When Rex E. Lee was approached in 1971 about the creation of the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University, he thought it was a "bad idea."
He still thought it was a bad idea when he was approached by LDS Church authorities about spearheading its creation. And in the months of frustration of trying to hire a faculty, he became even more convinced it wasn't going to work."It makes no sense," Lee told Dallin H. Oaks, then president of Brigham Young University. Oaks agreed, but added, "That must mean the Lord wants it, and if he wants it, he won't let it fail."
Not only did the law school succeed, it has become one of the finest in the nation and a prototype for others just starting up, Lee told several hundred alumni who gathered at the Little America Friday night.
Graduates of the law school - approaching 2,000 in number - are now in the most prestigious law firms in every major city in the nation. There have been five U.S. Supreme Court clerkships awarded in the school's first 13 years.
And the law school continues to teach more than just the law.
"The value of this institution becomes more important as we see what in fact has come from it," said Lee, a former solicitor general and now a professor at the law school.
With the help of nationally respected law professors, Lee said, the law school survived the humble start, as well as attempts by some to turn the school into a right-wing political outpost.
In the beginning there were many who "would correct all the wrongs that have been inflicted on the Constitution," he said. "They had the right answers, and I mean the `right' answers."
If those individuals had succeeded, the law school would have lost all credibility. "It was a real problem then, but it's now behind us," he said.
Lee also spoke about the law school's lack of a defined mission statement. He prefers it that way, thereby allowing each student to develop his own individual mission statement.
"We are here to teach and learn law and there can be no compromise on that," he said. "But also . . . we are a little different than any other law school. It is a setting that not only recognizes the legitimacy of restored truth, but firmly believes in it."
Despite fighting cancer (it is in remission), Lee continues to argue cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, including a case earlier this week.
Honored at the alumni banquet were Anna Mae Goold, the retiring director of the law school placement center and Lew Cramer, who was named the law school's most outstanding alumnus. Cramer is a high-ranking official in the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Also honored was the late Woody Dean, a colorful professor who was on the first law school faculty. He was praised for his personal warmth and wit, including his answer to hijacking: "Hang them at the airport."