When There's A Level Playing Field

Is Gerry Spence Passe?

Let me ask a question that only sounds rhetorical: Is Gerry Spence passe?

A decade ago, Spence started something called the Gerry Spence Trial Lawyers College. It is located on a sprawling ranch in DuBois, Wyoming. The ranch, thousands of acres of it, was once owned by the fabled lawyer. The bulk of it was gifted over the to the state as a wildlife preserve. See Camp Kool Aid

The college has programs year-round, but here is the rub: No prosecutors allowed, and no insurance industry lawyers, either.

The core of the curriculum is built around something called psychodrama, a technique involving role playing, and putting thoughts into action. I attended a 30-day session in 1997, and was on faculty for a couple of years thereafter until one day it dawned on me: there is no monopoly on virtue.

I've tried more than 100 cases to a verdict, cases of all stripes: In almost every case, my adversary has been a prosecutor or a lawyer retained by an insurance company. I have come to respect almost each and every adversary.

Indeed, I depend on my insurance company to defend me, and I enjoy the protection of the law. Were a family member victimized by crime, I would expect prosecution.

So what gives with the exclusivity provision of the college? Has Spence foresworn insurance? Does he think the state should abandon prosecuting crime? I doubt his accountant or the pilot of his private jet would recommend such a course.

The techniques and tools taught at the college are valuable, and they should be shared. The pursuit of justice is not a partisan sport. Of course, this mundane and pragmatic realization lacks sex appeal. And perhaps that's the point: The Trial Lawyers College may be less about the pursuit of justice than it is about marketing high-powered legal talent. Boo!

P.S. In the interest of full-disclosure, I recently committed to write a column each quarter for the college's magazine, the Warrior. (At least I think I did.)