The Gospel According to Jay

If you ask attorney Jay Young, the worlds of gospel and the law are in perfect harmony

Published in 2015 Mountain States Super Lawyers — July 2015

“I’m a fairly low-key, easygoing fellow, even though I’m a commercial litigator—not the type to seem like a showman,” says Jay Young of Howard & Howard in Las Vegas. But, in a sense, he is. Since 2002, the full-time litigator, part-time judge and arbitrator and volunteer teacher with the National Institute for Trial Advocacy has been performing and recording with Gladys Knight’s Saints Unified Voices choir. “I do get interesting reactions,” he says.

Young fell in love with Southern gospel music when he lived in Georgia and worked as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was markedly different from the music he’d sung in the church choirs of his Utah youth. A member of the quartet he sang with brought him to an audition for a choir that Knight was putting together. “When we finished auditioning, Ms. Knight politely thanked us,” says Young. “She was very gracious and asked all of us to join her group. We later learned that she accepted everyone who auditioned, believing God brought them to her for a purpose.”

You can hear Young do his thing on Knight’s 2005 Grammy Award-winning album One Voice, as well as on Where My Heart Belongs, the 2015 recipient of the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Gospel Album. Young also has a solo gospel album to his name, One More Stone, an endeavor which saw his musical and legal sides work in tandem as he navigated the contract and licensing paperwork. “My legal background assisted me in negotiating and drafting contracts with producers, arrangers, background singers, musicians, studios, engineers and graphic designers,” Young says. “Each contract, if incorrectly drafted, has the possibility of entrapping an artist into paying unnecessary royalties into the future. Some of these lessons I learned the hard way.”

Young says his two worlds are in sync. “Because of my background in musical performance, theater and debate, I’ve always enjoyed being in front of people, performing and persuasively arguing matters,” he says. “If I’m singing about a concept that’s spiritual and deep, the audience will feel that and connect with that. The same way that when I advocate for a case, the judge and jury are going to know if I really believe in my client.”

The ability to ground himself in his spiritual beliefs is a powerful part of Young’s professional toolbox. “If you are a faith-driven person, it’s not a cloak that you put on on Sunday; it’s something that you wear in your heart, in your actions and your interactions with other people,” he says. “When I’m passionately arguing with opposing counsel, and might be tempted to treat them in a way that would be inconsistent with my faith, hopefully that faith grounds me in a way that I adjust my behavior accordingly.”

Young says his efforts to act consistently with his beliefs has cost him clients. “I’ve been told that I’m too nice to be an effective litigator,” he says, “that people want a bulldog, somebody who’s going to do absolutely anything to get a win.” It’s an accusation Young refutes. “You can be a nice person and an effective advocate.”

It’s a good motto to live by, especially for Young, who often swaps the view from the counsel’s table with one from the bench. “The constant bickering that I see [as a judge and arbitrator] between counsel gets very old, very quickly. I would much rather have an impassioned plea from someone whose word I can take to the bank than someone who is super smooth and super slick and you can’t trust anything they say.”

Young has been appointed as an arbitrator in over 250 cases, often through referral by past opposing counsel. “It’s a trust I don’t take lightly,” he says.

When not at the firm or belting out hymns, Young works as a volunteer teacher and mentor with the National Institute for Trial Advocacy. “The sole purpose is to give back to the younger attorneys in the community,” says Young; “to teach them that you can be a fine advocate without snarling your teeth and being the caricature of attorneys that everyone thinks about.”

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