It has yet to be announced, but the Trial Lawyers College is reportedly poised to increase the price of weekend regional seminars located throughout the United States from $1,475 to $1,699, an increase of 15 percent. Expect a price increase in the more popular summer programs in Wyoming too.
Why the increase?
The college is looking over its shoulder. Apparently the National Institute for Trial Advocacy charges more than TLC for its programs. So does the American Association for Justice. Hence, the logic goes, TLC should charge more because TLC is better. At least this is the rationale reported for the increase in price attributed to new TLC president Jude Basile and to the new TLC treasurer, Jim Nugent.
Of course, neither NITA nor the AAJ offer their programs under the umbrella of confusing corporate structures. And neither, so far as I know, excludes entire classes of lawyers from participation, such as prosecutors.
As reported here, the TLC is a 501c(3) program with a twist: The college raises money, supports the infrastructure of a beautiful ranch in Wyoming, and operates in a manner redolent of the great tradition of the Land of Oz:
o The college does not own the physical plant on which it relies, although it pays for the entire costs of the facility's upkeep. The land and structures themselves are owned by the Spence Foundation, which leases the property to the college under terms of a revocable lease. The lease can be revoked at any time.
0 Although the TLC has a board, the board lacks independence and is little more that the public beard of an alter ego, Gerry Spence, the college's founder and one of the trustees, together with other family members and a few trusted lieutenants, of the Spence Foundation.
o The board, although nominally the governing body of the TLC, elects itself, and decisions about such things as hiring of staff, signing of leases and expenditures of TLC monies appears to take place without full board approval.
These lingering questions have not been addressed in any meaningful way by either the college or its new executive director. Instead, Spence wrote a hortatory piece to the TLC listserve asserting, among other whoppers, that the ranch somehow belonged to all alumni of the college. Like sheep, many listservice readers bleated in unison to show their approval. When Kurtz speaks, the natives shudder.
New questions have arisen in recent days. What, for example, is an entity known as Singing Trees? It is apparently a paper structure of some sort used to pay ranch employees. It is hard to understand the need for yet another skein in the spider's web. Are Singing Trees employees paid by TLC and directed by members of the Spence Foundation? If so, what is Singing Trees but another cut-out corporation designed to insulate against potential liability? Isn't this the very sort of behavior those greedy corporations engage in when they are trying to deprive little people of justice? (Note to non-cognoscenti That is a no-no at the Neverland Ranch.)
And is work done at the ranch put out to bid? One report contends that recent improvements to the ranch were done by a member of the family of one Spence Foundation trustee who was down on his luck. From what I saw at a recent visit to the ranch, all the work was top-notch. But what was paid, and to whom?
And, just for giggles, what is this new intelligence about a new secret society created by some members of the board? It is loosely modeled on an old Lakota Sioux tradition of devotion to the warrior's ethos. Is devotion to black war bonnets TLC's equivalent to Yale's Skull and Bones, a secret society among the elite? Oh, my.
Perhaps these are meaningless, niggling questions, unworthy of me, and not worth notice by the college. But almost every month of the year, college emissaries are somewhere holding a program for lawyers: promising love and asking for money.
No one seems very interested in questioning where the money is going. And who benefits by its receipt. And when questions get asked, Spence flashes his puppy dog eyes and asks with wounded words whether we can't all just love him. I wonder if Spence reads Joseph Conrad; I'll bet he does.