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Nobody has a monopoly on the best path as a trial lawyer nor as a person

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Nobody has a monopoly on the best path as a trial lawyer nor as a person.

Yes I have my key gurus of Jun Yasuda, Steve Rench, and Cheng Man Ch’ing. The most important thing they teach me is to use what works —- and they teach me tremendously what works — and to leave the rest. Jun Yasuda has been a major catalyst in my proceeding on a peaceful path every waking and sleeping hour. Steve Rench has been a major catalyst for me to recognize that one does not need to be born with greatness as a trial lawyer to do great things in court. Cheng Man Ch’ing — who passed away before I started learning t’ai chi — left his beloved home in Taiwan after leaving the mainland ahead of the communist takeover, being convinced of the importance of spreading t’ai chi to the West, beyond Chinese people.

As I have said many times before, the main factor that drew me to the Trial Lawyers College was not Gerry Spence, but was Steve Rench, who at the time remained at first blush an unassuming powerhouse yin to Gerry’s charismatic yang. Unfortunately, Gerry’s personality has over-dominated the Trial Lawyers College, to make a potentially much greater program less great. When I attended in the second year in 1995, numerous great trial lawyers were there along with Gerry. As the years passed, fewer staffmembers of the program were anyone other than those who had already attended the Gerry Spence-dominated college as non-staffers. The college from the outset has borne some key hallmarks of a cult, including physical isolation (around ten miles from the nearest paved road and almost zero cellphone reception when I was there, before the Internet got there), a charismatic leader (that being Gerry Spence, who has handed official top leadership to a skilled but uncharismatic lawyer), lessons of a better way of life, and such rituals as psychodrama, hugging, baring souls/warts/closet skeletons, and showing love. None of those hallmarks, aside from the lengthy physical isolation (which is broken by a car ride into town and by what I assume is Internet access on the ranch by now), are bad in and of themselves, and the psychodrama, caring, and revealing selves can be very powerful for development as a person and a lawyer. However, Gerry wisely urged early on when I attended that the Trial Lawyers College should not become institutionalized, but now the TLC is not only institutionalized, but is overinstitutionalized.

Cheng Man Ch’ing reportedly chose a few senior students to carry on his t’ai chi school after his passing. Early on after his passing, that did not work. Instead, his senior students, and some junior students, started their own t’ai chi schools, with many doing amazing things along the way after they grew their own independent roots and spread their own wings, with many of them still teaching at their own schools to this day, over thirty years later.

One alternative to the Trial Lawyers College, run by three of its graduates, is 3 Sisters, formed by Fredi Sison, Joane Garcia-Colson, and Mary Peckham. Fredi Sison alone makes the 3 Sisters worth promoting. A few years ago, with a car left to load to move to her next job, Fredi spent time with me, my client, the amazing psychodramatist Don Clarkson, and two other lawyers to help me with a psychodrama trial workshop to defend a client charged with assault, with the case ultimately pleading guilty to a non-jailable traffic moving violation. Fredi was totally in the moment as she engaged and related with my client and everyone else in the room.

The 3 Sisters’ next program is The Persuasive Power of Psychodrama in New Orleans February 17-21, 2011.

Unfortunately, during its overinstitutionalization and ivory-towerism, the Trial Lawyers College has become too much of a parody of the sharp and sometimes relentless criticism by one of its most vocal online detractors, who previously served as a TLC staffer, about the TLC’s too-monolithic leadership that seems too ready to drop quality leaders and quality staffers who do not display enough loyalty to the top leadership. The TLC has become too much of the Trial Lawyers College, Inc., that alumnus Mark Bennett calls it. Like I, Mark still believes strongly in the power of what we learned there, and knows that TLC, Inc., has no monopoly on the truth nor the best path. Consequently, with the Trial Lawyers College, I will continue using what works, and will leave the rest, still saddened that TLC, Inc., is squandering its ability to be something much greater than it is  — including through being too attached to itself, its history, and its excessively mythical side — without needing much more effort nor more money than it currently invests to be more of a shining star.