News Story

New Zealand Latter-day Saint Lawyers Discuss Ways to Strengthen Communities

Pacific law group focuses on high ethics, morals and standards, strengthened by personal faith in God

The J. Reuben Clark Law Society (JRCLS) is an international society of faith-based attorneys and law students that has more than 60 chapters around the world. Many are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The three New Zealand chapters of this society gathered in person at the JRCLS Asia Pacific Annual Conference on 30 July - 1 August 2021 in the Manukau area of Auckland. Current COVID-19 safety regulations for New Zealand were followed.

Lawyers and law students from across the country attended, from Dunedin to Whangarei.

Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, JRCLS members from Australia and other countries in the Asia Pacific region were unable to attend.

The Society’s mission is to "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 gathering focused on how a gospel-centred life can aid those in legal professions to better help their clients and strengthen the communities in which they live.

The conference included sessions on women in the law, how to use Christian principles in adversarial legal systems, and a primer on the “advancement of religion” as one of the historic legal four “heads of charity” in New Zealand law.

Church Legal Counsel Gordon Tanner and Auckland Chapter President Panama Le'au'anae meet at the J Reuben Clark Law Society conference in Auckland. August 2021.2021 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

Panama Le’au’anoe, one of the conference organisers and a member of the Church, has a criminal defence practice in Manukau. He is also a member of a bishopric in the Auckland area.

“If we recognize that we are all children of our Heavenly Father, that influences the way we practice law and how we view our clients and fellow attorneys,” he said. “I try to follow the teachings of the Saviour and use them as my core values.”

Three New Zealand District Court judges who are members of the Church attended and presented. Judge Gordon Matenga is from Hastings and Judge Brandt Shortland is from Kaikohe. Read more about Judge Matenga and Judge Shortland here.

They were joined by Judge Jonathan Down from the Hamilton District Court.

Dr. Keakaokawai Hemi is Assistant Vice Chancellor at the University of Waikato in Hamilton with interests in Pacific peoples and the law, and religious freedom issues. She attended the Women in the Law session, along with her two daughters who are studying law.

“It was so important to gather together to share our experiences and to realize that we are not alone,” she said. While she loves the process of practicing law, she thinks there is so much more to being a good lawyer.

“I believe that there is a ministering aspect to the law, to help the whole person beyond the issues at hand. We also need more voices at the table with more legal people of faith to be involved in the conversations about issues like human rights and religious freedom.”

An impressive group of Latter Day Saint women took part in the Women in the Law workshop at the J. Reuben Clark Law Society Asia Pacific Conference in Auckland. New Zealand, August 20212021 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

Hamilton New Zealand JRCLS Chapter leader, Sam Hood, and his colleague Joseph Shaw led a discussion about being a good Christian and a good lawyer too.

“I think the values we teach in our church about human dignity and ethics have helped me balance my job with my personal beliefs,” Hood said.

Aaron Young, a new lawyer, says he likes coming to meet other Latter-day Saint legal people. “These meetings give me opportunities to meet others on many levels like partners and even judges. You just don’t have that chance in other places.”

Garry Reynolds is a full-time senior missionary and former judge now serving as an Associate Area Legal Counsel at the Pacific Area Office of the Church in its Office of General Counsel.

“This meeting refreshed my optimism about young people in the law that want to do good in the world with their legal skills,” he said. “I think it’s good for society to have these kinds of people making their contributions. I also had a great time with fun and laughter which is not always part of legal meetings.

Judge Shortland spoke to the group on the topic: “No other Gods before me: The importance of righteous lawyers and judges.” 

The conference’s Saturday sessions concluded with a Polynesian buffet and remarks from Gordon Tanner, Area Legal Counsel for the Church in the Pacific Area.

He talked about the role of the Office of General Counsel in the Church, the importance of religious freedom to society, and urged all present to learn more about religious freedom, and to be ready to speak out when those freedoms are attacked in the public square. He also offered a framework for building and strengthening relationships based on respect for the inherent human dignity of all.

“We want to follow the example of our Saviour and love and lift all around us,” Tanner said.

In closing, he encouraged all to seek personal revelation to help them guide their families and careers.

He quoted Church president, Russell M. Nelson, who said, “One of the things the Spirit has repeatedly impressed upon my mind since my new calling as president of the Church is how willing the Lord is to reveal His mind and will. The privilege of receiving revelation is one of the greatest gifts of God to His children.”

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