Brigham Young and Joseph Smith had some very harsh things to say about lawyers, but from the beginning, Mormon attorneys sought to create an ecclesiastical identity for themselves other than that of lying tricksters bent on stirring up litigation. For example, in 1850 one Mormon lawyer noted in his diary that his clientâ€™s case was resolved by an â€œElders meeting,â€ a method that he praised for â€œsav[ing] the time expense & hard feelings of a long and tedious lawsuitâ€ and which he commended to the assembled â€œpeople.â€ Brigham Young eventually came to adopt this self-conception of Mormon attorneys as working in the spirit of the church courts. Despite his hell-fire and damnation sermons against lawyers in the 1850s, his opposition to attorneys was never absolute. As early as 1852, for example, he said, â€œWe want every branch of science taught in this place that is taught in the world,â€ including the â€œstudy of law.â€ An 1872 sermon shows a further softening. While insisting that he did not â€œwant any lawyers in our society,â€ he went on to say:
There are many lawyers who are very excellent men. What is the advice of an honorable gentleman in the profession of the law? â€œDo not go to law with your neighbors â€¦ .â€ Why not â€¦ say we will arbitrate this case, and we will have no lawsuit, and no difficulty with our neighbor, to alienate our feelings one with another? This is the way we should do as a community.
From the amoral tricksters of his earlier sermons, Youngâ€™s thinking developed to a point in which he envisioned wise and learned men who acted in the spirit of church-based reconciliation rather than court-based litigation.
Youngâ€™s rapprochement with the legal profession went beyond mere rhetoric. In 1868, he spoke with Franklin S. Richards, the son of a close associate, about his future plans. Young Richards replied that he was studying medicine. Young insisted that it would be better if Richards were to take up the study of law, â€œbecause the time will come when the Latter-day Saints will need lawyers of their own to defend them in the Courts and strive with fearless inspiration to maintain their constitutional rights.â€ Richards went on to become an attorney, eventually serving as general counsel to the church. An 1883 sketch of Richards presented him as the incarnation of Youngâ€™s later vision of learned lawyers embedded within the context of church courts. â€œAs a churchman and High Councilor, [Richardsâ€™] advice has uniformly been to litigants to settle their difficulties themselves or by arbitration in the modes prescribed by Church discipline; that only such cases should go to the courts as could not be adjusted by these methods.â€
As the nineteenth century progressed, Mormons continued to treat the legal profession with suspicion, but they simultaneously sought to sanctify it by embedding Mormon lawyers in the narratives of priesthood authority and revelation that stood at the core of the church judiciary. Hence, one Latter-day Saint attorney recorded that in the early 1880s he and his law partner were rebuked from the pulpit by their local bishop for having â€œblossomed out as full-fledged lawyers.â€ At about the same time, the stake president of another young man who was considering law school told him â€œYou will go to Hell!â€ and urged him to consult with Brigham Youngâ€™s successor as president of the church, John Taylor. The young man met with Taylor, who attempted to dissuade him. When he was unconvinced, Taylor laid hands on his head and gave him a blessing that cautiously sanctified his legal education. â€œBrother Moyle, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by the virtue of the Holy Priesthood, we lay our hands upon thy head to seal upon thee a blessing,â€ Taylor began. He continued, â€œwe say unto thee that [law] is a dangerous profession, one that leads many people down to destruction.â€ The blessing, however, went on to affirm the young manâ€™s choice. â€œ[I]f thou wilt abstain from arguing falsely and on false principles maintaining only the things that can be honorably sustained by honorable men â€¦ the Lord God will bless thee in this calling â€¦ with wisdom and intelligence, and with the light of revelation.â€ Using language normally reserved for men chosen as missionaries or for other church positions, the blessing concluded, â€œWe set thee apart â€¦ to go forth as thou hast desired to study and become acquainted with the principles of law and equity.â€ The trend continued when a decade later, Taylorâ€™s successor, Wilford Woodruff, issued a â€œcallâ€ to one young school teacher to travel east to Cornell to study law. In doing so, he fused the study of law with the mechanism â€“ a call from the prophet â€“ through which earlier generations of Mormons had been sent forth to proclaim Joseph Smithâ€™s message of restoration or to found distant settlements as part of establishing Zion in the Great Basin.