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Gerry Spence and The Trial Layer’s College

By Andrew Mishlove on January 30, 2012


As anyone who knows me is aware, I have been quite active in the National College for DUI Defense. Through my friendships and activities at the NCDD, I learned of the Trial Lawyer’s College, founded and still largely run by Gerry Spence. This weekend I have been at The Trial Lawyers College (TLC) regional conference in beautiful San Luis Obispo, California. Unfortunately, we have been so busy learning how to be better people and lawyers that there was only a little time to enjoy the area.

I have attended and lately taught at these conferences for many years. Making the effort to participate in higher-level professional education is a key element of higher-level professional skill and success. This College is a little different. Rather than a day of one- or two hour sessions, punctuated with sumptuous meals in fancy hotels, this had a holistic and healthy feel. The focus is on Discovering the Story of the case. The method is one of self-discovery as a means of developing an empathetic and caring personality, in order to tell the client’s story.

In other words, self-actualization and personal growth as a means of acquiring professional skill. It’s a bit funny that it revolves around the person of Gerry Spence, a cowboy lawyer from Wyoming. But Spence is one of the greatest living masters of our craft. At 83, he is still tall and strong, with a booming baritone voice. He is a charismatic figure, to say the least. Oh…to have a beautiful baritone voice. I was told that he practices his voice as a musician does his instrument.

I was wary of the possibility of a cult of personality surrounding Spence and the psychobabble of his method. My fears were allayed. The first thing I noticed about Spence when we met was not his powerful or dominating countenance, although it was there – but rather I noticed the kindness of his eyes and real pleasure in meeting and knowing the people whom he encounters. Each of the diverse people that I met shared a bit of themselves in a way that touched me – it was much easier to see the unity in all people.

Using role-playing, scene-setting and psychodrama to prepare for a trial are unorthodox techniques. TLC lawyers, however, have achieved astounding success with these methods. More than that, TLC teaches a method of bringing real candor and personal integrity to the art of advocating a cause.

I saw several of my NCDD colleagues here; and I am confident that the interface of the TLC method with our DUI College will continue to bring us great success in the courtroom and help us grow as human beings.

I want to thank my fellow NCDD instructor (who was an instructor for me at the TLC), Paco Duarte of Seattle, for being such an inspiration. Thanks as well to my NCDD colleague, Pat Barone, from Detroit who talked me into making the effort to attend this conference and steep myself in the TLC method. Kudos to Eagle River lawyer Steve Lucarelli for being the first from Wisconsin to graduate from the TLC.

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