TLC: A Call To Expatriates

The comments I've received on the TLC pieces appearing here come in all shapes and sizes. I leave the vitriolic defense of the college to others. But there is a groundswell of longing in some of the notes and calls, a longing for days past, when the college was a laboratory for ideas. These were the days before Baron von Spence decided to create little monsters in his own image and set them singing loose on the world.

In "TLC: A More Nuanced View," one alum pretty well nailed what went wrong. The college went from an apparent commitment to hybrid vigor to mulitgenerational inbreeding. Method triumphed over creativity, and something was lost. Several comments by anonymous writers noted much the same thing. So have several callers. It turns out there is an expatriate community of sorts of there.

I recall the excitement I felt when I headed to the ranch in 1997. I read the brochure again and again. It was a who's who of lawyers I admired. I listened to each, hoping that some of their magic would rub off. By the time I walked off the ranch for keeps one fine morning in the summer of 2000, things had changed: Endless staff meetings; a drumbeat of conformity; the mad press of successive waves of students striving to become staff. And what was only inchoate at the time, but still ever so real: the press to raise more and more money. It wasn't good any more. I've played alone for the past nine years.

Apparently, there are still folks out there with a hunger to learn about trial. These folks, like me, appreciate Spence's genius and success at trial, but also realize that genius can't be taught. We each have flames of various sorts burning within. A retreat were all can gather and warm one another by a common fire created by these flames is what we sought. My sense is that more than a few of us left the ranch when creativity got stifled as the ranch became less a place of light than one of the darkness bred of Gerry's quest for immortality.

One old ranch hand to whom I spoke in recent weeks commented on how much he/she missed the ranch. Frankly, I miss it, too, even if my recent trip back had the feel of the set of the Night of the Living Dead.

What would happen if a dozen old souls gathered somewhere to reminisce and to talk about trial? We'd have no leader. Indeed, we'd have to find someone to organize a weekend away somewhere. There'd be no star present, no marquis presence demanding his due and tribute for coming. Sure, we'd need to bury the past, perhaps a psychodramatic funeral is in order. But on the other side of this death might be a rebirth of the creative energy and spirit we each sought and cherished before TLC became a product to be sold and mass produced.

I toss the idea out there for what it is worth. There are half a dozen folks I could imagine spending time with. I'd like to hear what they have been reading, what cases they have tried in the past decade, where they think the law is heading. We might learn something from one another and might also share a sense of camaraderie well away from the cult-like pressing of each year's need for new students to be validated by the principalities and powers of a place that is no longer home to any of us.

Any ideas out there?

Write to me privately if you care to:

Comments: (19)

  • Gerry Spence, & his TLC is a big marketing thing, ...
    Gerry Spence, & his TLC is a big marketing thing, Spence(his name) is used to market by some( Esq, adn FIRMS) all across the USA. Go on google and you will google up many examples... Here is one scooped off google, the name of the person in the AD is delted, but it is represenative of the way Spence is market vechicel for their( others) own agenda, all over the USA:
    As an example:
    Nationally known trial lawyer, ....., seeks justice and the maximum recovery for victims of serious accidents, including automobile accidents, medical negligence, elder abuse, civil rights and sexual harassment. Her practice extends through <>>......>> Cases in other states are accepted through association with local counsel.
    >>><<>>>>also has substantial expertise in the area of <<......>>>, having represented <<<.....?? for <<> years.
    <<<...... >>>> is an Instructor and is on the staff of the nationally renowned Trial Lawyers College, founded by Gerry Spence. At Gerry Spence's Trial Lawyers College, lawyers are taught to be winning trial lawyers for people.
    In ....., <<<> ...... >>>>was selected as one of .... lawyers nation-wide to learn the Gerry Spence method for becoming a winning trial lawyer. She has brought this philosophy to her <<>>.......>> practice.
    Since <<>>...., <<< .....>> has been asked by the board of the Gerry Spence Trial Lawyers College to teach these winning trial methods in regional seminars across the country and at the Gerry Spence Trial Lawyers College in Wyoming.
    <<<... ... > has incorporated the Trial Lawyers College philosophy and techniques advocated by Gerry Spence into her practice, and is frequently consulted by other lawyers in personal injury and other cases to co-counsel with them as they learn by doing using these techniques and strategies.
    In addition to her training with Gerry Spence, <<< ... >>>> also a graduate of the..... Institute for,..... As well, //..
    Posted on October 19, 2009 at 6:08 pm by Anonymous
  • Norm, you buddy Scotty. on
    the Simple Justice Blog...
    Norm, you buddy Scotty. on
    the Simple Justice Blog Channel
    does not find kosher any responding on
    those beaming mirrors. that have a dual
    turning reflector beam, like a laser.
    Wait, you and Scotty are old pen- mate pals
    ironic, cult is now the logo brand
    And, Jesus was ratted out by Judas for
    a few gold coins, after the high priests
    got steamed, when the money changers carts
    were turned over by the son of God.
    It is all so biblical- esque, this unfolding
    saga, after you went to the
    Now, Scotty is playing Poncius Co- Pilot, with
    you as the head Rabbi in the
    Cyber Temple of Conn
    Like the Mormon followed branded as
    cultist, by high Decaons of Bar.
    Posted on October 17, 2009 at 8:29 am by Anonymous
  • Norm, are you OK, over in Europe, looks like some ...
    Norm, are you OK, over in Europe, looks like some quite period, lapaes in your postings.
    Hope all is weel with you and the Misses.
    Posted on October 15, 2009 at 10:33 am by Anonymous
  • If Spence lost a criminal case what would he do:
    If Spence lost a criminal case what would he do:
    Why he would write a book, making it look like he won(when he did not in fact--per official records)
    But, you would never know the difference.(is it becasue some of you are just flat out lazy) ?
    You are in awe, by the Von Gerry deceptions.
    I know Spence lost a criminal case, etc etc, etc.
    Do you know the lawyer who taught him a lesson ?
    Of course not !
    I will not reveal the facts on the above, it is amusing to see how Spence can put so many in a voodoo spell, and play games with them.
    Again, Sad.
    Norm speaks candidly, honestly.
    But, he has no clue how Spence has run his big deceptions.
    I will not dispel those for him---here.
    As to those "little monsters" in the image of Von Spence, some of them are the biggest losers in the universe, they fool themselves, covering it with the most staggering arrogance in the Americas.
    Again, I could highlight, but do not opt to here.
    It is a topic which will grow, of its own, like how some study cancer, or fungus diseases.
    Posted on October 12, 2009 at 4:12 pm by Anonymous
  • RE: "I have shaken the dust off my feet and am don...
    RE: "I have shaken the dust off my feet and am done with the college. There is no marriage, no struggle for power, no rejuvenation and no maturation. I am simply done, and note the hypocrisy, cant and sycophany in passing, almost as a species of pathology. I don't claim to be immune from what passes at Thunderhead, but I do think I am well on the road to recovery."
    You are so far from "done" its pathetic. Psychopathically obsessed? Clearly. But you couldn't even find the door to "done" if your life depended on it.
    Posted on October 8, 2009 at 7:34 am by Anonymous
  • TLC and Gerry Spence will remain silent and hide t...
    TLC and Gerry Spence will remain silent and hide the truth until we make them be open, honest and transparent. What is wrong with the lemming alumni that they would allow TLC to engage in behavior they would counsel their clients against? Is the cool aid influencing the masses? Compare your bank account to Spence's and ask yourselves why you are the ones who pay for his ranch. If he is truly a generous and loving man who simply wants to share his gifts with other lawyers (like he claims) let him fund his own legacy. There is something hypocritical about telling those who attend his seminars that the beauty of TLC is the gifts the staff give, who pay their own way, etc. but Spence doesn't want to pay his own way, he wants us to pay it for him. He may scream and rant and rave against corporate america, but some of the titans of industry have given far more to society than Mr. Spence has, or I predict ever will. Bill Gates is one example. How much has he given to various colleges, schools and other organizations from his the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation? Most foundations exist to give. The Spence Foundation appears to exist to take.
    Posted on September 20, 2009 at 6:30 pm by Anonymous
  • Transperancy is the price a non-profit must pay fo...
    Transperancy is the price a non-profit must pay for their beneficial tax treatment. If you want to keep things secret, give up your non-profit status.
    There is no group process at TLC, despite the lip service that is given to same. Spence controls all and the board members are merely puppets in place to make it appear as if a "group" is in control. They must all be held accountable for the hypocrisy and secrecy and, as it appears from these blog postings, for the decisions that have been made in violation of the bylaws. If Norm's posts contain accurate facts, there was no quorum to approve the lease for the ranch that financially benefits the Spence Foundation. Only 4 board members voted in favor of the lease! Come on people, where is the arm's length transaction we lawyers insist upon and would counsel our clients about? By my caluclations, the value of the lease is approximately $7,500,000.00 (25 years at approximately 300K a year) and probably more if there are provisions for increases in the rent. This figure doesn't even take into consideration the improvements and upgrades to the property TLC has done and most likely will do in the future.
    I have been told that Spence's own step-son (and a member of the Spence Foundation board who benefitted from the lease) drafted the lease and that Spence refused to give time for or allow the TLC to obtain independent counsel to review and advise them about the lease. Charlie Abourezk, I am told, asked for time for such a review to take place and once he did so, Spence demanded he resign from the board or Spence himself would quit. Spence wouldn't agree to TLC getting independent legal advise? Why? Was he afraid to loose the 7.5 Million benefit to himself and his family? And so, he forced Abourezk off the board and along with him John Nolte? How is it that the other board members allowed Abourezk and Nolte to resign with nary a one standing up for them. This was plain wrong and a bullying by Spence of the board. Proof positive that the board simply does what Spence wants because they are all too afraid to stand up to him or get in the way of what he wants. Because if they do, out they will be.
    TLC needs to stop hiding and share all financial information with all of us alumni and donors. Until then, my contributions will stop!
    Posted on September 20, 2009 at 5:33 am by Anonymous
  • Whether TLC lives or dies is cannot be known. But...
    Whether TLC lives or dies is cannot be known. But now it's a thriving organization that is growing and touching many people's lives. You have left Norm; well...kind of anyway. You still seem to be in relationship with the place in your long, sustained exit.
    It's great what you are doing. But my point is that whatever you start will go through the same life cycle no matter how "transparent" you are.
    On another note, I am involved with very transparent organizations; I'm even on the board of an urban food coop doing $800K a year sales that runs by consensus with not even a store manager to claim as heirarchy; we just this year got around to forming a board after 40 years in business. My experience: full transparent organization are highly inefficient; when everything is subject to processing, everything will likely require processing. Don't get me wrong; it's really ideal, if you ask me; and with a good group process optimal decisions are made. But the transparency gets old and the inefficiencies frustrating.
    I admire the goal of transparency; but just realize it comes with a cost. With my business I strive to find the right balance.
    Good luck finding your community. If I were still a trial lawyer, I would love to join you.
    Posted on September 16, 2009 at 11:06 am by bread man
  • I agree with Norm. Spence himself won't let it sur...
    I agree with Norm. Spence himself won't let it survive because he absolutely refuses to be honest or to give up being worshipped. He thrives on the adoration. He feasts on the power. And without openness, honesty and transparency, there is nothing worth saving.
    Posted on September 15, 2009 at 5:29 pm by Anonymous
  • Bread Man
    I approach the Ranch from Max Weber's t...
    Bread Man
    I approach the Ranch from Max Weber's teaching about the nature of legitimation. Right now, it is a charismatic organization revolving around Spence and his charisma. It now stands onthe threshold of trying to make the transition to a rational or bureaucratic structure. I don't think it can make it and survive. The four-fold scheme you suggest really doesn't make any sense. There was no marriage of like-minded souls equal in power, and hence no honeymoon. Nor was there ever a power struggle. The marital sort of analogy is inapt: What marriage survives deceit? The lack of transparency regarding finances and deceit about such basics as who owns the place suggests something less healthy than a marriage: Lord of the Flies works for me.
    Where am I?
    I have shaken the dust off my feet and am done with the college. There is no marriage, no struggle for power, no rejuvenation and no maturation. I am simply done, and note the hypocrisy, cant and sycophany in passing, almost as a species of pathology. I don't claim to be immune from what passes at Thunderhead, but I do think I am well on the road to recovery.
    Posted on September 15, 2009 at 5:21 pm by Norm Pattis
  • Bread man, good post. However, I don't think that ...
    Bread man, good post. However, I don't think that TLC will mature or rejuvenate if it doesn't become transparent. And that is up to the leaders who don't seem willing or able to be honest. Only time will tell.
    Posted on September 15, 2009 at 4:18 pm by Anonymous
  • All organizations and relationships go through the...
    All organizations and relationships go through these stages...The honeymoon, the power struggle, maturity, and rejuvenation.
    We all miss the honeymoon, but it is gone; history; at best a pleasant memory; at worst a nagging reminder of how miserable you are. You can't experience TLC for the first time again. Best let it go and open yourself to a new experience.
    The power struggle comes in that void where our longing can't find anything to cling to. WE blame each other, our leader, our enemies, ourselves, for losing the magic that once brought us together. We challenge, we fight, we struggle to find a place in relationships; and growth and economic realities greatly complicate this.
    Maturity eventually sets in and the organization settles and its members function within their established places. This stage dances continuously with the next stage; the struggle between boredom and lost opportunities for growth must be balanced with the hard-fought peace that we now enjoy with our routines. Where does creativity and risk taking fit within the established foundations?
    These stages flow constantly and individual relationships and experiences can be anywhere within this framework at any time; creating a complex web of individual experiences as the community, as a whole, is living its lifecycle.
    Where is TLC on this map? Where are you?
    Posted on September 15, 2009 at 1:06 pm by Bread man
  • My 2 Cents
    "Aldous Huxley called him 'the greatest...
    My 2 Cents
    "Aldous Huxley called him 'the greatest social architect of our century.'"
    "Today more than 2 million A.A. members in 150 countries hold meetings in church basements, hospital conference rooms and school gyms, following Wilson's informal structure."
    "As Alcoholics Anonymous grew, (Bill) Wilson became its principal symbol. He helped create a governing structure for the program, the General Service Board, and turned over his power. 'I have become a pupil of the A.A. movement rather than the teacher,' he wrote. A smoker into his 70s, he died of pneumonia and emphysema in Miami, where he went for treatment in 1971. To the end, he clung to the principles and the power of anonymity. He was always Bill W., refusing to take money for counseling and leadership. He turned down many honors, including a degree from Yale. And he declined this magazine's offer to put him on the cover – even with his back turned."
    Monday, June 14, 1999
    Posted on September 14, 2009 at 6:52 pm by Anonymous
  • Lynne
    TLC already is a "fringe sucking sychophant ...
    TLC already is a "fringe sucking sychophant refuge." Look around. Are you blind? Just look at the board. None of you dare speak up or challenge Gerry Spence. You all just go along with whatever King Spence wants. If Norm is accurate, the lease isn't even valid. No quorum was present when it was voted on. Norm has also raised the issue of whether or not the board hired the new Executive Director or was it decided by Gerry Spence and his new right hand man Jude Basile without input from the board? Why the tuition increase in this economy? Why are the alumni repeatedly told that the ranch is owned by TLC? Why don't you start by answering all of these questions! And while your at it, tell us why the Spence Foundation controls everything and has the right to unilaterally revoke the lease? It is also troubling that several members of the Spence Foundation serve on the TLC board. Why if not to protect their turf and maintain the right to terminate or revoke the lease after Gerry Spence dies? I think there have been suggestions on Norm's blog but apparently neither the board or Gerry Spence want to provide the information some have suggested be released or answer the questions raised. Why the secrecy? The only reason for secrecy must be because Gerry Spence, his family foundation and TLC have something to hide. And what is this entity Singing Trees Norm has mentioned? As a board member, if you know the answers, why don't you provide them in response to this post instead of playing pollyanna. I can't believe you are as naive as you sound. No point giving you any other input as it is likely to be ignored just like the questions raised by Norm in his blog and those of us posting comments. Why doesn't TLC start with answering these questions. If they can't or won't be answered, then no point giving any further input. That would be the tail wagging the dog.
    Posted on September 14, 2009 at 4:20 pm by Anonymous
  • Fair enough.
    But be considerate of the other pati...
    Fair enough.
    But be considerate of the other patients and don't play too loud.
    Posted on September 14, 2009 at 4:15 pm by Leo
  • Lynne
    Thanks for the post. I hope folks do contac...
    Thanks for the post. I hope folks do contact you and that you are able to integrate their comments, etc., into effective presentations for the board.
    Ideas don't need preservation. They thrive in lively minds and spread like fire. Not sure what Gerry and Rose intended. Only sure I need more air than I get at the ranch. I wish the college well, but I am done. Gonna play elsewhere.
    Posted on September 14, 2009 at 1:16 pm by Norm Pattis
  • Have there ever been limitations on our freedom to...
    Have there ever been limitations on our freedom to associate and share as you propose?
    Let me know when and where you're getting together!
    I struggle to reconcile a longing for simplicity, like the Ranch of yesterday, against a desire to support the thing into which the man's good intentions, serious efforts and reputation must evolve: An institution layered with complexity and marbled with factional interests (every one pursuing the best of all possible worlds). Oh God, is there no excape from that?
    The conflict in me arises first from a sense of loyalty to Gerry Spence for his kindness in offering me (a lawyer of the middling sort, sans crest of arms) a place in his "laboratory for ideas," one from which I gained so much. Then, wanting others get the chance we did.
    I for one, am not ready for a funeral. My hope rests in the collaberative efforts of those trying to prevent one. I pray for their success. Nor am opposed to the immortality of Gerald Spence, inside or outide the school he started.
    What do you think, Norm? How do we preserve the idea, the one Spence and Rose and their friends nurtured with such tender loving care, without burying it alive beneath bureaucracy?
    Posted on September 14, 2009 at 11:10 am by Leo
  • I have read your posts and would like to respond. ...
    I have read your posts and would like to respond. Obviously, the TLC experience is different for everyone. I do not dispute many of your assertions, especially since they are opinions and experiences of individuals entitled to have those opinions based on their own experiences. I, personally, do not want to see TLC as a place lacking creativity and diversity of ideas. I also do not want to see TLC become a "fringe-sucking"-sycophant refuge. TLC will only remain (or become - depending upon your viewpoint) a place where lawyers can creatively and freely explore innovative ways to represent those without a voice if alumni are willing to take a risk and constructively bring forward new ideas. It is a lot easier to be critical than it is to be innovative. I invite those reading this blog to risk innovation. I am the alumni representative to the TLC Board of Directors. We have at least one annual meeting in the summer. This year, there is also one scheduled in the winter.
    If you have a criticism or suggestion, please let me know. I will bring it up at the next board meeting. If you want anonymity, I will keep you anonymous. You will have to trust me on that one, but that is my pledge. After the meeting, I will contact you and let you know the Board's response. I cannot guarantee you what the response will be, but I can guarantee that I will let you know the response. My contact information is listed on the TLC website, You have to log into the alumni information. If you are an alumnus, you can log in.
    I want the same things that you want, to be a voice for those with little or no voice, to even the odds. I want lawyers to make a difference, to better the lives of our clients, and our citizens. This may sound Pollyanna-ish, but I am sincere.
    Lynne Bratcher (I know it says anonymous, but I am not a regular poster on blogs and I can't figure out how to get my name on there.)
    Posted on September 14, 2009 at 10:31 am by Anonymous
  • Excellent idea. I attended a few regionals where G...
    Excellent idea. I attended a few regionals where Gerry wasn't present. They were far better and there was more creativity in the teaching than when he was around. His presence leads to competition for attention, sucking up and a stiffling of creativity. Imagine a place where we could gather to share without the oppression of someone needing adoration or the pressure to give money to build that same mans empire. I think you are on to something.
    Posted on September 14, 2009 at 3:08 am by Anonymous

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