A Day in the Life of an Area Legal Counsel

Several have asked what I do in my role as Area Legal Counsel for the Pacific Area of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Let me give you a little view into a typical day for me. WARNING – details follow. Read only what interests you!

Our routine each day usually means waking up without an alarm at 6 am. Why? It could be the result of doing my best to get 7-8 hours of sleep each night. I can – for the first time in my memory – just pop out of bed, wide awake and ready for the day. It is a refreshing change.

After daily preparations, a bit of stretching, and some planning and ponder time, Julie and I have breakfast while often listening to a talk, and read the scriptures. I zip a stylish blue soft-sided insulated lunch bag into my backpack full of the wonderful lunch Julie has made, and I am out the door right around 7 am for my daily walk to work. My brisk 8-10 minute walk takes me past a few shops and restaurants still shuttered for the night, across a parking lot next to the local movie theater, by the City rose garden and the local Burger King, past the bus stops and the Hospice Shop where Julie volunteers to the corner of Lake and Huron Street. I turn the corner and walk the remaining 1/2 block to the 4 story (ground floor plus 3) Area Office building of the Church.

Start of my daily walk to work – Leaving 5 The Promenade in the Mon Desir complex, Takapuna

I discovered that my day is broken into three parts. We are currently 18 hours ahead or 6 hours behind the headquarters staff in Salt Lake City (SLC) if you go west instead of east around the world – so it is the next day. When it is 8 am in Auckland on Tuesday morning, it is 2 pm on Monday afternoon in Utah. That means when I need to work with people in SLC, I need to do so before 11 am my time. The second part of each day is the work I do with the people in my time zone. That work usually needs to be completed by 3:30 – 4:00 pm due to many starting early (around 7 am) to avoid traffic and then heading home about 8 hours later. Sometime during that middle part of the day I try to break out my lunch at my desk. The third part my day is working with those in time zones in our Pacific Area that are behind me – like Australia. They are 2 hours behind me so I find myself bunching my calls with them in the late afternoon. By the time it is 6 pm in New Zealand it is only 4 pm in Australia. Thus I have to be really disciplined not to routinely spend 12 hour days at the office. (Julie reminds me that I can also work from home AFTER dinner.)

I do have some self-imposed limits since Julie and I play pickleball every Tuesday night from 6:30 – 8:30 pm at Browns Bay community recreation center about 25 minutes north of us, and since we just started a 12-week “Eat Healthy and Be Active” course together from 6:30 – 8:30 pm on Thursdays. Julie teaches an English class to non-native speakers on Wednesday nights, so that is my catch up day. I do my best to get home by 9 pm when she does (but always before 10 pm). We try to do something with others on the weekends and spend every Monday evening together, so that gives us some guaranteed together time. The dream when we arrived was to walk Takapuna Beach daily. We have had to adjust that dream due to winter weather, high tides, and matters that demand immediate attention. However, usually a week does not go by without at least one walk together hand in hand along the arching sandy and very beautiful Takapuna Beach.

Cover of Our Workbook produced in the Pacific Area

Finally, what kind of work am I doing? It is varied and constant. I am very indebted to the four AALCs, their spouses, and the two legal coordinators who work with me for their support. Essentially we have a small law firm with all the attendant administrative work to “keep the trains running on time” – processing bills, managing and follow up on active matters and the outside counsel we use, training, staff meetings, etc. Our goal is to get quality legal work done in a timely way, in great measure through the labor of local counsel in each of the 17 countries we serve. Thought I have not counted, I am told we use about 60-70 different law firms. Given the size of Australia and New Zealand and the specialties needed in each, we use about 20 law firms in just those two countries.

On my first day I picked up the negotiation of a logistics and transportation services agreement for the shipment and distribution of goods through New Zealand ports to the the other countries in the Area. Since then I have dealt with legal issues involving employment, employee benefits, risk management, litigation, human rights violations, data privacy, corporate maintenance and agency questions, child protection, religious liberty legislation, humanitarian project funding and structuring, a large residential plat development, commercial contracting involving purchasing, operations and maintenance of facilities, and a wide variety of real estate transactions. One thing I have learned is that in many of the islands it is not possible to purchase fee title due to the majority being classified as “customary lands” owned by tribes and families. Thus we have a lot of long term leases. It is fun to learn about new legal systems with the help of very able local counsel. Having French Polynesia, New Caledonia and Vanuatu in our Area adds the spice of French Civil Law into the mix of the common law of the British Commonwealth.

The work is challenging, engaging and fulfilling. We feel blessed to be here and can see the positive results of the work we do in the lives of the people we serve.


Celebrations, Cultural Events & Changes

July shot by, and here we are with August almost gone too! Time is flying by. It turns out that life gets so busy we are forgetting to take pictures.  And these posts are no fun without pictures.  Luckily we have a few.

First the weather report – The locals and long timers tell us we are having a light winter. We turned the corner at the end of June so the days are getting longer again. When they were at their shortest Gordon walked to and from work in the dark every day. Sunrise today (August 18) was at 7am and sunset will be at 5:48pm. It is not really that cold, but the rain is frequent. First it is a light shower, then it will bucket down for 5-15 minutes, and then the sun peeks out. Rain is always imminent.  Sometimes Gordon determines when his work day is over when there’s a break in the rain and then hurries home. So far he has not gotten caught in any down pours. We are starting to look forward to the coming of spring, and then right around Thanksgiving and Christmas time we will have heat waves and really long days!

Auckland Skyline on a Winter Day

As we said in the last post, we celebrated the 4th of July with the senior missionaries (all from the U.S.) by having a red, white and blue party in the Area Office with a fun potluck including American root beer, pulled pork and apple pie!  There were fun games, shared memories about those who have served in the military, including a great story from the revolutionary war, and some rousing patriotic songs.  These senior missionaries really know how to put on a good party and how to have fun!

The local movie theater is next to the Rose Garden park on the way to the Area Office. We learned that Aladdin was having its last showing so Gordon and I had a special date over a long lunch which was something we’ve never done before and really enjoyed!  It felt a little like playing hooky. On July 27 we attended the Westlake Boys High School production of Les Mis. The private girls’ high school down the road joined in so they had a cast of about 60 very talented singers and actors.  There was a live orchestra and some very simple but very effective sets and costumes. It was an amazing production and the three hours flew by. It was more than impressive.  A real memory!

At the end of the month, we welcomed the Elder and Sister Yamashita of the 70 from Japan as new second counselor in the Area Presidency.  We also welcomed them as our new neighbors for the next few years. They are delightful and we were happy to find that we have friends in common. They both want English tutors and have what I would call good English, but feel more than a bit lost – this being their first assignment outside Japan. They are friendly, gracious and smile and nod a lot. I hope to be of some help there if I can. 

Elder and Sister Yamashita with Tanners in their new apartment in Takapuna

I started volunteering at an upscale Hospice/Thrift shop on the corner of the street the Area office is on. I go in once a week and am meeting some wonderful people there.  The profits they make (about $1000 a day) pay for 46% of the costs of palliative care for several hundred cancer patients here on the North Coast of New Zealand.  I have also been oriented at the Care Center and am awaiting an opening to record personal histories or do other one-on-one patient interaction.

Hospice “Op Shops” in New Zealand are “Opportunity Shops” for all

Last week Gordon’s birthday was remembered by all the staff and missionaries on the 3rd floor of the Area office as well as by the attorneys he works with. There were muffins, a cake, a birthday banner, and even being taken out to lunch. We also had a nice dinner and game night the day before. He really felt celebrated this year – even though we were not with our immediate family. He works with some warm and wonderful people.

It was my turn to speak in Sacrament Meeting on Gordon’s birthday last week. I talked about how the gospel blesses and changes our lives- in fact our very natures! If you think I’m sketchy now, I believe I would be a very different person today without the influence of the gospel.

We also celebrated last night with a unique cultural event – we attended the All Blacks (NZ’s national rugby union team) game in the Eden Park stadium with almost 50,000 people dressed in “all black” as they beat their rivals from across the Tasman Sea – the Australia Wallabies – 36 to 0, after being severely beaten by them 7 days earlier. It was an amazing experience and we learned a lot about how rugby is really played: the scrum, the ruck, the maul, the lift…Tickets went for over $100US each leaving only six seats unsold. It was art in motion.

In other news, during the four week period ending next week, we will have witnessed from afar the weddings of four of our nieces and nephews, and the funerals of four good friends.  I guess we are of that age where we will see more and more of this coming.  Below is a picture of the wedding announcements we tape up in the kitchen to remind us of the blessing of being married and of Bryan and Stacia kicking it off just last December.  In just over 4 short months they will have been married for one year.  Unbelievable!!

Four new families are part of the Tanclan – Congratulations to our nieces and nephew

One of the beautiful things about living here in the winter are the constant rainbows in our Takapuna life, both visual and experienced. These flashes of hope and peace in the sky and in our interactions with others serve to remind us, it takes both the sun and the rain to make a beautiful rainbow.  And also, they remind us to look up!  Otherwise, we might miss ’em!

Best wishes, Julie and Gordon

Gordon shot this on his walk to work last Monday – Office is 100 yards ahead

The Weekly Routine and Helping Hands

We are playing pickleball for a couple of hours every Tuesday evening in Browns Bay about 25 minutes to the north up the coast road.  Since arriving we have about 12 -14 of the senior missionaries from the area office come each week.  It is great.  We have met several local folks who play weekly too.  It is a great regular social and exercise opportunity.

Gordon spoke in Church and I taught Relief Society on June 9. I expect my turn is to speak in Sacrament Meeting is coming.  I am teaching English Connect (English as a Second Language) classes at the Church on Wednesday nights to help non-English speakers practice conversation. That is a night Gordon works late. I also help as needed at the mission office periodically, and on Thursday morning join the senior missionary sisters in a scripture class at the Area Office.

We are saying goodbye at the end of July to Elder and Sister Haleck, our Area President. He heads home to American Samoa after 7 years in the area presidency here. They are beloved.   We celebrated the 4th of July on the 6th with a party with all the senior missionaries – having pulled pork sandwiches, beans, coleslaw and homemade apple pie and ice cream. We sang, played games and remembered our founding fathers.

Magical Anniversary and Business Trip to Tahiti

A few days later we flew 5 hours to Tahiti. We left on Thursday early evening, crossed the International Date Line, and arrived on Wednesday at 11:00PM.  Gordon had meetings and work there on Thursday and Friday, so we stayed one extra night and attended the Temple Friday – Tahitian language session, toured the beautiful neighboring island of Moorea on Saturday, and met new friends at church on Sunday.  

Tahiti was a celebration of 40 years of marriage for us on June 29, 2019!  It worked out rather nicely that they confused our reservation and didn’t have a room ready for us at 11pm when we drove in from the airport.  This is even after confirming by phone the night before- but French and Tahitian are the native tongue and little English is spoken.  So we waited almost an hour while they pretended they had something for us, then sent us to the wrong room.  We opened the door on some sleeping people and were very embarrassed.  To make it up to us, they put us in an over-the-water bungalow for the following 3 nights which was a fun experience.  The sound of the water lapping against the shore was soothing and the views were amazing.  We enjoyed the hotel and the buffets and loved meeting wonderful people and seeing the country side as Gordon toured several of many of the 60 Church buildings on the main island of Tahiti.  There are 8 stakes on the island and the members of full of faith and love.

We really enjoyed the familiarity of driving on the right side of the road again for a couple of days and getting a feel for the lifestyle outside the resort hotels. The Church was first established in Tahiti 175 years ago in 1844.  

On Saturday morning we took the one-hour ferry to the island of Moorea – it has spikey lush forested peaks and blue lagoons enclosed by protective coral reefs.  We spent the day driving clockwise around the perimeter of the whole island and stopped at our sister hotel to swim and spend time on the beach. But it was too cool and windy to spend much time in the water, so we watched the dolphin encounter that they do there and visited the Turtle Rescue clinic which was interesting.  The jagged mountain peaks and lush greenness were more than beautiful.  

Upon returning, we found that due to a national holiday celebrating the end of nuclear bomb testing in their country on June 29 sometime in the 1940s, there was literally no parking anywhere in downtown Pape’ete.  We were starving and tired of the hotel buffet. Since we were near the food trucks at the dock, Gordon circled for a half hour while I waited for our take-aways.  One was good-the other not so much.  But they were fun to eat on our back deck over the water as we watched the moon shine on the calm turquoise lagoon.  

Settling In, Shrinking a Bit, and Serving

Hallelujah!  The month of June brought us our long-awaited boxes on the 18th, almost 10 weeks from the time we sent them off until we received them. We understand they sat at docks for 5 weeks awaiting a ship with room heading to New Zealand!  Frustrating!  Also, somehow a few boxes we had intended for Takapuna somehow got sent to Bellevue storage instead, so we are without some precious books, most of our spices and kitchen gadgets, and a couple of knives and pans we would give a lot to have.  Oh, well!  We are still greatly blessed and continuing to love this beautiful place.  The daily views off our balcony continue to lift us.

Winter has also noisily arrived, and the winds and rains are impressive!  Being from the Northwest, we don’t mind so much and know it just makes the place so green and beautiful, so we are making lots of soup and waiting it out by shopping and socializing.  Speaking of soups, Gordon hasn’t been eating as much lately and has handily dropped 22 pounds since we got here.  I am so proud of him!  The funny part is he wasn’t even trying-it just happened since he was taking in a lot fewer calories than he’s been expending, and with walking to work and home daily, and going up and down 66 stairs each way a few times each day, it has really produced results.  The bad part is I’m still about the same.  I snack more and don’t get all the exercise so no pay off.  Yesterday he got a new belt so his pants now stay up again!

Since receiving our goods from home, we’ve given a few dinners and are settling in well. We have been visiting the Op Shops looking for treasures, household goods we didn’t bring with us, and going on adventures. We sang in the Stake Choir for Conference two weeks ago which was fun.  “Where Love Is” and Come Follow Me were familiar tunes and the choir had about 40 members-sounded good!  Plus we had great seats for conference! 

Kiwi Culture

One of the things I love about our flat is being so close to the water.  Winter has arrived in all its fury  (temperature in the 50s and intermittent rain), but that doesn’t deter those who love the beach from hauling their kayaks, paddle boards, wind sailing gear and sometimes even wetsuits out a quarter mile in front of my windows.  People here are tough.  Few locals will carry an umbrella or don a raincoat.  I’ve spotted several men and children (not women so much) going barefoot on the street for their mail or navigating a store.  They will swim in the ocean all year long, being committed to staying in close touch with the earth and taking time to be fit.  They also teach and promote from very young the responsibility they have to protect the precious gift of the earth they’ve been given by not littering, by not endangering native species, by recycling and respecting all life.  They’ve given away millions of reusable recyclable plastic shopping bags since last year when the country shifted away from single use bags. Now 6 months later, almost everyone brings reusable bags to all stores whenever they shop.

Store hours are generally 9:30am to 4:30pm, after which time people like to exercise, relax, play with their families and have dinner together.   They do a great job providing lots of playgrounds for children to enjoy, often in very beautiful places.  Everything of course, is all “at your own risk” and we have heard they are not a litigious people if a person gets injured at a park. You would never find many of the balance, climbing and spinning activities so common in the parks here in parks in the United States.  It just wouldn’t happen.  Check out the “Barrel Roll” below:

Things I see and hear “heaps” of:  tattoos (mostly arms and legs but some female islanders even have their faces and chins decorated), brightly colored hair, ripped jeans, high fashion, man purses, neck scarves, trash cans, recycle bins and the word “cool”- it’s even on printed electronic instructions touting the merits of their toaster or blender.

All the senior missionaries serving in the Area office and the mission are wonderful.  We have senior missionaries working in welfare, self reliance, family history, public affairs, physical facilities, missionary support, mental health, medical, educators,  and-of course-attorneys.  Gordon has 3 couples that work with him in Auckland and one in Sydney, plus two legal coordinators.  They make a great team and are all very busy.

The work Gordon is doing is extremely varied and there is something new and different every day.   So far, he has worked on matters involving shipping to the islands, logistics, property transactions, litigation, employment and employee benefits, human rights claims, privacy issues, missionary challenges, supporting the Area Presidency, redevelopment of the area around the Hamilton New Zealand temple, and a variety of other things. He is excited about a new Declaration on Human Dignity for Everyone Everywhere and its potential for good. Check it out at https://www.dignityforeveryone.org.

New Website containing the Declaration issued December 2018

Our highlights for the month included a visit by President and Sister Nelson and Elder and Sister Gong.  They completed a ministering visit to 7 countries in 9 days here in May and gave different messages during each visit.  In New Zealand, about 10,000 attended and we were told where the new Auckland Temple site would be (near the MTC) and treated to a re-telling of what it is like to date and marry an Apostle.  President Nelson requested the primary children sing “I Am a Child of God” to him and reviewed the most important things we should be teaching our children.  It was a sweet time for everyone.

“Vivid Sydney”

We just happened to be in Sydney May 30 – June 3, 2019, for the annual “Vivid Sydney” light shows where there are light displays on the Opera house, the Harbour Bridge and several of the downtown buildings.  It was a great event which only lasts three weeks. We also got to revisit the Bondi to Coogee beach walk, and visit Manly and Shelley Beaches as well as Palm Beach this trip in between the meetings and legal work.

View from Harbour Bridge on May 31, 2019 of Vivid Sydney light show

Though rain was predicted, we got lucky and were able to do a fair bit of hiking, scored great street food at Spice Alley which sold every kind of Asian food imaginable, whale watched (just a couple of weeks too early), and spent an hour at the Chinese Friendship Garden at Darling Harbour.  This site was a refuge of peace encircled by noise, cranes, skyscrapers and an energetic, cosmopolitan vibe.  The gardens boasted the usual koi, carved wood pagodas and benches, stone animal guardians and zig zag bridges and walkways designed to keep evil spirits away, and even rented beautiful Chinese clothing to those who wanted to “be in the zone”.  We just loved Sydney and were glad to have a car there so we could cover some territory.  Gordon will return there many times.  Tahiti is on the horizon for the two of us in the near future!

The sweetest time for Julie was another visit to the Sydney Temple where we went in March, this time for a J. Reuben Clark Law Society conference. Because it had been just over a year since my mom passed away I was able to perform the temple ordinances on her behalf and Gordon and I were proxies as my parents were sealed to each other, to their parents and then I got to be sealed to my parents.  The Temple presidency went above and beyond to come early and make themselves available so this could happen and Gordon could still make his meeting that evening in downtown Sydney.