Elder Oaks is a graduate of Brigham Young University (1954) and of the University of Chicago Law School (1957). He practiced law and taught law in Chicago. He was president of Brigham Young University from 1971 to 1980 and a justice of the Utah Supreme Court from 1980 until his resignation in 1984 to accept his calling to the apostleship. Elder Oaks has served as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since May 1984.
Elder Oaks is a native of Provo, Utah (born on 12 August 1932). He and his late wife, June Dixon Oaks, are the parents of six children. She died 21 July 1998. On 25 August 2000, he married Kristen M. McMain in the Salt Lake Temple.