for the Answers!

  27. Adam Greenwood
    June 29, 2007 at 9:24 pm

    I think a large firm is better served using the value billing method – just like every other services industry in the world (except law).

    Lots of accountants and consultants charge by the hour. Physicians also do in some circumstances. So do mechanics, plumbers, lawncare guys, and so on. Employees who make an hourly wage are effectively billing their employer by the hour instead of charging a flat rate for their services. It is by no means as antiquated as you think.

    At least in my firm, if we need lots of copies we ask our secretary to do it.

  28. Ray
    June 30, 2007 at 12:45 am

    Lawyers and salesmen – Both need to make conscious decisions to fight the built-in dishonesty in many of their industries’ SOP. They either can act or be acted upon. I know I have had to be aware of it every single day and in every single conversation with a couple of my positions, because the temptation to justify dishonesty is constant in companies that don’t openly discourage it and reward only revenue production. It is possible to be a top producer in either industry and remain honest, but it requires a DEEP belief in and commitment to honesty and hard work to pull it off.

  29. June 30, 2007 at 1:25 am

    Adam, the copies thing was an extreme example. But lawyers still use the same pricing scheme to represent work of widely varying real-world value.

  30. It's Not Me
    June 30, 2007 at 2:00 pm

    I had a little learning experience regarding billing while I was clerking for a law firm (as a law student). I completed every task my supervising attorney gave me and accounted for all the time spent on it. However, if I went to the restroom, or someone came in an interrupted me, or I got sidetracked in my research, I did not bill the client.

    After some time, the attorney called me to task for not billing enough hours. I was quite confused because I was doing everything he told me. I was a little miffed when I later found out that his practice as to “start the clock” when he began a project and “stop the clock” when he finished, without directly accounting for bathroom breaks, interruptions, etc.

    When it came time to send the bill, he would simply “slash” it, apparently taking a stab at what he thought was reasonable. He never told that he was doing that and never told me to do my billing that way.

    Call me strange, but to this day I “stop the clock” when interrupted. When it comes time to bill the client, I know my hours are “true”.

    I bill a little differently while researching. I get too worried about billing a client for time in the library because I like to ponder a lot, and I’ll occasionally follow the research wherever it takes me (some call that “unfocused”), even if it has nothing to do with the client’s case; I like that freedom. After I’m done, I’ll make a conservative, good faith estimate of the time I feel comfortable billing the client. And more often than not I am underbilling.

  31. Mark IV
    June 30, 2007 at 2:28 pm

    I once wrote a computer program for a law firm. The purpose of the system was to facilitate time tracking and billing. I was instructed to allow for billing in six minute increments, or 1/10 of an hour. Is that a common practice?

    I was very happy to complete the project and get out of there. I’ve never been around a more uptight bunch of people in my life.

  32. Bob
    June 30, 2007 at 2:48 pm

    Again from the guy other side,(see #18). Sometimes I would use the power of the big wallet to run over some guy. I would pick my most costly Defense Firm, have them only sent their letter of their Defense Rep. assignment from me to the PI atty.. The PI atty knew I had unlimited funds, and was more open to early Settlement. Most of my Defense Firms knew my goals and limits, and did not push them. Or we would send the cases to other firms.

  33. July 1, 2007 at 11:26 am

    Yeah Mark,

    Apparently billing in six minute increments is common practice. I can’t imagine how biglaw lawyers get anything done, given how much time they must spend dinking around with their billable hours.

  34. Bob
    July 1, 2007 at 1:22 pm

    #31 & 33:That reminds me of the old Yogi Berra joke: ” would you like your pizza cut into 6 or 10 parts?”. ” Oh, 6..I’m not that hungry”. But let’s be fair, it’s only 95% of attorneys that give the rest a bad name.

  35. July 1, 2007 at 10:04 pm

    Nate (#3), One person that Brigham Young called to go to medical school was Romania Pratt Penrose, 1839-1932. Married Parley P. Pratt, Jr, in 1859. Divorced him in 1881, then became the third plural wife of Charles Penrose in 1886. Penrose became an apostle in 1904, and counselor in the First Presidency in 1911.

    She graduated from Women’s Medical College in New York City in 1877. She remained in Philadelphia for two more years specializing in diseases of the eye and ear. In 1879 she established a medical practice in Salt Lake City.

    From A Book of Mormons, by Richard S. Van Wagoner and Steven C. Walker, Signature Books, 1982, pp 200-203.

  36. John Taber
    July 1, 2007 at 10:54 pm

    Among my age group in my ward, attorney is the most common occupation. I have to wonder how any of them (including the quorum president) can have testimonies if they’re in a profession where truth for all practical purposes does not exist.

  37. jimbob
    July 2, 2007 at 1:02 pm

    “…they’re in a profession where truth for all practical purposes does not exist.”

    I think most lawyers believe the best way to come to the real truth is to represent their client’s version of the truth as best they can, trust that the other side is doing the same, and let the judge or jury decide what the real truth is. The system has its inadequacies, I suppose, but I think very few lawyers think that truth does not exist.

  38. Adam Greenwood
    July 2, 2007 at 1:09 pm

    The system has its inadequacies,

    aka the judge and the jury.

  39. John Taber
    July 2, 2007 at 1:35 pm

    Maybe I should put it like this: To a “good” attorney, “truth” doesn’t matter. What matters is making the better argument.

  40. July 2, 2007 at 2:22 pm


    Everyone thinks they know what the truth is. Some Mexican guy shows up on the front pages as having been arrested for drug possession and just about every last good citizen reader immediately assumes he must be a crook. They all think they know what the truth is, and they’re annoyed when they find out some lawyer is actually representing this creep.

    Then they like to spout on about “bad lawyers.”

    Being a good lawyer actually is about the truth. But it’s also about not taking anything for granted. It’s not running roughshod over people in the name of other people’s half-baked ideas of justice and social expediency. It’s about the integrity of a process that protects us all.

    Furthermore John, you might say that when Christ defended the woman taken in adultery, he was also more concerned with making the better argument, rather than truth. I would disagree with you, of course, just as I would disagree with you about your assertions regarding most lawyers.

  41. John Taber
    July 2, 2007 at 3:12 pm

    OK Seth, then how do you explain Michael Nifong? About the only difference I can see between him and your typical prosecutor is that he got caught.

  42. Ray
    July 2, 2007 at 3:21 pm

    As my kids would say, John, chillax. I hear the same thing about salesmen and televangelists – and it isn’t true of all salesmen, either.

  43. John Taber
    July 2, 2007 at 3:27 pm

    Yep, and all three groups have one thing in common – they’re only in it for the money.

  44. Ray
    July 2, 2007 at 3:39 pm

    I hope that’s tongue in cheek, John, but if not . . .

    Boy, I wish that were the case, since I wouldn’t have to live on such a shoestring budget – even as a highly successful salesman in my field. I suspect I am like a lot of lawyers I know – doing it for the difference what I sell makes in the world, knowing full well I could be in other areas making a ton of money for my skills.

    Televangelists, OTOH . . . probably a mixed bag, as well, even if I wouldn’t cry if they all disappeared.

    Teachers do it for the benefits and retirement plan and long summer vacation; CEO’s do it for the power, prestige and ego; nurses do it from a Savior complex; firefighters do it to be macho; politicians are all liars; ministers are delusional; soldiers are too stupid for any other options; full-time mothers are oppressed and harming the greater women’s movement; and around and around and around we go. I’m jumping off the merry-go-round; getting too loopy.

  45. jimbob
    July 2, 2007 at 4:23 pm

    “Yep, and all three groups have one thing in common – they’re only in it for the money.”

    The same could be said for garbagemen, computer technicians, factory workers, and virtually everyone else with a job. We all work so we can eat and pay the mortgage, right?

  46. July 2, 2007 at 4:43 pm

    Dang, I must be doing something wrong then.

  47. John Williams
    July 2, 2007 at 4:44 pm

    Jimbob, I’m sure John Taber works for free.

  48. John Williams
    July 2, 2007 at 4:46 pm

    John Taber,

    You should be grateful that we live in a society with laws and property rights. It’s the opposite of anarchy, and it allows risk takers to be rewarded for their efforts in the capitalist market. Lawyers are the ones who enforce the laws. They provide a valuable service.

  49. July 2, 2007 at 4:51 pm

    One of our ward’s “testimonies” yesterday was by a young defense attorney who told about a recent client, charged with a felony that he was probably guilty of and a misdemeanor that he was probably innocent of. (Both of those assessments were stated by the speaker.) In a plea bargain, the felony was dismissed in exchange for a guilty plea on the misdemeanor. The speaker went on at length about how difficult it was for the client to stand before the judge and plead guilty to something he hadn’t done. Oh, the agony, oh, the shame, oh, the unfairness of it all, and oh, how wonderful the Atonement, that Christ had paid for all our sins, even that of lying and saying you were guilty of something you were innocent of. Not a word about skating on the other thing.

    I know how noble the law is, and how honorable are those who bring justice to the widow and orphan. I heard all about that often enough in every law office I worked in. Still, Mormon lawyers are as skilled as anyone else in spiritual contortionism.

  50. John Williams
    July 2, 2007 at 5:02 pm

    “Mormon lawyers are as skilled as anyone else in spiritual contortionism”

    So are Mormon historians.

  51. July 2, 2007 at 5:18 pm

    John Williams, one of my cobloggers insists that you are a decent human being, that you love your wife, that you aren’t known for kicking the neighborhood dogs, that you use kleenex, and that you generally don’t talk with your mouth full. Any chance you might begin to use some of that civility toward me?

  52. John Williams
    July 2, 2007 at 5:24 pm

    OK, comment #50 might have been a little unseemly. But I think it’s bad taste to say “Oh, lawyers are such sinners, even if they’re Mormons, but us non-lawyers are such saints.” Lots of different people in many professions bend things in their favor.

  53. Nick Literski
    July 2, 2007 at 5:32 pm

    When I took on the contract to serve as public defender in Hancock County, Illinois, the wife of a stake high council member was disappointed in me. “I just don’t understand how anyone can defend these people who you KNOW are guilty as sin!”, she scolded.

    In one of those rare moments, when the right words come to mind, I looked at her, smiled, and said, “Well, Jesus seems to manage it.” She was stunned for a moment, then grinned and said, “Point taken.”

  54. July 2, 2007 at 5:44 pm

    John Williams, the theme of this post is Mormon lawyers, their attitudes, and attitudes about them. My comment fit that theme, and by no stretch of any rational imagination could it be read as saying anything about the rest of us being such saints. Nor was it directed at any particular attorney, unless it was the unnamed member of my ward who is not participating here. Your comment, on the other hand, “might” appear to be “a little” personal. My remarks are intentionally so.

    For clarity, in case you missed it, my comment was not a condemnation of plea bargains or the legal process. It was about the *spiritual* implications of leaning on the Savior to make things right when an innocent party suffers (if you want to call my ward member’s client innocent and his plea suffering) while simultaneously ignoring the necessity of the Atonement when someone gets away with something in mortality.

  55. July 2, 2007 at 6:03 pm

    I’ve always viewed Christ as the prototype attorney. I find it useful as a model anyway.

  56. Ray
    July 2, 2007 at 6:10 pm

    I have never thought of Jesus as a lawyer, but I like that, Seth. He certainly was a passionate public defender. His “defense” of the woman taken in adultery was masterful.

  57. Nick Literski
    July 2, 2007 at 6:25 pm

    Hugh Nibley has pointed out that in early texts, satan is portrayed as a “prosecuting attorney” in the heavenly council. The Book of Job would be at least a partial example of this. No wonder one of Jesus’ titles is “advocate.”

  58. July 2, 2007 at 9:59 pm

    That’s exactly the story I had in mind Ray.

    Remember, the woman was “caught in the very act.” The story does not even question whether she was guilty. It’s simply assumed.

    Why would Christ want to vindicate a clearly guilty criminal? Didn’t Christ himself give the law by which this women was supposed to be stoned? Food for thought.

  59. Ray
    July 2, 2007 at 10:25 pm

    Seth, He gave the law that He later made more strict – and acted as the advocate for those who didn’t live either. Yes, food for thought.

  60. John Taber
    July 3, 2007 at 3:38 am

    I almost work for free – I work for my county’s government. The typical lawyer in my ward that’s my age paid three or four times for his house than I did for mine. But at least I’m home at a reasonable hour every night.

    If it were as cut-and-dry as rule of law, I’d feel much better about the system. Unfortunately, there are too many Zeezroms and Nifongs out there, and their peers (including their LDS peers) look up to them as role models. Having at least a third of active Melchizedek Priesthood in a ward in one profession (and this would be the case with any profession, I will admit) leaves things a bit lopsided. (And it’s not just my age group, and the EQ president. It also includes the bishop – and one of his counselors is a federal circuit court judge.)

  61. Gavin Guillaume
    July 3, 2007 at 5:51 pm

    Regarding billing practices –

    I’m not a lawyer; I work as an IT consultant for a major outsourcer. All of my time is billed the same, for whatever I am doing (meetings, email to a client, design work, etc.). Clients know this. If they think it is too high, then I’ll get one of my colleagues in India or SA or Europe to handle the menial tasks, and clients can save the money they pay for my services for where I add value. As my boss puts it — if they want to spend their money having me attend a day-long conference call, that’s their dime.

    Similar to some lawyers, I bill my time to my clients in 15-minute increments (and I track my day in a detailed fashion to indicate what I was doing). In fact, as I am training new consultants, I tell them to think “like lawyers” when it comes to tracking their billing.

  62. Bobo
    July 7, 2007 at 3:45 am

    My best friends father was my bishop and an attorney. I look up to him as a man of honesty and of great spirituality. He inspired me to decide to go to Law school. Although I would say that I had the opportunity to work at my mentors firm, in which he was the senior partner, a firm filled with only Mormon attorneys. I also had the opportunity to read every case that this large firm handled and was disillusioned a little. A few cases, although a majority was construction litigation, was \”fishy\”, it was a moment that I had to really reevaluate some things. I approached another attorney and asked him frankly about my dilemma with this particular case; to which he gave me a long sermon about justice and perspective. What startled me was not the fact that he took the case but he believed in the case. I am still going to law school in two years but I I think litigation is not for me.

  63. In-house
    July 8, 2007 at 1:03 am

    I have a question for my fellow lds attorneys. Please look at Skaggs Drug Centers, Inc. v. Ashley, 26 Utah 2d 38, 484 P.2d 723 (1971) where James Faust represented a retail store that fought a Sunday closing law. What are your thoughts about this?

  64. Kaimi Wenger
    July 8, 2007 at 1:50 am

    In-house —

    I’d say, “no big deal.”

    It’s perfectly consistent to think that some behavior is spiritually wrong, and also to feel that that behavior need not be against the law.

  65. July 8, 2007 at 8:20 pm

    John (60),
    Who on this earth looks up to Nifong? Seriously. That’s like saying someone looks up to Ray Pearson.

    I’ve never worked with an unethical attorney. I’ve worked with enough who aren’t people I’d want to hang out with, and plenty who are great people, but they’ve all gone out of their way to pursue justice. (Of course, I’m a tax attorney, so we’re talking about tax justice and corporate justice, not criminal justice.)

  66. Ray
    July 8, 2007 at 9:05 pm


    If we start expecting Mormon lawyers to argue only those cases that support their own moral standards, then we better multiply our Fast Offering contributions by another 10 times – and perhaps even add another line on the contribution form for Fast Offerings for Mormon Lawyers.

  67. July 10, 2007 at 9:40 pm

    “No good deed goes unpunished, as they say.”

    Indeed, as many of these comments show.

  68. M. Wilson
    July 11, 2007 at 11:08 pm

    I\’m really disturbed at the conversation here that would seem to imply my husband\’s choice of profession makes him a less worthy member of the church or that his profession makes him more susceptible to transgression. I\’d like to think since BYU (incidentally he went to law school there) has a law school the church must not think there\’s anything wrong with that profession and in fact, encourages people to pursue this profession. Many general authorities are/were attorneys.

    Any profession can place ethical and moral choices in front of you. It is the character of the individual who determines whether or not to choose the just and moral course of action.

    I disagree about law being about the better argument or point of law, while this may be part of what the profession is about — the skill and knowledge of the law — it is not the sole purpose of an attorney. The primary purpose of my husband\’s job as a criminal prosecutor is the pursuit of truth. To disregard the pursuit of truth is what led to Mike Nifong\’s disgrace as a prosecutor. Criminal prosecutors are obligated under code of conduct laws to dismiss cases where there is not sufficient evidence in their mind to warrant a trial where a jury decides guilt.

    As for Christ acting in defense of an accused, He did as an advocate and He is our advocate with the Father. But Christ also never denied the party\’s fault/guilt/sin — it was His to forgive. God demands justice in addition to mercy and the legal system is part of the secular process of justice we rely on in our mortal existence. This is especially true in criminal court where it is often the only time the victim\’s voice may be heard and advocated for in the most heinous of acts against humanity. We all deserve an advocate — Christ provides us all with more than fair representation. Defendants in criminal court are entitled to an advocate by law, but so are the rest of us! Victims of crime deserve advocates and so do \”the people.\”

    There are disciplinary courts in the church for a reason. Evidence is heard regarding members\’ conduct in these courts. It is not in seeking the best legal argument, but to seek the truth and to decide the best course of action. Disciplinary courts in the church and criminal courts in our land protect the membership of the church and the members of the community from those who would do us harm.

  69. July 11, 2007 at 11:45 pm

    M., your husband has an eloquent and able defender himself. I’ve known many attorneys through my working life, in church, in my neighborhood, etc. Many of them have been honorable, devoted to high principles in private life and public career, and living as well as they knew how. Others, not so much.

    For me, I think my wariness of lawyers is that when they are NOT honorable, or devoted, the consequences for others can be much more severe than if they sold towels or installed drywall or taught band. The good ones — and I’m thinking of a specific man who gave great service to my family once upon a time — render service that has higher positive consequences, too. But we don’t often think of that — it’s the guy who sues for $1 million because he didn’t like how his dry cleaner had cleaned his pants who drowns out our notice of the others.

  70. John Taber
    July 13, 2007 at 11:38 am

    Well M., many prominent members are/have been involved in all kinds of shady things while holding Church leadership positions, or have been called to such positions after their entaglements are well known. I guess that makes their behavior OK for the rest of us, right?

  71. July 13, 2007 at 11:51 am

    ” $1 million because he didn’t like how his dry cleaner had cleaned his pants who drowns out our notice of the others.”

    Ardis: I would point out that he lost and faces possible censure for unethical conduct by the DC Bar, as well as a counter suit for bringing frivolous litigation.

  72. July 13, 2007 at 12:05 pm

    “Ardis: I would point out that he lost and faces possible censure for unethical conduct by the DC Bar, as well as a counter suit for bringing frivolous litigation.”

    I know, but do you think people will remember that? I expect it will be like the hot coffee at McDonald’s, which is remembered as a greedy suit by a dumb customer despite what was eventually shown to be true. Perceptions, perceptions.

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