Judge Thomas B. Griffith: Pursuing a Life in the Legal Profession as a Latter-day Saint

Judge Thomas B. Griffith, of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, recently spoke with BYU Law students, sharing insights from his legal career and reflecting on ways his membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has impacted his professional life. After attending BYU for his undergraduate degree and then the University of Virginia School of Law, Judge Griffith worked in private law firms in North Carolina and Washington DC. He later served as Senate Legal Counsel and General Counsel of BYU. Judge Thomas was appointed to the US Court of Appeals in 2005.

Judge Griffith opened his remarks by expressing his appreciation for BYU, saying that he especially enjoys the opportunity to talk with law students. “I love BYU,” he stated, “both for what it is and for what it can become.” He went on to say, “Lawyers have an outsized influence in our country.  Being a lawyer in this day and age is about leadership.” Recalling critical crossroads in his professional life, Judge Griffith encouraged law students to take the time to get to know themselves and the kind of work they want to do. He acknowledged that while some people receive very specific inspiration in these matters, it rarely worked that way for him. “Often my decisions were based on ‘What seems more fun?’ ‘What seems cooler?’ ‘What would excite me?’” In choosing an area of legal specialty, Judge Griffith cautioned against using money as the primary deciding factor, suggesting instead that lawyers consider “those on life’s first rung and how they might increase their chances of climbing.” 

Judicial clerks working in Judge Griffith’s chambers receive a small, green plastic turtle when they begin their service, a reminder to slow down and be careful. “Most of the mistakes I made in my legal career happened because I was too proud to say I needed more time,” Griffith stated. “Some of you get things quickly, and some of you don’t.” Law students who find themselves in the latter group are in good company, according to Griffith. Presidents Washington and Lincoln were known for being slow and deliberate when seeking to understand important matters. “Don’t be distracted by the thoroughbreds,” he advised, “be comfortable with yourself. Listen, be careful, take your time.” His other piece of career advice? “Be kind. You never know when the person sitting next to you might be in a position to help you.”

Judge Griffith ended his remarks by encouraging students to embrace their membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “Go to church and stay fully engaged in the life of your ward; there is no other social unit in the world like it.” Referring to the writings of Dr. Eugene England, Griffith went on to say, “Wards are parochial which means you don’t get to choose who you go to church with. You will have to work side by side with others who are different from you. This can be an antidote for spiritual challenges.”

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