An email arrived this evening from a relatively new lawyer. The question was simple. Where can a new lawyer go for instruction, guidance and the succor of those with like minds? The lawyer wants help finding bright stars in the law's dark nights. He asked whether I would recommend attending the Trial Layer's College in Wyoming, or whether I had another recommendation.
I do not recommend the Trial Lawyers College. I spent three manic years involved with the college first as student, then as staff. This was back in the day, when Gerry Spence cast a long shadow in the big barn. The law's legends were found in Wyoming back then. Garvin Isaacs, Racehorse Haynes, Roy Black, Paul Luvera, Robert Fogelnest came and open their veins, showing us the blood of lawyers who had faced dragons and lived to tell about it.
But a funny thing happened as one year led to another. The staff became inbred. Orthodoxy took root. The middle of the pack sought the shelter of Spence's approval; he learned to pluck just the right strings of need in those content to play another man's fiddle. I saw proud men quiver with fear that they would not get a seat on the board. In time, the wild call of the full-blooded wolf became the stifled yelp of a pup. Giants used to roam Thunderhead Ranch. I walked in awe of them. They do no longer. The middle of the pack reigns triumphant. I visited last year and was startled by the transformation.
Spence has stepped down from public leadership of the college. But his shadow walks in the new leadership. A board purged of critics rallies round the barn now, hooting, hollering, and carrying on as though mere noise were magic. The college has become technique, another church passing a collection plate to those who hope to purchase something like redemption. In the absence of Spence's leadership, there is no real coherent intellectual center to the college. Just memories.
So I do not recommend the college or any of the many programs it sponsors around the country. At least I do not recommend it for learning about how to be a better lawyer. The programs are good for bonding and networking: indeed, a weekend at the college is perhaps the most powerful social networking experience on the continuing legal education market: Call it Twitter with a pulse. I made close friends there and those friendships, at least a few of them, survive the unkind works I say about the place.
To become a better lawyer, however, I recommend hooking up with Charles Abourezk of South Dakota. He was a classmate of mine at TLC and went on to become a staff member. He left the college when questions to this day still unanswered about the college's finances were ignored. Abourezk is one of the few men I know whom I would refer to as having spiritual depth and lawyerly acumen.
Charlie has not started a cult. You can't buy mugs with his name on them, or women's thongs emblazoned with a logo celebrating an institution dedicated to him. He walks quietly. You find him in unusual places.
Charlie will be hanging out with a new group called 3 Sisters and will be part of a program running September 30 to October 3, 2010, in Palm Springs. I know that is near the home of my anonymous writer this evening. The sisters are all TLC expatriates, and they have the baggage and history that comes of shedding an old skin. But to my mind, their program represents something new. Check them out here
Tell them Norm sent you. Hell, I may even come out of seclusion and attend the event myself. I miss Charlie. He has a lot to teach.