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Trial Lawyers College at the Crossroads

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For over ten years, I have written many things online about the benefits I have derived from the Trial Lawyers College. I will always be grateful for the opportunity I have had to participate at the college, and to its many participants with whom I have shared profound friendship and support to this very day.

Just as I have sung many praises about the college, I think it is important to put the college into a current perspective, particularly as to those who weigh my writings in deciding whether to attend a TLC program.

Perhaps TLC — is the acronym a mere coincidence with tender loving care? — is an idea whose time has expired in its current form (see my discussion below about Cheng Man Ch’ing). Together with the National Criminal Defense College/Macon, the TLC helped me make myself a much better person and lawyer, but would today’s TLC have been as beneficial for me as when I attended in 1995?  

Unfortunately, as opposed to the NCDC, which for years has not been associated with any one strong personality, the TLC and Gerry Spence have been too inseparable from each other. Maybe the TLC would not have gotten off the ground and survived so long without Gerry’s heavy involvement, but the TLC could have become a much greater place had his dominance subsided to share more room with additional leaders of the TLC. Instead, sadly, the opposite happened, with staff/faculty eventually primarily coming from among TLC attendees, and with the elimination in one way or another of participation by a vast number of staffers/faculty who had not been attendees.

Of course, the NCDC is an institution, whereas one of the first things Gerry warned us of —- and I have always agreed wholeheartedly — in 1995 was against the TLC becoming institutionalized, which by now the TLC keeps snowballing into more and more and at a dizzying speed.

Perhaps a non-institutionalized trial lawyer training ground will not survive on its own for too many years without becoming institutionalized. However, the more the TLC becomes entrenched and snowballed in institutionalization, the more the TLC becomes something much different than it was when I attended in 1995, for the worse.

There comes a time when organizations whither away once their charismatic leader is no longer with the organization. A case in point is the great t’ai chi master Cheng Man Ch’ing, who brought t’ai chi ch’uan yang style to the West and away from just the aristocracy first followed by only Chinese people.

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.

I imagine everyone who has benefitted from the TLC is very grateful to Gerry Spence —- who remains the TLC’s board chair but no longer its president — but there is no monolithic path from here for TLC alums.

ADDENDUM – (March 24, 2011). Another possible way of perceiving the Trial Lawyers College’s current path might be informed by The Last Samurai, where the battling sides profess loyalty to the emperor, but are at full odds with each other. Of course, The Last Samurai ended with a literal fight to the death, whereas with the Trial Lawyers College, there are some sharp differences of opinion by TLC alumni on TLC, Inc.’s current path, while at the same time I assume that the vast majority of TLC alumni feel a deep sense of gratitude to Gerry Spence, no matter how much they do or do not agree with his current stance on TLC, Inc.’s path.

The way my brother lawyer Mark Bennett puts it, he loves the TLC, as distinct from TLC, Inc.