I left Pensacola to travel to Wyoming on August 19th this year to spend another week at a graduate level program at the non-profit Trial Lawyer’s College (TLC). The lawyers and staff that attend live in a barn that has had it’s bottom half converted to a co-ed dorm with twin beds in each room or out buildings with similar, austere accommodations. Everyone has a roommate, often a lawyer from another part of the country. Everyone is committed to be a better lawyer or they wouldn’t be there. Everyone has chores like busing tables or cleaning bathrooms. It is a place for lawyers to come to become more human, something that law schools don’t teach and in fact don’t encourage. I hope by being actively involved with TLC I am helping bring a little more justice to Pensacola.
I think this was about the 13th time I have traveled from Pensacola to Wyoming, Washington, California, Texas, South Dakota, Colorado or Virginia to attend a TLC or TLC related program in the last five years. I wondered this time what was I really going to gain by going on another “trip to the barn.” (The “barn” is on an isolated ranch in the middle of Wyoming). I am now on my way back, sitting on the airplane on August 25th as I write this article. I feel like I have learned a lot in the last week.
I have learned that it is more important to be a person than it is to be a lawyer, inside and outside the courtroom. I am no doubt a better lawyer and person every time I return from one of these programs. Attending these emotionally taxing and physically exhausting programs also reminds me of what the day in and day out stress of being a trial lawyer can steal from you – – – primarily your humanity. This last week I have had the good fortune of directing and helping other lawyers in working on their cases and working on issues in their personal lives through the use of psychodramatic methods that are too numerous to describe in this forum and of which I am not qualified to explain. (All sessions are supervised by some of the top certified psychodrama therapists in the country including the imminent psychodramatist John Nolte, PhD). I have also worked on my own client’s pending cases with the assistance of some of the best lawyers in the country at the Ranch.
Simply put psychodramatic methods allow one to find the real truth. The methods allow someone to better understand themselves and other people, both qualities necessary to be a good trial lawyer. What’s taught are not tricks or slick techniques – far from it. What is taught is how to discover and present the real truth of your case to other people, which, in the world of trial lawyers, means presenting a case to a jury or a judge who usually hold the fate and future of your client’s world in their hands.
Most trial lawyers I know don’t spend much time, if any, practicing and honing their skills. Yes, some, such as the public defenders and assistant state attorneys, try a lot of cases. There are some darn good lawyers in both of these offices. In fact, in my opinion, there are many public defenders that are more effective than private attorneys. However, today, and when I held these positions (and as a federal defender) we were only allowed to attend a seminar or two each year where we would be lectured about the law and trial techniques, etc. None of this “training” was “interactive.” It did not include actually standing up in front of your peers and experienced lawyers and actually performing trial skills and thereafter being critiqued.
It was not until I became involved with the National Criminal Defense College and the Trial Lawyer’s College that I actually practiced trial skills in front of other more highly trained trial lawyers who critiqued my abilities and methods and made suggestions of how to improve. Gerry Spence’s program (TLC) is the best in the country in my opinion because, if you are courageous enough to take risks with finding out who you really are, his methods enable you how to better understand yourself and therefore more effectively understand other people. Other people include insurance adjusters, cops, prosecutors, insurance defense attorneys and judges to name a few. His methods also allow you to understand and know your client at a deeper level and discover the real story of his or her case. What is it that truly motivates a witness in your case? What is it that is driving the prosecutor to obtain a conviction or an insurance defense attorney to defeat your client’s claim to obtain money damages for serious injuries caused by the negligence of the insurance company’s insured? These are some of the questions that you may be able to answer if you use the methods taught at TLC. For more information see Gerry Spence’s Trial Lawyers College at www.triallawyerscollege.com or my web site.