The J. Reuben Clark Law Society is comprised of primarily Latter-day Saint or Mormon attorneys (members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), however membership is open to all attorneys who desire membership and whose goals match those of the organization. The J. Reuben Clark Law Society mission statement is: “We affirm the strength brought to the law by a lawyer’s personal religious conviction. We strive through public service and professional excellence to promote fairness and virtue founded upon the rule of law.”
The J. Reuben Clark Law Society has three organizational purposes. One, to encourage high moral and professional standards throughout the legal profession; two, to serve the professional needs of its members; and three, to assist the J. Reuben Clark Law School in fulfilling its educational and professional mission. “In pursuing these objectives, the Society draws on the ideals of Brigham Young University’s law school and on the philosophy and personal example of J. Reuben Clark.”
The Law Society’s three core values can be extrapolated from the objectives, namely: public service, loyalty to the rule of law and to the constitution of the United States, and appreciation for the religious dimension in both American society and in a lawyer’s personal life.
Retired Chief Justice Warren Burger at the dedication of the J. Reuben Clark Law School building in 1975 said,
“My wish is that the teaching here will always be guided by the need for lawyers who will understand their mission in terms of the great traditions of our profession. That tradition is to serve people’s needs, acting as the healers of the inevitable conflicts bound to arise in our complex, competitive, modern society; to participate at all times in the affairs of community and nation, and to execute their trust in keeping with the traditions of Western civilization, with the ideals of the Declaration of 1776 and the Constitution—always guided, as the authors of those great documents were guided, by a Divine Providence. That is indeed a large mission for any school or university, but the background of 100 years at Brigham Young University assures that it will be accomplished.”
History of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society
In an interview, Scott Cameron, former Executive Director of the JRCLS, described the history of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society. The society began as a conversation between Dean Bruce Hafen, then dean of the law school, and Ralph Hardy, a private attorney in Washington D.C. The crux of the conversation was their agreement that by virtue of being Mormon, most people assumed a relationship with Brigham Young University’s law school whether or not this was actually the case. Rather than fight the association, it was worth maximizing the potential of that connection through an institution. Hafen and Hardy also agreed that a national directory of JRCLS attorneys should be a priority, and discussed the possibility of the society functioning in part as a fundraising mechanism for professorships.
After this initial conversation, the J. Reuben Clark Law Society started with 2,250 members in 1988. In 2010, the membership stood at 10,771. In the beginning, nearly all members were alumni of the J. Reuben Clark School of Law, Brigham Young University’s law school. Currently, nearly half of the members are BYU alums. In 1988 there were five chapters, and currently there are 94 chapters, including 30 international chapters.
Current Goals for the J. Reuben Clark Law Society
As elucidated by Nancy Van Slooten, current chair of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society, the current goals of the organization include facilitating pro bono work (or free legal aid for those who cannot afford the services on their own); improving the website; building the society’s branding, recognition and reputation; and fostering connections between members of the society.
Goals for the international chapters are similar. The main goals of the organization for the smaller international chapters are to support these smaller chapters and to build publicity. This includes encouraging a proactive attitude amongst members of the society to ensure that being a JRCLS attorney means something in terms of giving practitioners a sense of purpose in their work, to be influences for good, and to be known for good.
The J. Reuben Clark Law Society and the LDS Church
Nancy Van Slooten, current chair of the J. Reuben Clark law society has said,
“What makes the Law Society great is the sense of additional purpose, and that we are always in line with the brethren [the apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints]. If we did not have that ecclesiastical line through the law school and BYU, we would just be another organization. We would not have the strength, power, and security that we have. We want to stay in line with the brethren.”