J. Reuben Clark Law School Dean of Admissions Gayla Sorenson spoke to BYU students about advocating for those in need during a campus devotional address on August 8.
Sorenson opened her address by discussing her experiences as a lawyer, and her inspirations behind her career. Sorenson was inspired by J. Reuben Clark Law School Dean Rex Lee and Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as she made decisions regarding her academic path at BYU.
“My choice of a major as a freshman at BYU was greatly simplified when I discovered they had both been accounting majors, so accounting was my choice as well,” Sorenson said.
Sorenson said she began to gravitate towards a law degree following the release of a talk show segment in which Utah residents were unable to defend their stance on controversial topics.
“For me it was not enough to defend a position and be thought reasonable. My highs came when I persuaded someone to think about an issue or another person in a way they had not thought about before,” Sorenson said.
Sorenson encouraged BYU students to emulate this stance of advocacy in both public and legal settings, value those who advocate for their success, and highlighted three principles of being an advocate.
“First, recognize we are all called to be advocates. Second, determine some key elements of what being an effective advocate means. Third, contemplate for who and what we should advocate,” Sorenson said.
BYU students should act as advocates because Jesus Christ himself was an advocate, Sorenson said.
Sorenson said a major drop in students enrolling in law school shows society values advocates less.
“We need to change this imbalance by playing the role of advocate more and the role of critic less,” Sorenson said. “Remember, Christ is our example, so civility must be paramount. There is no room for mocking, labeling, bullying or belittling.”
Sorenson said all who act as advocates should present their case to those who can grant relief. In quoting former United States Justice Antonin Scalia, Sorenson said “nothing is accomplished by trying to persuade someone who lacks the authority to do what you’re asking.”
Sorenson said advocates must earn the trust of those they are trying to persuade by getting to know them. Sorenson said underlying relationships can enhance and strengthen advocacy.
Those acting as advocates should remember the opposing point of view.
“Effective advocates can still ably represent their client’s strengths while conceding that the other point of view is not entirely devoid of merit, and their credibility is significantly enhanced as a result,” Sorenson said.
Sorenson recommended advocates be willing to accept any clients, regardless of their imperfections. She said she found it easier to advocate for others as she got to know them.
Sorenson said that regardless of who advocates represent, God will prepare the advocate to properly defend and relate to those in need.
Sorenson used the Lamanite King Lamoni’s wife from the Book of Mormon as an example of advocacy. When Lamoni experienced a change of heart and fell into a coma, his constituents wanted to place him in a tomb. Lamoni’s wife acted as an advocate and called the prophet Ammon to investigate the king.
“Others say that he is dead and that he stinketh, and that he ought to be placed in the sepulchre; but as for myself, to me he doth not stink,” the queen said.
After examining Lamoni, Ammon declared the king would awaken the next day. Sorenson said without the queen’s advocacy, Lamoni would have lost his life.
Sorenson closed her address and said those who advocate for others will be guided by God and will be provided opportunities to advocate for those in need.
“Whatever specific realm we may be advocating in, if we promote unity and invite others to love one another, we can be sure we are advocating in a way that is pleasing to Him,” Sorenson said.