News Archive 2011

Christ As Testator

With the semester winding down and finals starting up, it has been difficult to find time to post recently. There is something I thought would be interesting to share, however. Recently I was reading in the New Testament right before I started studying for my Decedent’s Estates class, and I found a passage where Paul describes the purpose of the Atonement in terms of estate planning. It offered new, and timely, insights into a topic we have all studied. In case some of you haven’t taken a decedent’s estates class, or if it has been a while, here is a little basic refresher:

For someone to give a gift at death, they need to complete a will or testament. If the testament is not completed by the person giving the gift (the “testator”), that person’s wishes cannot be fulfilled. However, even if the testator completes the testament long before his death, the devisees (people receiving the gifts) have absolutely NO interest in the gift until the testator dies. They can only claim the gift after the testator dies. In other words, the testator has to die before the devisees can receive their inheritance.

In Hebrews chapter 9 verse 15 Paul says “by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions (the testamentary “gift”) . . . they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.”

Then, in the next verse, “For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.

“For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth.”

Christ is the testator, and we are the devisees. He had a testamentary gift He wanted to give to us (our “eternal inheritance”), but in order for us to claim that gift, according to Estate law, He had to die first. Only then, through the Testator’s death, can we receive our inheritance of redemption and eternal life.

It has always interested me to see how an individual’s career choice can inform his understanding of the gospel (i.e. Elder Uchtdorf always talks about aviation, and Elder Oaks tends to talk a lot about justice and mercy). For myself, as I took a break from studying for my Decedent’s Estates final, I was offered a new insight (well, new to me) as to why the Atonement was necessary.

Biggest Surprises of the 2011 Top Ten List

A few things jumped out at me after I reviewed the data from this year’s top ten list.

First, is the skyrocketing costs of law school.  For example, consider the University of Arizona School of Law. Out of state tuition is $41,051, plus $11,840 in living expenses for a total one year cost of $63,101! That’s mind blowing! $63K a year, for a single person to live in Tucson and attend a public school.

Another thing that stood out to me is the number of LDS students at Virginia and Phoenix. Currently, the University of Virginia Law currently has 60 LDS students and the Phoenix School of Law with 90.
Very impressive, way to go.

Lastly, I’m always underwhelmed with the University of Colorado Law School, which as far as I could tell has no LDS students. From the outside, Colorado Law would appear to be a strong hold for LDS students.It lies just east of the “Mormon Belt”, it is highly ranked, and reasonably priced.
But then again why settle for the world’s second best snow?

Speaking Up

Before I started law school I was told that the discussions in law classes often challenged your beliefs. I knew that those kinds of situations were inevitable, especially considering I was leaving BYU to study at Arizona State. But for whatever reason, belief-challenging discussions didn’t seem to present themselves until this semester.

In addition to the Con Law class I am taking this semester I am also taking a seminar on free speech. Over the course of yesterday’s class the discussion turned to de-regulating the availability of pornography and allowing more swear words in TV broadcasts. Everyone in the room that contributed to the discussion appeared to be in support of both ideas, at least to a certain extent. I chose to stay quiet on those topics, although I later regretted my silence. Toward the end of class our professor quoted a story about John Stuart Mill and how Mill believed religious questions were irrelevant to his parliamentary duties, after which he said, “I wish the Republicans would take this suggestion to heart, given the recent comments about Mormonism being a cult. But that’s unlikely to happen.” Considering the amount of thought I have given to this subject as of late, I spoke up. I mentioned that several of the candidates in the debate on Tuesday night said things similar to Mill, although not all of them. As it turned out, no one else in the room had seen the debate, but everyone expressed surprise at the idea that a Republican would support an idea they agreed with. At that point, the girl next to me said, “let me guess, was it the Mormons?” After I said yes, she responded with, “it figures” (I wasn’t sure how to take that, and I still don’t).

I’m not saying that I’m opposed to people challenging my political ideologies, or that Mormonism is connected to the Republican Party. However, it’s interesting to learn how to contribute to religious/moral/political discussions when I feel so outnumbered, even at the #1 most “Mormon-friendly law school” of 2010. It causes me to wonder if I will continue to feel like a minority after I graduate. Either way, I’m definitely not at BYU anymore.

Presidential Primaries and the Religious Test Clause

Considering the fact that there are two members of the LDS church running for President, it seemed inevitable that the “Mormon issue” would rise to the surface again. Mitt Romney attempted to confront the criticism regarding his faith in the 2008 election, but it didn’t seem to quell the unwarranted fears of those that don’t understand LDS doctrine. Around the same time Mitt Romney confronted the religion issues facing his candidacy, Barack Obama was forced to fend off allegations that he was not a Christian and was, in fact, Muslim. Personally, I was shocked at how serious these religious issues were at the time. In this country of religious liberty I assumed that, as a society, our level of religious tolerance was higher than it proved to be. Last week, those ghosts of 2008 seemed to emerge all over again.

Article VI paragraph 3 of the United States Constitution provides that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” This Religious Test Clause clarifies that United States officials, including the President, are not required to accept a particular religion or faith in order to obtain their office. Certainly, when individual Americans voice a religious preference for candidates of public office they do not violate this clause; however, acting on such a preference violates its spirit. No candidate for the presidency of the United States should be excluded from consideration simply because they are Christian or not.

One thing I noticed this past week is a relatively high level of support for the church in the face of bigoted attacks. This support, coming from the general public and the media alike, seems to be greater than it was 3 to 4 years ago. It is likely that the church and its members will continue to be under the microscope in the near future, but I have faith that the American people in general will abide by the spirit of the Religious Test Clause and choose our next President according to the vital issues of our time and not religious misunderstandings.

The Upcoming Term and Proposition 8

As a student currently taking a constitutional law class, one of my first thoughts this semester was, “Wow. My Con Law book is enormous.” In fact, I recently heard an undergrad say to his friend, “Is that guy reading the dictionary?” as they walked past me while I studied. Fortunately for me, I find most of my Con Law cases interesting. Unfortunately for future law students, that textbook is about to get bigger.

The new SCOTUS term is set to start this next week (October 3rd), and it has the potential to be one of the most influential terms in recent memory. The Court already has cases on its docket regarding ministerial exceptions and searches and seizures. However, there is a good chance the Court will also address such hot-button issues as affirmative action, immigration (Arizona’s SB 1070 case), “Obamacare,” California’s Prop 8, and the Defense of Marriage Act. Although all these topics can spark vigorous debate, the topic LDS attorneys and law students are most likely to have strong opinions about is same-sex marriage.

Although there is potential for Prop 8 (Perry v. Schwarzenegger) to be heard by the US Supreme Court this term, in my opinion it will not happen. In January the 9th Circuit Court certified a question to the California Supreme Court regarding the defendants’ standing. The California Supreme Court heard oral argument on the question earlier this month, and their decision is still pending. Simply put, this gives the Prop 8 case two possible paths: (1) the CA Supreme Court can decide there is no standing, potentially resulting in a dismissal, and (2) the CA Supreme Court can decide there is standing, allowing the 9th Circuit to make a decision on the appeal. If option 2 occurs, I think we can all agree that no matter what they decide, the case will be appealed to the US Supreme Court. However, the chances of the Supreme Court granting certiorari before this next term ends are relatively slim. One thing is certain, though: this could be a blockbuster term for the United States Supreme Court, one that will force future Con Law students to spend even more time hitting the books.

Lawyers as Problem Solvers

A couple of years ago, before I started law school, I worked at my dad’s firm. He does a lot of contract drafting for commercial developments, and his partner does construction litigation. As I spoke to my dad’s partner one afternoon, he clarified the difference between those two fields of law in a way that stuck with me. He said, “your dad prevents problems, and I clean up problems.” My dad, who happened to be in the vicinity, responded by saying, “many attorneys forget that we are not here to create problems, but to resolve them.” As a clerk at a family law firm this summer, I realized that those words are not only applicable to any field of law, but they are also important to remember as we work with clients that are passing through very difficult experiences.

Today I received an email with a link to a talk by James E. Faust, which was posted on YouTube by the J. Reuben Clark Law Society. The video, entitled “Lawyers as Healers,” discusses the duties we, as attorneys (or future attorneys), have to society, and how we can best fulfills those duties. President Faust counsels, “you need to be more than skilled advocates, you need to be decent human beings trying to solve problems.” Of course, this is counsel that is applicable to all attorneys, and not just those of the LDS faith.

As I watched the video I was reminded of a talk by Boyd K. Packer that I read during my 1L year. In that talk President Packer declares, “The Lord needs you who are trained in the law. You can do for this people what others cannot do . . . You have, or should have, the spirit of discernment. It was given you when you had conferred upon you the gift of the Holy Ghost.” This counsel is both humbling and ennobling. Although President Faust’s words are applicable to all attorneys, President Packer notes that there is an added responsibility for lawyers within the church. If we live up to that responsibility by trying our best to resolve problems, we can bring peace to the lives of our clients and fulfillment to our own lives.

The Reality of Student Loans

“Yep. It’s not just monopoly money anymore.”

My wife received her student loan information in the mail a few days ago, and the reality of our student loans hit us both pretty heavily. As I work on my JD, my wife is concurrently working on her MSW. And, like most grad students in general, we rely on student loans to help us pay for those extra letters we’ll add to the end of our names on graduation day and that piece of paper we’ll frame and put in our office (about half of law students graduate with at least $100k in student loans). Knowing that we don’t need to worry about making payments on the loans until we graduate tends to make the loans seem almost fake. However, the reality of the fact that we are tens of thousands of dollars in debt, thanks to student loans, has hit us hard.

This moment of enlightenment (discouragement?) is compounded by the current state of the economy and the job market. It causes me to wonder: How long will it take us to pay off these loans? Will we ever pay off the loans at all? Will I find a good job after I graduate? Where can I find a cardboard box large enough for my wife and I to live in? I’ve always believed that a legal education is something I will never regret obtaining. I still feel that way. The real question, however, is how long it will take after graduation before my family and I can live comfortably.

Fortunately, I attend one of the law schools on this list, which means I won’t have over $100k in student debt when I graduate (interesting sidenote: 5 of the top 10 “Mormon Friendly Law Schools” from 2010 are mentioned on the list). As a result, I’ll either be able to pay off my student loans more quickly or buy some Wendy’s chicken nuggets.