April 18th, 2014 by admin
Laura Asioli made two important life decisions before she was ten years old. She decided she wanted to be baptized in the LDS Church, and she decided to become a lawyer. Laura says that as she studied law, she often felt the Spirit confirming to her that justice and divinity are closely intertwined. Today she is a solicitor practicing compliance law in the City of London. In this interview she reflects on balancing her Italian and English cultures, navigating a career while raising her two young children, and realizing that sometimes unexpected blessings come about after unexpected failures.
Tell us about your background and how you came to join the Church.
I was born in England, but when I was three my family moved to Italy. My dad is Italian, but my mom is English. My mom’s side of the family was Jewish, though not practicing, so I was brought up by my mom to think that the Messiah would one day come but that he hadn’t come yet. My father’s side of the family were predominantly Jehovah’s Witnesses, but my father had not shown any interest in religion growing up.
One day, my mom saw two young men who obviously couldn’t speak good Italian trying to figure out how to buy bus tickets, so she explained to them in English how to do it. Then she asked, “How come you’ve both got the same name?” They explained the Church, and they took down her address. However, my mom never heard back from them for months and months.
Finally, some months later there was a knock at the door, which I answered, and there were four gigantic guys standing there.
Yes! Four of them!
At the time, my mom spoke to me in English but my English wasn’t perfect. I said, “Mom, why are there these men at the door?” Mom invited them in and told them, “We’re not interested in anything you have to talk about, but it would be good for me to have someone to speak English to and for my little daughter to improve her English.” The elders obviously took this opportunity to teach my mom and I the discussions…in English!
Because my mom worked on Sundays, there was no way I could have ever gone to church if someone hadn’t said, “Okay, we’ll take this girl to church.” One family, the Di Iulios, would come round to the hotel where my parents worked, pick me up, take me to church, take me back to their home afterward, feed me, and give me spiritual nourishment, too. The spirit that was in their family, the spirit that was in the Church, felt like home. It just felt right.
Six months later I wanted to get baptized. And so did my mom, although she hadn’t attended church much. I was coming up to my eighth birthday and would have liked to have gotten baptized as soon as possible after 9 March 1991. Now, if an eight-year-old were to tell me, “I’ve had the discussions and I want to be baptized,” I’d wonder if she really meant it and if she really believed it, even though we know the age of accountability is eight. So I understand why my dad, who didn’t believe in the Church himself, wouldn’t allow me to be baptized.
But I was very mature and I knew that I really felt good when I went to church. I wanted to be part of it. Finally after a few months, my dad allowed my mum and me to get baptized, and we did so on 17 May 1991. I still remember the Elders’ names: Elder Flynn baptized me and Elder Stephens baptized my mom. The Di Iulio family kept taking me to church with them for two more years until we moved back to England. Coming to England meant that my mom didn’t have to work on Sundays anymore, so she was able to come to church with me. My father eventually got baptized, too.
Is your husband a member of the Church?
Yes. He’s Italian and was born in the Church. His parents, Roberto and Loretta, were amongst the first members in his town. We met at a Young Single Adult convention in Italy. He’s an incredible pianist and he was playing the piano one evening, which caught my attention so I tried to make polite conversation about his skills. He didn’t seem that interested.
Of course we had friends in common. Among Italian members, everyone knows everybody. I had always said that I was going to marry an Italian who served his mission in London so that he’d be able to speak great English but still be Italian. As a joke, my friends would give me updates on where their mission calls were. They’d call and say, “It’s not me.” Then I got a call one day from my best friend who said, “You’ll never guess who has been called to the London South mission! That guy who plays the piano and who doesn’t know of your existence!” I laughed.
After his mission, I was on the social site LDS LinkUp and I saw that he was too, so I added him. He didn’t know who I was so I had to explain and then he wrote, “Oh, that’s nice. Are you going to be in Italy soon?” I’d never even said that I wanted to meet up with him, but I said, “Fine.” I’d actually already booked to be in Italy the weekend after we exchanged messages and he said, “Okay, then we’ll meet up.” We were engaged within four months and married within nine. We’ve been married six years and have two little ones: Gianluca, who is three, and Alessandro, who is one.
How did you decide to study law?
I was about ten when I decided on law as a career path. I knew I had to be a lawyer.
The gospel had a great influence on that decision, actually. I pondered on the concept of Christ as the Mediator and as the Advocate, and that started me thinking about the role of an advocate. I loved the idea that one day I would be able to assist people obtain justice. As I later studied law, I often felt the Spirit—not only confirming to me that what I had chosen to study was the right path for me, but also that law and divinity are intertwined. I remember being particularly moved in one law seminar when the professor introduced the concept of “natural law” and the idea that God is everywhere and in everyone. Within humans is a divine spark which helps them to live in accordance with nature. Thus it was suggested that even man-made laws—those written by the legislature—could be traced back to God, since He had given those judges the light of Christ in the first instance.
It wasn’t obvious that I would become a lawyer. Neither of my parents are graduates of college although they always encouraged me to aim high. My mom finished high school, but my dad didn’t even finish high school, and I have seen them struggle more than what I would have liked to. I knew from a young age that I wanted to be financially stable. And I knew that anything was possible if it was the Lord’s will and if I put in the effort. I got encouragement at school, too.
At sixteen, I went to college, which is two years in England, and studied law. Then at university I did a Law and Italian Law LLB, followed by a Competition Laws LLM.
What kind of law do you practice?
I’m a compliance lawyer, which I bet most people reading this interview have never heard of! But I assure you, it’s an up-and-coming practice area. In layman’s terms, I assist the business organization to conform to regulations, rules, policies, or law. My work is varied and could involve advising on sanctions issues, bribery offences, lawyers’ code of conduct, or lawyers’ account rules.
How do you navigate working full-time with small children at home?
I know it isn’t ideal. After my first son was born, I really wanted to be a full-time mom. He was so young. But financially we just couldn’t do it. My husband’s still at university. He works all the time, but he’s studying law and management himself so we have fees to pay, and although his wages are reasonable, they aren’t as high as they could be if he were a graduate already. So I had to go back to work.
We tried to find things for me to do when my husband could be home, like cleaning at night or working in supermarkets at night or doing a cash till job. For seven or eight months I applied for jobs nonstop, every day a new job. Sometimes they would tell me how many applications they had already received for the position, and it would say something like, “700 applications.” I wasn’t getting any responses at all. So I said to my husband, “It looks like I need to go back to work in the City.”
Deep down, I always knew I would return to work in the City, as my patriarchal blessing alluded to the fact I would succeed in my career and be a mother. In fact, it has been a great source of strength to me as the promises in it are great: if I put my family first I would have doors opened to me career-wise and I would be able to do both.
The miracles actually started six years ago, right before we got married, but they didn’t feel at all like miracles then. In England, when you’re done with your base degree and one year of law school, you sit for exams and then enter a two-year training experience. Finding a training contract is extremely competitive. Probably one out of 500 people find one. But I managed to get a training contract that was due to start in September 2008.
In July 2008, I found out that I’d failed one of my exams. I was absolutely heartbroken because I’d always done extremely well. I’d never failed before! So I appealed, but the professor said, “You can’t actually have re-marks at law school. We can have a look at the exams, but we can’t change your status, whatever it is they find.” They actually found errors, things they hadn’t marked in my favor, so basically they were saying, “You should have passed, but you failed, and there’s nothing you can do about it so you just have to re-sit the exam.”
I was absolutely gutted. I didn’t understand how Heavenly Father could let it happen. I said, “Heavenly Father, why are there all these problems? I’m getting married in the temple and I’m trying to do right, and I failed.”
I was lucky enough that they didn’t cancel my training contract, but they did push it back six months. What was I to do for those six months?
So I joined a temporary employment agency. The agency said, “There’s a job in compliance. You’re not quite qualified right now, but we’ll give it a go. If they like you, well, then, all right.” They liked me and took me on for six months. Then I went on to my training contract, thinking that disaster of failing my exams was all behind me.
In the meantime, my husband needed a job, too. My dad, who was a waiter in a restaurant, began to talk with one of his clients. At one point in their conversation he said, “My daughter just got engaged to an Italian man who doesn’t have a job and doesn’t have any money. He just came off his mission that he served for his church.”
The man said, “What religion is he?”
My dad said, “He’s a Mormon.”
This man was an American, and he said, “I love Mormons! Tell him to interview at my firm.” He happened to be the global head of human resources for one of the world’s largest investment banks. So my husband went along with no qualifications at all and interviewed. This powerful man said, “You play the piano. You’ve been on a mission. I think you’d be good in compliance.” So my husband landed a job in compliance, working alongside qualified lawyers. It just so happened that he’s great at it and really enjoys it! He has been working in compliance for over six years now. Both my husband and I see this as one of the great miracles in our lives.
I worked my six months in compliance and went on to my training contract. Then the financial crisis hit and my husband lost his job because everyone was being made redundant. One day I saw my boss from my six-month compliance job and she saw I had been crying and asked, “What’s the matter?”
I said, “My husband’s lost his job.”
She said, “What does he do?”
I said, “He actually does compliance too.”
She said, “Tell him to grab a hot chocolate with me and we can talk about possibilities in the firm.” The firm just so happened to be a “Silver Circle” firm, one of the biggest law firms in the world, and they offered him a job in the compliance department. It never would have happened if I hadn’t gotten to know her in the six months I worked there.
I finished my training and went to work in-house for a large international bank, but after my second son was born, I realized our visions of my future at the bank weren’t aligned. I cried a lot and prayed a lot and fasted a lot. I went to loads of interviews, but the jobs either wouldn’t pay enough or wouldn’t be flexible enough.
One day, I left the baby with my husband on his lunch break while I interviewed, and when I went to pick him up, my old boss (who had now been my husband’s boss for six years) was there. She asked how I was doing and I told her about my job hunt. She said, “It’s a shame that you need a permanent job because we have an incredible temporary job open in this department which would be perfect for you.”
I said, “That’s okay. Temporary is better than nothing.” So within a week I was working there again, but this time in a senior role, assisting her supervise a team of eight lawyers. My boss is a woman who’s got a kid and who’s pregnant herself. She totally understands family demands. Probably once a week I worked from home. She’s all right if I work nights to make up hours I missed staying home with a sick kid. It’s the best set-up you could have ever, ever wanted. I have now been able to find a permanent role in-house at a financial services firm and they too have promised the flexibility my family needs and a great exposure to interesting and challenging work.
I think back to six years ago when I failed the exam. At the time I was devastated. I couldn’t explain why I failed. But everything in our lives in the last six years has come thanks to my failing that exam. I wish I could go back and say to my doubting self, “Be a bit more faithful! Trust God! He sees better than you do.”
You have spent your life moving between England and Italy. You’re married to an Italian but live in England. How does your family navigate the two cultures?
I’m very strongly Italian. We live in a little Italian bubble. We have Italian TV. We only read the scriptures in Italian. We bought an Italian wood-fired oven so we can have Italian pizza. When we invite people to our home, we want to give them an Italian experience—Italian food, music, TV. We’re raising our children Italian. We won’t ever let them hear us speak to them in English; we only speak to them in Italian. My husband and I always speak to each other in Italian. So in that respect we’re very Italian.
We would live in Italy if there were work, but there isn’t any. My father-in-law is working in Dubai; my brother-in-law has been working in Switzerland. Very few people have work. So we live in England and embrace the fact that it’s the country that’s allowing us to raise a family. My husband served a mission in England, so he has a love for the country already. We respect England.
Your life as a lawyer and a mother of young children is busy. How do you nourish yourself spiritually?
We try to be creative with our use of time because we don’t have blocks of time to just sit down and study. Our commute to work is quite long, an hour and ten minutes each way, so we study on the train. When I iron, I put on my headphones and listen to General Conference. I can consume half a conference session each time I iron.
We try to get spiritual nourishment as a family, too. Obviously, we pray night and day. We also try to turn every evening into a Family Home Evening. My husband is on the high council, so he has meetings some evenings, but if we’re home we try to read scriptures—well, the Book of Mormon Reader or something like that—with the kids.
With his calling, my husband has to travel on Sundays three weeks out of four. We only have one car, so the kids and I would walk and get the train to church, which was fine and even fun sometimes, but it meant that I was out with the kids for six hours every Sunday, with three hours of church in the middle. Because of those pressures on our schedule and because my kids don’t see much of their father now as it is, the bishop felt inspired to call me as visiting teaching coordinator recently. It means that now we can travel a couple of weeks in the month with my husband to other wards.
In 2012, after fifty years’ presence in the country, the Church finally gained legal recognition in Italy. What does that mean?
In terms of day-to-day life for members, there’s nothing really different. People go to church just the same. But in the bigger picture, it’s a huge miracle. It would have been a struggle to build the Rome Temple, for example, without official recognition. From what I had heard, the Church long ago bought ground for it, but in Italy, the police have rights to raid any public place at any time. So the Church couldn’t start building until it was recognized as a religion and could have talks with the police about why they couldn’t just enter at any time.
Being recognized as a major faith presents one new challenge: certain professions will now be incompatible with certain church offices. Under Italian law, ministri di culto (religious ministers) cannot be legal professionals, nor can they be local councilors or mayors. (They can be elected to parliament but I think that is a lacuna.) The theory is that they may take advantage of congregations for their work-related/political means. There is a worry that, for example, a well loved, local Catholic priest could preach from the pulpit that his congregation are to vote him in as town mayor. Clearly, this has little relevance for Mormon congregations where a bishop is likely to preside over a small congregation and is therefore unlikely to influence the vote in a substantial way. Although pretty much all legal professions are incompatible with any office above that of branch president, it is a small price to pay to be on par with the Catholic church.
Right now in Italian culture there’s a feeling that reminds me of what Joseph Smith referred to as “an unusual excitement on the subject of religion.” A lot of our friends are unhappy with the churches they’ve grown up with. They have unanswered questions. So I think it’s a great time to be doing missionary work in Italy.
Now that our faith has been recognized officially, it’s gotten rid of a lot of discrimination. Before this, if you said to people that you’re Mormon, they wouldn’t even know what it was. But there has been a lot of press interest in the Church. We know a journalist who wrote a lovely article on the Church because she knew us, and that brought more good press about how the Church is doing a lot of humanitarian work, and so on. I think the Church is becoming well-accepted as an alternative to Catholicism.
The members in Italy are extremely faithful, extremely devoted, extremely caring. I think it’s a very special land.
At A Glance
Location: Essex, England
Convert to Church: Yes, at the age of 8 (baptized 17 May 1991)
Marital status: Married
Children: Gianluca (3) and Alessandro (1)
Schools Attended: University of Kent, Universita’ di Bologna, King’s College London and
College of Law Moorgate
Languages Spoken at Home: Italian
Favorite Hymn: “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing/O My Father” medley
Interview by Annette Pimentel. Photos used with permission.
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