Graduates of Brigham Young University's law school should recognize God's hand in shaping the Constitution of the United States and work to preserve it through good character, said Elder Neal Maxwell, a member of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
Speaking at the Founder's Day Dinner celebrating the 30th anniversary of BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School, Elder Maxwell said that men and women guided by deity had prepared the Constitution and strengthened it over more than 200 years. BYU alumni should be among those
"The Constitution of the United States is deserving of our prolonged spiritual applause," Elder Maxwell said.
"As alumni, what you are is more important than what you know about the law," he added. "The influence of your character is more important than legal expertise."
The dinner drew more than 1,000 alumni, students, friends and sponsors, including Elder James E. Faust of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, BYU President Cecil Samuelson and Justice Michael Wilkins of the Utah Supreme Court.
Michael Neider was a member of the law school's first class in 1973, which spent that year meeting in a Catholic school in downtown Provo, St. Francis of Assisi, while the law building was under construction. Neider's group met in the chapel. They played softball every day at lunch and took to calling themselves the "chapel champions."
He downplayed the gamble taken by students in that charter class. The school wasn't accredited. Without accreditation, the students, upon graduation, would not be allowed to take the bar exam in 48 states.
"Ernest Wilkinson, Dallin Oaks and the church were behind it, so we knew it would be a success," Neider said. "It was a risk, but I never doubted because it was started by men respected around the country and in the legal community."
The early graduates have done well. A member of the fifth class, Jay Bybee, was sworn in as a member of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in March. The school presented him with its Honored Alumnus Award Thursday night.
Bybee praised the hard work of students who came after him and who raised the school's reputation, and Bybee's with it. For example, BYU has ranked in the top 20 percent of the nation's 177 law schools for the past 20 years, according to U.S. News & World Report.
"I'm sort of standing on the shoulders of students who went out and did good work," Bybee said. "The value of my degree has certainly appreciated."
Associate dean Scott Cameron said he enjoys Founder's Day dinners because former students and corporate sponsors subsidize the meals of current students.
"It's wonderful to see the students and graduates interact and realize how they help each other with their performance," he said.