TLC: A More Nuanced View

Quite a few folks have sent me emails privately commenting on the Trial Lawyers College pieces that have appeared here. What follows is one that was sent by someone who wishes to remain anonymous. The writer worries that if their identity were known, friends would shun the writer. That seems sad, but passions run high at Kamp Kool Aid.

In any case, I found these comments among the best I have received. I pass them along for your edification. For what it is worth, I agree wholeheartedly with this assessment. There is much of value going in Wyoming. But all that glitter might conceal more than a little fool's gold.

"Although I have been a supporter of the Trial Lawyers College, I have serious concerns about the school and its future.

"It almost seems that the Trial Lawyer’s College comes in two parts. Part one is a trial practice academy and probably the best that I have ever seen. Part two is much more difficult to describe, but it is almost the equivalent of a religious conversion, with the Gerry Spence method of trying cases being offered and accepted as the one true way. It is with part two that I have serious issues for therein lies hero worship, the destruction of individuality and the development of the so-called TLC cult.

"In the early years, this atmosphere was offset by diversity among the members of the educational staff. Indeed, the first faculties of the Trial Lawyer’s College consisted of a “who’s who” of some of the best trial lawyers in America. Each offered his or her unique strategies and insights into the art of trial practice.

"But by the tenth reunion of the college in 2004, the dynamics of TLC had changed. The faculty from the early years was pretty much gone, replaced by former students of the school itself. While these were all good lawyers in their own right, there now seemed to be something almost incestuous about the methodology. Let me say it this way: by 2004 the Trial Lawyer’s College did not seem to be a breeding ground for open dialogue and alternative theories of trial practice. It seemed to be more about teaching established doctrine.

"I have the brochure for the first session of the Trial Lawyers College from 1994. One section of the brochure poses the question: WHO WILL TEACH? The answer reads, “We teach each other at Trial Lawyer’s College. We learn and grow from being colleagues in the great adventure of learning by doing – participants and trial masters alike. You yourself will both teach and learn.”

"Another section of the brochure asks: WILL WE OFFER A DEGREE? And the answer reads, “No. A degree suggests that you have attended one of those institutions from which you have learned a good deal that you must unlearn if you are to become a successful trial lawyer for the people. You can tell your friends and clients you attended the Trial Lawyer’s College and, if you want, we will certify you as one of the very few who have attended our college.”

"What happened to those promises? And why does the college now conduct a graduation ceremony and offer the equivalent of a degree that can also be obtained by attending the requisite number of regional programs?

"The Trial Lawyer's College also seems to breed dependency. Whereas once there was only the month-long program at the ranch, there are now regional programs, graduate programs and advanced programs. The birds are never expected to leave the nest.

"I don’t think there is any better training ground for trial lawyers than the Trial Lawyer s College. But it is running on but a fraction of its potential. Oh what it could be."

Comments: (8)

  • That's a sensible view. This entire discussion is...
    That's a sensible view. This entire discussion is frustrating, because you are forced to engage members of a Cult of Personality. As you most certainly know, Norm, you cannot persuade cult members.
    Personally, I like Gerry Spence. A lot. He has his issues, but we all do. I nagged Norm incessantly to attend Spence's birthday party.
    One can think highly of Spence personally while still seeking to protect TLC's interests. When I do a business deal a close friend, we put everything in writing. This, even though we love each other.
    It is not a betrayal of love for people to demand - in writing - that Gerry protect the interests of TLC. You think Gerry doesn't put his referral agreements with lawyers that he loves, in writing? Of course he does.
    My feelings for Spence does not change these facts:
    * TLC does not own the Ranch;
    * Spence and others have encouraged the above-mistaken belief;
    * People have donated $$$ under the mistaken belief that TLC owned the Ranch;
    * The lease is revocable.
    While Gerry Spence would NEVER revoke the lease, he's going to die. Sorry, Gerry, you are. I am. We all are. Stop living in denial. Memento mori.
    When Spence dies, then what? "His family members would NEVER take back property worth millions," is not persuasive. Once the pater familias dies, people start running through his pockets. It's a sad fact of human nature.
    Spence needs to sign the Ranch over to TLC. For years, everyone assumed that the Ranch belonged to TLC, anyway. Spence capitalized on that belief, accepting checks that were written under that assumption.
    Spence should make the implicit belief the explicit reality. It'd be the right thing to do for TLC. Plus, there is no persuasive reason why he shouldn't sign it over.
    If Spence keeps possession of the Ranch, at the next TLC fundraiser, Spence should explicitly state that TLC does not own the Ranch. Love demands nothing if not full disclosure.
    Posted on September 13, 2009 at 8:37 am by Mike
  • This is an outstanding post and is consistent with...
    This is an outstanding post and is consistent with many of my feelings about the Ranch. I was one of the earlier students and there was an (apparent) appreciation for the first few years of the differing styles and approaches of many very fine lawyers. However, even then, I felt that Spence's encouragement of adoration/identification/mimicry was destructive. There were people who truly believed he was a father figure to them--he's not, for heaven's sake. There were people who bought the way he described his life and relationship with his wife, and who left decent and bewildered spouses as a result. There were people who truly believed that, when Spence said to the group "I love you" that he loved THEM individually. And Spence appears blithely unconcerned about the harm and hurt that he has caused.
    Many of the people who have come through the Ranch are almost comical in their acceptance of "Gerry's way." They think they should sing at trial, they write excruciatingly bad poetry (there was a while when it all seemed to start "I sit at my desk..."), they paint. And he tolerates it and validates it--and I can't respect him because of that.
    Unlike the previous commenter, I don't like Spence as a person. I have seen him engage in the most abysmal behavior towards people and, while his gifts and successes as a trial lawyer can't seriously be questioned, he is not someone I admire or respect. That level of self-absorption is distasteful to me. I don't like people who really feel that you are better off for having encountered them. I wouldn't want him as a spouse or parent or business partner. And, when he's not "on" he's not particularly interesting--and certainly not interested in other people. He is capable of great charm but, in my opinion, there is no genuine warmth behind it.
    That's why I think so much of the TLC shtick about "love" is baloney.
    I don't think psychodrama is the "answer" to the practice or law or human relationships. I do think Spence's focus on plain communication is valuable, as is being able to put yourself in someone else's position and see their perspective. On the other hand, I've seen too many people come out of TLC without a knowledge of the rules of evidence or civil procedure, who seem to feel that a booming voice and telling a jury that you are afraid is the way to represent a client. While Spence is very bright, his de-emphasis on the intellect, as well as on substantive and procedural law, shortchanges students and the people who depend on them.
    I don't know Jude or the other "insiders" and assume they are capable lawyers. But if I were looking at a place to gain professional skills, I wouldn't spend a lot of money to go to Wyoming to learn from what now is a very homogeneous group. It started great but for whatever reason--whether Spence's intolerance for people who don't constantly validate him or their disillusionment or what have you--it's now a pretty setting with a bunch of "faculty" of varying degrees of skill parroting a party line with which I disagree.
    I'm posting anonymously for the same reason as the person whose email you posted. There are people who are important to me who would be hurt and horrified by what I'm saying. But I'm glad that you've offered a different perspective.
    Posted on September 13, 2009 at 11:19 am by Anonymous
  • I couldn't agree more.
    If TLC were all it profes...
    I couldn't agree more.
    If TLC were all it professes to be and if its leaders actually practiced what they preach, they would gladly engage in open and honest discourse about the issues raised by Norm. Spence would not hide behind rhetoric. He would share the truth, post the financial statements, minutes, bylaws etc for both TLC and the Spence Foundation. We have been duped into believeing that the ranch is ours. The truth is it is not and never will be. Many of us have given money in the belief that TLC owns the ranch. It does not. No amount of rhetoric can change the facts.
    Not all of us are sychophants or believe the garbage spewed by Spence about the "love" of the "tribe." I have seen Spence rip people, attack and demean them both to their face and behind their backs. I have even been sitting with him when some student or alumni has come to talk to him and he tells them he loves them and that he is glad they are there, only to say nasty, mean and derogattory things about them when they walk away. I learned very quickly that Spence can't be trusted and doesn't really love anyone except himself.
    Every board member knows the truth, knows the dishonesty of TLC and its leaders, and that the day they disagree with Spence or one of his chosen ones, their days are numbered. That is what happened to John Nolte. He criticized the wrong people on the board and from that day forward efforts began to get rid of him.
    The staff members who were at staff training witnessed the consequences that come with speaking up. Carl Bettinger did so and was publicly humiliated. Not a single board member or fellow staff member spoke up.
    TLC only teaches one point of view - Spence's. Anyone deviating from or disagreeing with him is ridiculed, criticized or attacked. The more adoration you give him, the higher in the TLC heirarchy you will rise. He thrives on adoration.
    Some of us are not willing to use our names on these posts. Criticize if you want but Exh. A is the fact that no one on the board has spoken a word. Why? They don't want to loose their prescious seats at the right hand of the father. Be honest, how many of you have sat around talking trash about Spence, the board and how TLC is secretive and dishonest? How many of you have criticized the fundraisers outside the presence of Gerry? How many of you are afraid to criticize the fundraisers in a staff meeting because you know you will have your head cut off if you do? How many of you have heard Spence say mean, ugly and hateful things about students, alumni, fellow staff members? If you are honest with yourself you know this is true. But none of us, myself included, want to suffer the fate of Abourezk, Nolte or Joanne or be publicly humiliated like Carl. Every day we wonder when we will be gone. When we travel to the ranch or a regional, we wonder if it will be the last time we are invited.
    TLC and Spence are very seductive. We can't wait to see him, touch him, kiss him, tell him we love him and hear the same spoken back. What is wrong with us? Why do we need this? How many of us have waited each spring for the letter inviting us to staff training? How many of you reading this are hoping this is your year? The problem is, most of us refuse to see the truth because it will say something about us, that we bought into the hypocrisy, the lie that is TLC. We have drunk the cool aid. And that will embarras us because it will make us feel stupid and used. So, we would rather close our eyes and go along with the charade. It is easier than embracing the truth.
    Thank you Norm for making me examine myself, look at my own emptiness and explore why I am willing to believe in a lie, and why I need the insincere love of a false idol. I suspect that most of those involved in TLC will stay blind to its hypocrisy and cult like characteristics and will accept whatever Spence tells them, true or not.
    Posted on September 13, 2009 at 4:56 pm by Anonymous
  • Writing under your real name might stir a few folk...
    Writing under your real name might stir a few folks up, but it might also help some realize that respected peers see that the emperor has no clothes. You might be helping someone else to shake loose from a nest harboring some pretty unhealthy birds.
    Posted on September 13, 2009 at 7:11 pm by Norm Pattis
  • There are some so in love with Spence and the "tri...
    There are some so in love with Spence and the "tribe" that they will never wake up and realize the truth about TLC. They are blinded by their own need to belong to something, even something unhealthy and dishonest. Or by their own ambition to be in the inner circle.
    Posted on September 14, 2009 at 3:15 am by Anonymous
  • Have you looked at the law suit(results) against C...
    Have you looked at the law suit(results) against Clary reported at 2004 La App lexis 2132, why hasn't the Warrior CHEIF Tribal Council done a pow wow on that, with the secret bear cub handhake..?
    Clary is the big La Eagle Domed, defender of the faith, or do you have some other bird flocks/ types in mind, Norm, like vultures ?
    I always found the Mag Pies in Wyoming were the best at cleaning up road kill on the roads just South of Dubois.
    Your analogy about fouling the nest was a bit fowl.
    But, then your nest must be way up near the high Cliffs, is that the scope, Norm ?
    Lone ranger, Norm riding the high rims, looking down on the Valley.
    Posted on October 14, 2009 at 9:56 am by Anonymous
  • Norm a cult implies some leap of faith into some q...
    Norm a cult implies some leap of faith into some quasi religion. Most ironic, you and Spence have gotten great mileage bashing religion.
    Your cyber pal was going into this great swamp to tar and feather Spence with the cult logo in 2007, and it was when Spence was on to his subject: law schools are a big fraud.
    Not that this is like the trials in ARK on evolution, and Apes, Darwin, and science, but
    the Spence taught method, is not a religion, not science, but it has certainly formed a basis to sweep you into some frenzy, and whirl winds of your soul.
    We were reminded by John McCain about belonging to something larger, and bigger than ourself, some call to some service, something that elevates man(generic), the Nation, others.
    Are the U S Marines a cult, is a law firm a cult, are some churches a cult, are
    some so able to suspend their own independent thoughts to be influenced to be under the spell of others, but in a negative fashion ?
    Are cults filled with those are swayed with word on hope, words on change, appeals to the
    greener grass of the Party movements.
    You have opened up something Norm, not sure what, but you opened it up, and it may be a giant can of worms.
    Posted on October 17, 2009 at 1:50 pm by Anonymous
  • Mike, from the above not only are you nagging Norm...
    Mike, from the above not only are you nagging Norm to live his life through Spence it is you who are doing so.
    Do you even recall what you write at any meta-cognitive moment ?
    You are so wrapped up in Spence's life you are ordering him what to do with the TLC Ranch.
    That is really brazen, Mike !
    I sure am glad you are not ordering me what to do with my property, but then will you make assumptions on that too.
    Are you getting help on a cult problem in view of the above, and your cult posts on TLC ?
    Who played your father, since the drama must have been so distressing, one of your 5 cult signs..?
    Norm may have been going to Ted Bundy exhibits in Italy, but he is very much back to his TLC thing in America, the 28th in a series.
    He is deep into the stew, still, regardless how Jungian he gets on meta-cognitive, and mirrors.
    Mirror, mirror on the fence post, who is metacognitive the most ?
    If you keep nagging Norm on Mike, will he keep reading on Jesus, and the money changers ?
    Posted on October 18, 2009 at 6:40 pm by Anonymous

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