In 1999, I was very fortunate to be invited by Gerry Spence to spend a month at his ranch located just north of DuBois, Wyoming, to be a student and to graduate from the Trial Lawyers College.
The college, sometimes known as TLC, was started by Gerry and his former law partner and Wyoming Supreme Court Chief Justice, Bob Rose.
To be accepted, you had to promise to Gerry that you did not represent insurance companies or big business. It is a college only for “people’s lawyers”.
While on the ranch, no suits, ties or arrogant lawyer attitudes were allowed. We did chores and cleaned our own rooms. We took turns cleaning the bathroom. We lived in dorm rooms on the first floor of the big barn, with our classroom on the upper floor.
One of the best lessons taught by Gerry is about telling the truth. This means, if you are a lawyer with a tough case, take your problem to the jury. Tell them the truth. Don’t hide any facts. Tell the jury the good, the bad and the ugly.
And, Gerry taught us that it is OK to tell the jury about our own “fears” as lawyers with a huge responsibility to our client who is counting on us to do a good job for them.
Gerry Spence & Vance – Texas 2013
Gerry Spence & Vance – Wyoming 1999:
It’s tough to put in words the love and respect I have for Gerry. For the month that I lived at his ranch, he was there every day but one, giving of his time, advice and talent. In addition to learning so much from him every day in our second-floor barn/classroom, I ate with Gerry, hiked the ranch with Gerry, argued with Gerry, and even sang with Gerry! I also got to know his wife Imogene and Gerry son, Kent, who is also a dynamite people’s trial lawyer. In the State of Iowa, so far, there are less than 10 lawyers who have graduated from TLC, so, I feel very fortunate to have had such a great and rare opportunity to learn how to be a better lawyer for my clients.
Vance with Rodney King’s attorney, Milton Grimes:
Milton Grimes is an instructor at Gerry Spence’s Trial Lawyers College, both at Thunderhead Ranch, and also at regional seminars. Milton fought for Rodney King after the LA police beat up Rodney King, and was successful in making sure justice is done.
Vance with trial lawyer Bob Fogelnest (left) from New York City:
Bob is a people’s lawyer from New York City, and is a instructor at the Trial Lawyers College. All of the instructors at the College donate their time for free – they must be dedicated to the cause of justice for the little guys and gals in the world.
Vance with Joshua Karton:
While not a lawyer himself, Josh is a regular instructor at TLC. Josh is very popular with the student lawyer because of the great help he gave us in communicating with others. In addition to helping people’s lawyers, Josh has a lot of experience in TV and films. Josh was the writer and creator of the TV series “Mary Hartman Mary Hartman”. In addition to Josh, we had a little help and instruction on good communication skills from Harrison Ford, who lives nearby in Jackson Hole, and who is a friend and neighbor of Gerry’s.
Jim, Vance, Mike and Patrick on graduation day:
Notice the lay of the land at Thunderhead Ranch….it is about 10,000 acres, more or less. It’s so remote, cell phone won’t work unless you climb up on what was called “cell phone hill.
Vance with Dax Cowart of San Antonio, Texas:
Dax is also an instructor at TLC. Dax was an Airforce pilot during Vietnam. Later, Dax was in a bad crash and severely burned. Gerry says: “He’s blind in one eye, and he can’t see out of the other!” Thou blind, Dax later went to law school, took and passed the bar exam, and now is a very successful people’s trial lawyer!