I occasionally receive invitations/solicitations by email to attend one of the regional seminars produced by the Trial Lawyers College. That's the outfit Gerry Spence started years ago to train criminal defense and plaintiffs' personal injury lawyers to be better advocates. Spence's methods are unconventional - sort of a blend of method acting and encounter group. Those who can afford to be away from work and home, and pay the tuition, can attend Spence's month long residential program at his ranch outside Jackson Hole, WY.
I attended a short seminar at MO-Ranch, outside Kerrville about 12 years ago. I benefited from it, mainly by getting loosened up and more natural. I especially enjoyed, and benefited from, the sessions with Josh Karton, a screenwriter, actor, and acting coach.
Of course, the great man himself was there. I was a little disappointed. I had built Spence up in my mind as this legend, not only a great lawyer, but a humanitarian, who genuinely cared for people. It was hero-worship. The one time I tried to talk with him one on one, he wouldn't make eye contact, and seemed bored, going through the motions. There was another incident I've remembered, that has stuck in my mind. He didn't wear his trademark fringed buckskin coat or cowboy hat. Instead, he wore your basic Nike track suit and running shoes. After one of his talks, he stepped off the little stage, and his leg buckled and he almost fell. The mask fell away, and a look of fear - of falling, of failure? - crossed his face. He caught himself, straightened up, and the mask descended again.
We were, we were told, all "warriors." That's what Spence and his organization call themselves and their the "Alumni Tribe."The College even has its own magazine, called "Warrior."
There were about three days of training. The last session was held on a Sunday morning. There was nothing of substance in that session. We all sat around and talked about how we had been transformed by our three and a half days with "Gerry." Then he got down to business, asking us to pledge money so that the good work of the Trial College could continue, and our less successful (financially) brothers and sisters could partake of the wisdom and magic. It was like some of the revivals I had to attend in the Baptist Church, with people trying to out-hallelujah each other. Only here, it was like bidding, with Spence's shills writing down how much the acolytes pledged on big sheets of paper. Others made sure they got the names of the "donors" written down. I got caught up in it, and stood up, just like I did when I gave my life to Jesus, and said I would pledge $5,000 from a big case, that I was sure was going to pay the jackpot when I got back to Houston and used my new Gerry Spence mojo. I got so worked up, I bid against myself, up to $10,000. Of course, the big jackpot didn't materialize. But that didn't stop Gerry, who barely lowered himself to converse with me, from writing me florid letters, calling me his good friend, profusely apologizing for not personally thanking me for my generous "gift," and so on.
When the great one had to leave us to catch a plane, the crowd (me too) began chanting, just like the morons on the old Jerry Springer show, "Gerry! Gerry! Gerry!"
Scott Greenfield, from New York dares ask the question in his blog Simple Justice- a New York Criminal Defense Blog, is TLC a cult? He asks, "What hole exists in the psyche that makes some people, some lawyers, feel the need to make someone their leader, and them his follower? Whatever it is, whether the cool-aid, the fear, the lack of self-esteem, it's flowing freely at Gerry Spence's Trial Lawyer College. And Norm Pattis has become the target of their ire."
I am frankly embarrassed when I reflect on how gullible and foolish I was. The only reason I'm telling this story on myself is this: today I got another email announcement of a TLC regional seminar, wit a picture of some of the "Warriors" sitting listening to the guru. It just strikes me as pretentious and wrong, when we have real warriors serving this country at great danger and sacrifice in hellholes like Iraq and Afghanistan. Go to San Antonio some time to one of the malls and you'll see some of the wounded vets on leave from Brooks Army Medical Base, missing limbs, blind, and burned. It is an affront to them for anyone who didn't wear a uniform to call himself or herself a "warrior."