Commentary: An Oversupply of Lawyers…?

Here’s a blog post from someone who’s rather blunt on the subject (courtesy “Above The Law”):

The Oversupply of Lawyers in America « Above the Law: A Legal Tabloid – News and Colorful Commentary on Law Firms and the Legal Profession:

Response from this attorney: I have no quarrel with the idea that prospective law students need to have realistic expectations about their career once they pass the bar. However, Elie Mystal’s piece appears to advocate an overcorrection, one that may ultimately be detrimental to the administration of justice. As it is, I question whether indigent defendants always have access to adequate representation, even now. I submit such needs will always exist, even if they are not glamorous or high-paying.

As with anything, there needs to be a balanced approach. The crucial questions to be asked of any prospective student are: 1) What are your talents, and 2) What are your motivations to practice law in the first place? At one extreme, if the sole motive is money and prestige and the person doesn’t have a natural talent or inclination for law, the person is a poor match, and such a person, if (s)he passes the bar, may become part of an unhappy and miserable lot. At the other extreme, if the person writes naturally like Scalia, thinks through complex fact patterns like a hot knife through butter, and has a passion for the law that is deeply ingrained…we should not deter that person. In fact, frankly, we need all of them we can get.

Finally, from a Mormon perspective, one additional dimension is needful, and it is prayer and personal revelation. Were it not for these things, I would not have taken the first step towards law school in the first place. –SJR

Hate crimes and hate speech

Last week the U.S. House of Representatives passed HR 1913 , the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act. This piece of legislation has been opposed by many conservative Christian groups that fear prosecution under the proposed law if a pastor spoke out against homosexuality. Howard Friedman at Religion Clause has been following the discussion of the bill , so if you’re unfamiliar with the proposal, you should check it out. Since it’s in the news, I thought I would put in my two cents about hate crime laws and the closely related hate speech laws and codes. I personally oppose them, for both legal and pragmatic reasons.

For starters, I think hate crime and hate speech laws are patently unconstitutional. There are definitely some Equal Protection problems when a crime against a member of one ethnic or racial group is treated differently than the same crime committed against a person of another group. But the primary problem with hate crimes and hate speech is that they punish thought. Even though it is deplorable, it is not illegal to hate a minority or to believe that your particular race is the superior, pure race. I think it is unconstitutional and indefensible to punish a person (or increase that person’s punishment) for believing something when those constitutionally protected beliefs are the motives for a crime. If the First Amendment protects an idea, it must protect that idea no matter how it is used.

My second reason for opposing hate crimes and hate speech is less of a legal reason and more of a pragmatic one. I noticed that the progressive think tank ThirdWay recently argued that the Hate Crimes Prevention Act is actually good for religious groups, since it would expand protection for religious groups. So it might seem that a religious person like myself should support the legislation. But from a common-sense standpoint, this is a bad idea. If we pass laws punishing constitutionally protected ideas, that opens the door for similar laws that can restrict our own ideas.

Where I went to law school the university had considered enacting a hate speech code on campus in the 1990’s, and had consulted with several law school professors and student groups in the process. One of the constitutional law professors told them it was a terrible idea and almost certainly unconstitutional, but the school was still determined to enact the hate speech code until the local Lamda fraternity weighed in. They said that they recognized the fact that the hate speech code would protect homosexual students, but they did not support the proposal. They knew that any rule or law advocating one ideology or punishing another can open the door to similar laws advocating different ideologies. Hate speech codes and hate crime laws essentially turn over to the democratic process the job of protecting the rights of minorities. But majorities can change in a relatively short period of time, and very purpose of the First Amendment is to ensure that the rights of minorities are not in the hands of the majority.

The Hate Crimes Prevention Act might afford my religious beliefs additional protections, but only how and when the current majority chooses. When the majority changes its mind, my protections go out the window. So from a pragmatic standpoint, I would oppose any sort of hate crime legislation, leaving standard penal codes to do the work they were intended to do.

Tenth Circuit Finds Religious Bigotry is OK…As Long as You Attack Mormons

I recently came across this case and found it so interesting that I had to point it out. For some reason I can’t help but think this case would have held differently if these comments had been made towards a different religion or minority group.

United States Court of Appeal,
Tenth Circuit
HONEYVILLE GRAIN, INC., Petitioner/Cross-Respondant,
444 F. 3d 1269

Honeyville Grain is a Utah corporation with facilities in California and Utah. It processes and distributes food products, and it employs truck drivers to deliver its products. In February 2002, the Local 166 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, AFL-CIO (“the Union”) petitioned the Board for an election in a unit of Honeyville’s full-time and part-time truck drivers at the Rancho Cucamonga, California facility. “[T]he Board not only conducts elections, but it also oversees the propaganda activities of the participants in the election to insure that the voters have the opportunity of exercising a reasoned, untrammeled choice for or against labor organizations seeking representation rights.”

The Board conducted a secret-ballot election at Rancho Cucamonga on April 12, 2002. All thirty-two eligible voters cast ballots; twenty-three voted in favor of the Union, seven voted against the Union, and two ballots were challenged. Later that month, Honeyville filed ten objections to the election. Relevant to this appeal, Honeyville objected to comments made in a meeting held at the Union’s office five days before the election; twenty to twenty-five of the drivers attended. Meeting attendees testified that two Union agents, Rene Torres and David Acosta, stated:

1. Honeyville is run by Mormons;

2. Honeyville is giving its money to the Mormon Church;

3. Companies have tax incentive to give profits to churches, which should be shared with the workers instead;

4. Honeyville’s Mormon owners not only give their money to the Mormon Church, but they also give money to the Mormon missionaries; and

5. Mormons are missionaries, and missionaries speak good Spanish.

Mr. Torres is a driver with Honeyville Grain, and Mr. Acosta is a business agent and organizer for the Teamsters Local 396. The most extensive testimony came from Enrique Erazo, a Honeyville driver who attended the meeting where the religious remarks were made. At a Board hearing, Mr. Erazo testified that Mr. Torres stated:

[The drivers] have rights to benefits. So, the money the Company was making-was a rich Company and so, the money that the Company was making, they needed to share it with every worker and improve the benefits to workers.

Since the Company was a Company run by Mormons, [the Union] said they would … see to it that they would make better contributions-they did to the church and they would also distribute or share that money with Missionaries going out of the country and because the money was tax deductible and that is why they would give part of that money to the Mormon Church, instead of giving it to-sharing it with the workers-the opportunity that they have in order to better their way of life.

Mr. Erazo further testified that the meeting attendees applauded after Mr. Torres discussed the distribution of the company’s profits and referenced the religious beliefs of its owners. Neither party has put forward any evidence about the religious makeup of the unit employees.

At the outset of our review, let us be clear: the Union agents’ references to the religious belief of Honeyville’s owners at this meeting were wholly inappropriate for any representative campaign, and in no way do we condone such remarks. Religious prejudice can work in subtle ways. We are particularly troubled by the testimony that the employees applauded after the Union representative’s discussion of Honeyville’s profits and incentives to contribute to the Mormon Church.

In conclusion the majority felt that Honeywell had not meet its burden.
The party challenging an election on the basis of pre-election religious comments must initially show that the remarks were either inflammatory or formed the core or theme of the campaign. Here, Honeyville did not satisfy this preliminary burden. While we in no way condone the inappropriate, unwarranted, and unjustified religious references, substantial evidence from the record considered as a whole supports the Board’s conclusion that the comments were not inflammatory or central to the Union’s campaign. “[I]f supported by substantial evidence, we must affirm the Board’s conclusions even though we might reach a different result were we reviewing the record de novo.” (emphasis added). The Board did not abuse its discretion when it declined Honeyville’s request to set aside the election. Accordingly, we DENY Honeyville’s petition for review, and we ENFORCE the order of the Board.

Paul Kelly, Jr. dissented from the majority. He made several points I thought were very interesting.
Five days before the election, the union organizers were obviously trying to incite the employees to vote for the union. What better way than to point out that the owners or managers of the company were of a different faith and that the money they contributed to their church instead rightfully belonged to the workers? It is common knowledge that members of the LDS Church tithe. With all due respect to the majority, religious bigotry is blatant in this case. The court’s resolution, taking comfort in the apparent absence of overt abuse, vulgarity, or profanity in the union organizers’ diatribe, simply misses the forest for the trees.

The comments also disparaged the company, Honeyville, Inc., based upon its alleged charitable contributions which were deductible for federal income tax purposes. A corporation may deduct charitable contributions from taxable income, subject to a maximum of ten percent of such income. No evidence in this record suggests that Honeyville made such contributions.

The court states, as it must, that the references to the religion of Honeyville’s owners “were wholly inappropriate,” not to be condoned, and particularly troubling given the employee applause that followed these comments. Although the court’s holding is couched in deference, we need not defer to patently incorrect factual findings. Ignoring the obvious, the ALJ and the NLRB held that the statements in question were not an attempt to inject religious issues into the campaign by appealing to religious prejudice against the company and its owners. That conclusion is simply transparent. The only purpose of such comments was to mobilize the employees against their employer by suggesting that the employer preferred the religious interests of its owners over the welfare of its employees. This more than adequately satisfies a prima facie case of inflammatory remarks sufficient to shift the burden to the union to prove the remarks were truthful and germane. Were there any doubt, one need only consider the balance of those remarks. (“[T]he allegations in the Company’s objection raised a prima facie case that [the] religious slur did impermissibly infringe on the employees’ freedom of choice.”)

The union agents did not stop after slurring the Mormon Church. The next target was real or imagined contributions to Mormon missionaries. Finally came the non-germane commentary on the ability of the stereotypical missionaries to speak “good Spanish,” yet another reason to distrust the owners. In my view, this case cannot be meaningfully distinguished from Silverman’s. There, the Third Circuit held that a union official’s referring to a company official as a “stingy Jew” required the union to meet the burden of establishing the legitimacy of the remark, an impossible burden. Indeed, this court’s attempts to distinguish Silverman’s are not particularly availing. While it is true that Silverman’s remanded for a hearing and our review is for substantial evidence, the Third Circuit made it clear that calling a company official a “stingy Jew,” regardless of the labor policies of the company, could not be legitimate; the issue on remand was whether the union could prove that the remark was harmless.

This court also indicates that the Mormon discourse was an isolated incident, not the central theme of the union’s campaign. That rings hollow when one considers the nature of the ten “meetings” between the union and the employees. Although Mr. Stephenson testified that ten meetings occurred, the culmination of the union’s campaign occurred at the April 7th formal meeting where all or virtually all of the drivers were present. Prior to that, all that occurred was a series of informal encounters between employee organizers and substantially less than all of the employees. These informal encounters are nowhere near the equivalent of the April 7th meeting or rally. As such, the court’s conclusion that these statements were only an isolated incident bears no merit. Further, it strains credulity to suggest, as the court has, that under the “totality of the circumstances” these comments were not inflammatory, particularly given the employees’ embracing the comments with applause.

The comments in this case came at a critical time in the organizing process, were reprehensible and had absolutely no proper purpose in the election. I dissent.

As a former Spanish speaking missionary who served under one of the Honeyville owners , I also dissent.

Nordyke v. King: Right holding, wrong reasoning

A unanimous Ninth Circuit panel of judges recently held that the Second Amendment was incorporated (or applied) against state and local governments in the case Nordyke v. King. I haven’t read the whole opinion yet, but it looks like I agree with the outcome of the case, if not the methods the court used to reach the conclusion.

(I should mention at the outset that I don’t see Second Amendment issues as having a particular “Mormon” component. Firearms are not permitted in Mormon houses of worship, but the LDS Church has never taken a position on the appropriateness of gun control laws. My anecdotal experience with other Mormons has shown that there is a wide range of opinions on this subject within the Church. For my part, my interest in the Second Amendment is almost purely legal — I don’t own a firearm and I have never had any interest in hunting.)

The Second Amendment has a strange history with respect to state and local governments. The Supreme Court has chosen to incorporate constitutional amendments selectively against the states, usually under the Due Process Clause. Under this approach, constitutional provisions are incorporated when they involve “fundamental liberties.” In Nordyke, the Ninth Circuit panel held that the Second Amendment right to bear arms “ranks as fundamental, meaning ‘necessary to an Anglo-American regime of ordered liberty.'” In its decision the court specifically references District of Columbia v. Heller , the D.C. handgun ban case.

I agree with the court in Nordyke. I think the Second Amendment clearly should be incorporated against state and local governments to prevent unconstitutional restrictions on a constitutional right. But I, along with many legal scholars, disagree with the approach the Supreme Court has taken since the first incorporation case, Duncan v. Louisiana (1968). Justice White’s opinion for the Court in Duncan held that the defendant in that case was wrongfully convicted without a jury trial, and incorporated the Sixth Amendment jury protections against the states. However, Justice White’s opinion held that only fundamental rights within the system of Anglo-American jurisprudence could be incorporated. This produced a series of Supreme Court cases that have one-by-one incorporated almost all of the Bill of Rights against the states. The most notable exception is the Second Amendment, but there are others, including the quartering of troops, and a right to a jury in civil trials.

My thinking follows that of Justice Black, whose strident dissent in Duncan is just as valid today as it was in 1968. Justice Black asked, if only “fundamental” rights are incorporated, what determines whether a right is “fundamental”? This inevitably leads to reliance on extra-constitutional sources (such as history, cultural norms, etc.) which Justice Black thought were unreliable, easily manipulated, and unpredictable. I think this is exactly right, and I think this has opened the door for reading new and unintended rights into the U.S. Constitution, such as the ill-defined “right to privacy”. I agree with Justice Black that a better approach would be to incorporate the Bill of Rights in its entirety against state and local governments using the Privileges and Immunities Clause. The selective incorporation approach has reached similar results to that advocated by Justice Black, since almost all the Bill of Rights is now incorporated. But the Second Amendment is an obvious example of how this approach is inconsistent, so I disagree with the court’s reasoning in Nordyke.

To be clear, my quarrel really isn’t with the Ninth Circuit panel. The judges there followed the selective incorporation doctrine because they were thus bound by precedent. But as an armchair quarterback watching these cases without the burden of stare decisis, I think selective incorporation is hopelessly flawed. The good news is that the recent spat of gun control challenges is likely to result in a Supreme Court case that could overturn selective incorporation.

Photo credit:  Kevitivity.

Uproar in Connecticut

The Mirror of Justice blog reports that the last week’s controversial Connecticut legislation aimed at the Catholic Church has been tabled. According to Archbishop Henry Mansell of Hartford, the bill would “force a radical reorganization of the legal, financial, and administrative structure of [Catholic] parishes.” In case you think that wasn’t descriptive enough, PrawfsBlawg’s Rick Hills called the measure “The Connecticut Legislature’s preposterously unconstitutional attack on Catholicism.” Sensational enough for you now?

Professor Hills points out that, among other things, the proposed Connecticut measure is patently unconstitutional under Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah. (For a brief but excellent analysis of all the issues, see the open letter written by several prominent law professors to the Connecticut legislature.) For all the ugliness directed towards Mormons after Proposition 8 in California, there hasn’t been such an overt legislative assault on the LDS Church in any jurisdiction.

I certainly don’t see this as a Catholic or Mormon issue. Even with in a divisive political climate, I am utterly surprised that any legislator in the nation would sign his or her name to such a bill. In a Q&A on the National Review Online, Katheryn Jean Lopez asked Brian Brown (executive director of the National Organization for Marriage) “Why should anyone who’s not Catholic in Connecticut or Mormon in California care?” He responded:

All Americans, whatever their political leanings, should care when politicians propose to take out a specific religious group because partisans in one party don’t like its moral stands on important public issues.

Brown goes on to call for “a response that makes these partisans regret it.” I don’t support Brown’s vindictive approach, but I certainly agree that all Americans should be concerned that such a provision was ever contemplated.

Photo credit: Brent Danley

New federal lawsuit challenges Defense of Marriage Act

The same group that won the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision paving the way for gay marriages in that state has filed a new federal lawsuit challenging the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The suit alleges equal protection violations of same-sex spouses who were denied federal benefits (such as pensions or Social Security) under DOMA. I can’t go into great detail without access to the actual filings, but at first blush this seems like a clear-cut equal protection violation. In my opinion DOMA cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny, and this lawsuit could very well be the first step in dismantling DOMA.

Today’s lawsuit doesn’t challenge the provisions of DOMA that allow states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages effectuated in other states. Mary Bonauto, head of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), insists that her organization has no plans to challenge that portion of DOMA, but it’s only a matter of time before the rest of DOMA is challenged. If the federal benefits portion of DOMA is faulty (and I believe it is), then a similar argument can be made that the state provisions violate the Full Faith and Credit Clause.

I’ve never heard any of the legal counsel to the LDS Church give an explanation as to why the Church supported a federal constitutional amendment on traditional marriage, but I have always assumed it was because the Church’s legal advisers recognized that DOMA was probably unconstitutional. From a legal perspective I think an amendment to the U.S. Constitution on marriage is a bad idea, since marriages have always been left to the states. But if I am right and DOMA is destined to fail, then only a federal constitutional amendment could preserve the traditional definition of marriage on a national level.

God in the courtroom

I recently was present for oral arguments where a pastor was representing himself pro se. The judge mentioned that a party associated with the case was absent due to family health reasons, and the pastor requested that the court observe a moment of silence for the family. Not knowing how to respond, the judge and the rest of the court awkwardly complied and bowed their heads until the pastor declared the moment over, while I looked on incredulously.

This episode with a pro se litigant was unusual, but Deity is regularly invoked in many courtrooms. Where I currently practice, it is common for a court to open with with an announcement such as “May God save the United States and this Honorable Court.” Many judges and members of the bar bow their heads as this invocation is proclaimed. In many jurisdictions the swearing of an oath ends in “so help me God,” a phrase that was recently challenged again with respect to the swearing-in of President Barack Obama. Religious references are also common in the legislative branch. Sessions of Congress and state legislatures are traditionally opened with a prayer.

The bizarre courtroom incident with the pastor made me consider my own position on religion in the courtoom and other government functions. Despite being a personally religious person, I have always felt somewhat uncomfortable with the institutionalization of religion. Perhaps this is due in part to having grown up in a region of the United States where Mormonism was a very small minority religion. I had a sense that whenever God was invoked in public, it was done in such a way and with language that was different from my own religious beliefs. I also identified at an early age that there was a certain amount of hostility or rejection associated with my denomination. I was a Mormon kid, and being Mormon was a little weird. I only encountered invocations or public religious observations occasionally, but whenever they occurred I was keenly aware that they represented a difference between everyone else and me.

But even though I’m not always comfortable with religious references in government, I don’t think that they should be done away with entirely. I think it’s important that the democratic process be a free marketplace of all ideas, religious or otherwise. Consequently, I generally think that the exclusion of all religious references in any branch of government is inappropriate, and contrary to the purpose and language of the First Amendment. My general rule of thumb is that personal statements of conviction should always be allowed.

Prayers before legislative sessions or “so help me God” oaths are usually called “de minimis” religious references by the Supreme Court, and the Court seems to take a fairly tolerant approach to these references, since they were common practices long before the United States was even formed. But this isn’t an opinion that is universally shared. In January, MichaelNewdow (the same litigant who challenged the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance) sought to exclude a clergy invocation and benediction from the presidential inauguration and enjoin Chief Justice John Roberts from using the phrase “so help me God” in the presidential oath. Mr.Newdow had filed a similar lawsuit before at the second inauguration of President George W. Bush, and this most recent wasn’t likely to prevail because he made all the same arguments.

I noticed that U.C. Berkley Law professor Eugene Volokh had an interesting thought about the prayers at the inauguration. He suggested that “a President’s inviting a particular clergyman to say things at the President’s inauguration might well be treated as an extension of the President’s own right to express whatever views — including denominationally specific views — he wants to express as part of his own speech.” This seems like it touches on my rule of thumb regarding personal expression of speech, although it may not be applicable to courtroom oaths or legislative prayers because the courts and the legislatures are not embodied in one person.

As you likely know, Mr. Newdow’s lawsuit was again rejected and both the oath and the prayers went forward as planned. And thanks to a slip of the tongue by the Chief Justice and racial rhymes in the inaugural benediction, the references to Deity became the least controversial parts of the day.

New scrutiny on the billable hour

Last week the New York Times featured an article on how the down economy has forced many top law firms and their clients are reexamining the common law firm practice of billable hour. The billable hour is the focus of many young associates’ waking hours, and everyone in the legal industry recognizes it is a flawed model. Not only does it make for extremely stressful working conditions when associates are expected to bill 2400 hours or more a year, it also presents a strong financial incentive to the firm that runs counter to the interests of the clients. The Times article highlights how the poor economy has forced some of the big firms to make concessions to their clients that demand cheaper fees.

None of these critiques are new. In his now-infamous ABA Journal article “The Billable Hour Must Die,” Scott Turow recites many of the problems the billable hour poses to the profession. It creates tensions and suspicion between a lawyer and her client; it prevents lawyers from serving the public and underprivileged segments of society through pro bono work; it results in diminishing returns for ladder-climbing associates who have smaller and smaller chances of ever making partner.

The pressures of the billable hour are perhaps more acute for young LDS attorneys, who often hold ecclesiastical positions and have young children in addition to the significant burdens placed upon them by their employers. Everyone talks about a balanced lifestyle, but the current billable hour system virtually guarantees imbalance. I know quite a few LDS attorneys who have left private practice at large or mid-size firms and have entered the public sector. They all say the same thing — they don’t make as much money, but they are much happier. During law school I summered at a small immigration firm that mostly billed by project or by visa petition rather than by the hour. We still worked a few evenings or weekends when things were busy, but the stress level was significantly lower and the firm’s financial incentives didn’t conflict with those of the clients. Immigration practice might be particularly suited for that kind of billing, but I’m sure it’s not the only practice that could be more effectively without the billable hour.

In “The Billable Hour Must Die,” Turow cites the 1977 Supreme Court case of Bates v. Arizona (which invalidated previous prohibitions on lawyer advertising on First Amendment grounds) as the opening of the competitive floodgates in American law firms. And while I’m not completely naïve, I’d like to believe that the current economic turmoil might apply those same market forces in a positive way.

Photo credit: Darren Hester.

Commentary: ABA vs. Non-ABA Law School?

As many can attest, there is not a “one size fits all” approach that can be taken in choosing a law school. For most students, an American Bar Association (“ABA”)-certified school is arguably the preferred route. Nonetheless, I would submit there are limited instances where the selection of a non-ABA (but state-certified) law school may be appropriate. The key is to make the decision–whatever it is–as objectively as possible and in full understanding of the consequences. Of course I would hasten to add that from an LDS perspective, such decisions should also be made prayerfully.

Factors weighing into the decision would include (but is not limited to) the following–

  1. Whether someone is entering law school directly from an undergraduate or bachelor’s degree, or if there has been an intervening number of years of work experience;
  2. Whether that person can afford to proceed to law school without outside employment (even after considering the availability of student loans and scholarships), or whether the person must remain employed;
  3. The availability of law schools within a reasonable driving distance of home and employment;
  4. Whether the student would be willing to relocate solely for the purposes of entering into a law school;
  5. Whether the law school’s schedule will be compatible with outside employment; or in the alternative, whether a night school is available;
  6. Whether the school is ABA accredited; or in the alternative, whether one would be able to accept the implications of going to a school that only has state accreditation (including certain jurisdictional limitations on where one can practice, or possible disabilities relating to transfer or relocation to other states);
  7. Family considerations (i.e., spouse, dependants, significant others, etc.);
  8. The quality of the school(s) being considered, independent of the certification issue, including the track record of students that have have previously graduated from the school;
  9. The student’s prior accomplishments and legal aptitude (i.e., GPA and LSAT), including whether the student will be able to receive one or more scholarships at the desired school;
  10. The cost of tuition for the schools being considered (or alternatively, the estimated amount of debt one will face after completion of studies); and,
  11. One’s reasons for going to law school in the first place, and to what extent these reasons are career-oriented.

Arguably, it would seem as if the last factor would be among the most important. If one’s motive is specifically to join the top 5% of law firms anywhere in the country, or to work in a high profile position in federal or state government, the school one goes to becomes highly relevant. At the other extreme, there are those who study the law purely from the standpoint of personal interest or to supplement knowledge in one’s current career. In such instances, the school becomes somewhat less relevant.

Between these extremes are combinations of personal interest and career in various amounts, and these have to be balanced out carefully against the remaining factors as outlined above. #SJR#

Commentary: One Path to Becoming an LDS Lawyer

Early this past week, in response to information I received from my local chapter of the J. Reuben Clark Legal Society, I made inquiry to Brother Dunaway regarding this blog. Not long thereafter, I was welcomed as a contributor, making this my very first post. Later the same week, I was introduced before the bar of the Federal Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, and officially was admitted there.

So it’s been a week of beginnings.

But in introducing myself and the posts I anticipate I will publish here, I wanted to take a moment (–all right, perhaps a few moments–) to talk about two other beginnings: The one which led me to the restored gospel, and the one which led me to the law.

For it came to pass that for much of my life, I had experiences with neither. In the first place, I was brought up in a secular family, with my Dad’s side of the tree being Jewish, and my mother’s side having Christian–or at least Gentile–origins. And in the second place, my undergraduate degree was in computer science–not law–and among my first jobs following graduation was to design and code changes to mainframe computer programs.

As important as the first beginning is, I will only touch upon it by way of reference. For in my earliest experiences with EDS, I was introduced to a colleague and mentor who had introduced the Gospel to me, beginning with, of all things, a family blessing over a bowl of french onion soup. Many missionary discussions and over a year later, I came to a testimony of my own, and in 1993, was baptized. At my family’s website, I provide a more detailed account, which is referenced further in the October 2008 Ensign (“Online Outreach,” Comments section).

Thus, on towards my second beginning. For me, the road to law began rather quietly. The seeds may have been planted during my undergraduate years when I was assigned to write a term paper regarding censorship in the public schools, and in the process needed to reference a number of appellate and Supreme Court opinions. In reading through the reporter volumes, in ways I am unable to describe or express, an interest was kindled, even to the point where I found myself reading opinions that were entirely off topic. At the conclusion of my project, I filed these things in the back of my mind. After all, my professional goal was to work with computers, not to practice law, and anyway, it’s difficult to change academic goals mid-stream.

Even so, I was interested enough to later request information from BYU regarding its law school, which I promptly filed away as well.

A number of years passed. I was in a seemingly stable career, had married Melinda in the Nashville Temple, and had one child on the way. At work, though, I could sense a number of changes happen around me, and I began to question whether my skills and talents that I had then could sustain me over the long term. Melinda and I talked about these concerns. Then, as I was cleaning out my file cabinet, I happened upon the BYU literature that I had requested some years before. Melinda looked through the documents and asked, “Why don’t you again consider a law degree?” It was a question I took seriously, and when we prayed over the question, I felt a clear and unmistakable prompting that it’s what I should do.

But how? I wasn’t in a position to become a full-time student, I could not quit my job, and I was in even less of a position to move. So I initially dismissed the prompting. Even so, Melinda suggested that I register for the LSAT anyway, just to see how I would do. I agreed, and I registered to take the test the following February. Surely there would be no conflict with the test schedule, I thought to myself — after all, our baby wasn’t expected to be born until near the middle of April, and the pregnancy seemed to be uneventful.

As it turned out, due to a medical emergency, our daughter Andrea had to be born ten weeks early, during the same week as the LSAT. I had my test preparation manuals, but I was mentally in no shape to use them. I was then spending much time at Vanderbilt University Medical Center checking on Melinda, who was then recovering from an unplanned C-section, and Andrea, who was beginning her life at the neonatal intensive care unit. Her future in particular appeared very uncertain at that point. I asked Melinda, as she was yet in bed recovering, is there any way I could go forward with the LSAT? Her inspired reply was: Take it anyway.

I might still not have taken the test but for the fact that the NICU was located literally within walking distance of the university’s law school, where it was to be administered. So only four days after Andrea was born, I left the NICU, walked over to the law school, somehow was blessed with enough presence of mind to work through the test calmly, then returned to the hospital. I later learned I had scored just slightly above average — not a stellar performance by any means, but it was a miracle under the circumstances. Not long after that, Melinda happened upon a local law school that was structured around nighttime study, and there’s where I ultimately went.

There were repeated promptings during law school itself, usually during times of significant stress or trial. I may touch on these experiences in later articles. But for now, I hope it is sufficient when I saw that I was not left comfortless during these times. There were repeated assurances through the Holy Ghost that somehow, some way, I would have the requisite capacity to complete my studies and to pass the bar exam. And now it has come to pass. In fact, I did pass the bar exam on the first attempt, and prior to that, had managed to graduate with honors, finishing in the top 5% of my class.

And in yet another sign from above that the transition to law was needful, my former position with EDS ultimately collapsed, and I was terminated literally in the same month that I graduated from the law school. Today, I have a private practice in a small town south of Nashville, Tennessee. And in my office, I have pictures on my wall to make it very clear at the outset that I’m a Latter-day Saint, beginning with pictures of Jesus Christ and the Salt Lake Temple in my reception area.

Every path to the legal profession is unique. But I would submit that some experiences are more unique than others, and this is perhaps one of them. Still, the common thread is this: If, in the year of my college graduation, someone were to tell me that I would become a Christian and later become an attorney, I would have responded that he would be crazy for saying that even one of these things would happen. What made the difference in both cases was in following the promptings of Holy Ghost. And this is how it is possible to embark upon such an unconventional path as mine.

Just very quickly in closing: I presently serve as the second assistant in the High Priests group, and Melinda serves as a second counselor in the Young Women’s presidency. And from all indications, Andrea recovered fully from her rough start in life. Bright in both personality and intelligence, she does very well in school these days. She even reads at the fourth grade level, even though she is only part way into first grade, and insists often on watching the NASA satellite channel.

As with all blogs, more to follow. I leave these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

–Sander J. “Sandy” Rabinowitz is an attorney whose solo practice is located in Columbia, Tennessee.