Confronting The Cult

What hole exists in the psyche that makes some people, some lawyers, feel the need to make someone their leader, and them his follower?  Whatever it is, whether the cool-aid, the fear, the lack of self-esteem, it’s flowing freely at Gerry Spence’s Trial Lawyer College.  And Norm Pattis has become the target of their ire.

Norm, a one-time follower, one-time challenger to the cult, had made peace with Spence.  Why Spence cared whether he had Norm’s love is beyond me, but being a magnetic personality and perhaps the greatest lawyer of our time, Spence apparently had the opposite void of his followers, the need for admiration and validation.  When Norm withheld his love, Spence wanted it back.  The Treaty of Versailles followed.

But when questions arose about financial practices at TLC, called the Ranch by those whose “lives are changed” by a bit of psychodrama and a lot of basking in Spence’s reflection, Norm called them on it.  It’s not clear why Norm broke the truce, or why he wanted to jump into a fray where there were so many happy sycophants to beat him to a pulp.  Norm is either inordinately brave or stupid, and which one is subject to where you stand.

Having never attended the Trial Lawyers College, and therefore not being one of the Tribe (as they call themselves), I have no horse in this race as to whether this is part of a financial scam being run for the benefit of Spence, or whether he’s deserving of whatever scarce resources he can get his hands onto such that any infidelity should be overlooked.  I can squint with the best of ‘em, but leave it to others to sift through the numbers and the lease and the 501(c)(3) paperwork.  There are plenty of dirty not-for-profits in my own sphere that Wyoming can deal with its own.

But the attack on Norm from the anonymous Tribespeople presents a different problem.  These are lawyers all, and as such should be able to separate their need for religion from their intellectual ability to recognize legitimately raised issues.  They may well choose to ignore or overlook them, but attack because someone announced that Gerry Spence is marching around the ranch naked?  Scratch that image.  Too late.

In a question posed to Norm in a tone that was so frail as to melt the hardened heart and compel a response, Cheryl Carpenter asked why Norm had abandoned the Tribe, had chosen to attack Gerry.  Why, if nothing else, couldn’t Norm just sit it out and let things go as they would.  Norm explains, to the extent anyone can explain, the path that led him to do the unthinkable: Question the leader of the cult. 

As someone who doesn’t care much for cool-aid, I can clearly sense Norm’s ambivalence toward Gerry Spence.  There is some weird love and admiration there, while simultaneously discomfort with his elevation to lawyer-god status.  Isn’t it enough that Gerry Spence is a great, if not the greatest, lawyer of our time?  Must his Tribe go that next step to make him above reproach?  And does his Tribe, many members of which I know and respect, lose their ability to detach themselves from their spiritual leader and see that he’s just a man?

Not to bring the believers down, but there’s one hard point about which you need to be reminded.  You’ve gone through TLC and have come out the other end. Yet you are not Gerry Spence.  You haven’t achieved lawyer Nirvana.  Your pinball score isn’t any higher than top quality non-tribespeople, and some of you aren’t anywhere near high score.  You may have enjoyed the filling of that spiritual hole left behind by childhood trauma or parental neglect, but it didn’t make you Super Lawyer (with or without cheese).

You can adore Gerry Spence all you want.  Put up that really cool photo of him on your office wall if it makes you feel better.  Hang the sage/dirt amulet on the corner of your law school diploma.  Whatever.  But don’t blame Norm Pattis because the cool-aid doesn’t last forever. 

If Gerry Spence is your cup of tea, enjoy.  But this cultish behavior borders on the sick.  Whatever you do, ignore the call to buy brand new Nike sneakers

18 comments on “Confronting The Cult

  1. Norm Pattis

    Thanks for the support.

    Word has gone out from TLC. Avoid public commentary on this. Don’t “give your power” to critics, etc. Almost all of the comments I have received in response to the piece, both on my blog and in my private email, are either anonymous or have come from people who have asked me to keep their identity secret.

    Odd, very odd. But such is life.

  2. SHG

    Whether it’s fear of retaliation, or disloyalty to the cult, it’s a shame (disgrace?) that this is what it boils down to.  Dissent will not be tolerated is hardly the epitaph one would expect for Gerry Spence.

    Or, it could have something to do with their undergarments, not that this is a per se reflection of some truly bizarre psychological need.

  3. Henry

    Just like any cult, neither TLC nor its leader Gerry Spence will tolerate dissent. You must hold to the party line or be excommunicated and banished from the “tribe.” Make It exists to feed the narcissistic ego of Gerry Spence who has publicly stated that he wants to be immortalized. Members of the cult are silent because they are afraid and because they have been brainwashed. Norm has spoken much truth but as is true in most cults, TLC’s members would rather have blind loyalty than to loose the proclaimed but false love of their narcissistic leader.

  4. Jon Katz

    Hi, Scott-

    Your current posting and my deep departure on the unnecessarily sharp badmouthing/loshon hora that you (and Norm Pattis) unnecessarily engage in to state your strong disagreements with Gerry Spence are heavily reflected in your postings and my reply thereto from awhile back here.

    Although you refuse to attend any Trial Lawyers College programs — which I attended in 1995 for the full length program — that does not diminish from their highly beneficial quality. Even Norm Pattis — despite his sharp detractions — blogged that he recently considered attending a TLC grad program.

    You can repeatedly call the TLC a cult and talk of kool aid, but that stretches reality. I will not ignore how the college can be improved, but Norm’s credibility in discussing Gerry Spence, the TLC, and its faculty, staff and attendees is made highly suspect by the way he mixes some facts possibly beyond change with reckless conjecture and his admitted (in his blog) penchant for stirring the pot.

    I doubt that Norm will be kept out of TLC programs — and he attended the recent reunion — or off the college’s email listserv if he chooses to return to either. I have neither seen nor heard any directives to TLC grads about expressing dissent or handling dissenters. I think a firestorm would erupt against any such directive.

    I hope all is well with you. Jon

  5. Mark Bennett

    The significance of Norm’s observations is above my pay grade, but I’m glad Norm has made them. I agree that it’s very odd that people are so reluctant to comment publicly.

    Still, calling TLC a cult is overplaying the hand far enough that it doesn’t bother me much. I think it’s like lawyer jokes: those most offended are those for whom it’s most true.

    I learned a lot at TLC, not least from Norm, who was on staff then. It opened my mind to the incorporation of a lot of other technologies into my lawyering. I would recommend it to trial lawyers still, with one proviso: that they bear in mind that they are not Gerry Spence, and that the TLC Way is not The Way, or even Your Way.

  6. SHG

    Facinating juxtaposition between your comments and Jon’s below.  Maybe your kool-aid was watered down?  Maybe his was spiked?   But the comments to Norm’s post also vary, some very cult-like and others not, suggesting an inconsistent kool-aid mix at least.

  7. Norm Pattis

    There is a lot of good pedagogy there. But there is also a lof of just plain goofiness. As yet I have not had to resort to satire to poke at the goofiness. Facts and reasonable inferences have been more than enough to stir the pot. The wonder is, Jon, that you find it harsh.

  8. Gunnar

    I have a question about Spence’s “never lost a case”-ness.
    What, exactly, does that mean? Every case resulted in NG all charges? No convictions of the max charges? Or what?
    I know PDs who will call it a victory if they keep the jury out for a whole day. I know DAs who will call it a victory, so long as they get a conviction on SOMEthing.
    So, does anybody know what Spence actually means by “never lost a criminal trial”? (I don’t know of any non-Spence sources for this amazing claim)
    And how many jury trials are we talking about, anyway? Ten? Twenty? Two hundred?

  9. Henry

    Well, it isn’t as hard to win when you get to cherry pick your cases, have associates or partners do the heavy lifting except for trial, have research attorneys who do all the legal research, have the resources to hire the best experts and do an exhaustive investigation, have screeners who only select the best cases for your firm and give all the dogs (or less attractive cases) to your colleagues or refer them out. Not to say that Spence didn’t have hard cases, or didn’t earn the victories he has obtained, he is an amazing trial lawyer. But he has tremendously more freedom of choice than most lawyers. He is a talented lawyer, perhaps the best in America at the current time, although there are others who could compete for that title. Fieger, Friedman, Luvera, Panash. Those guys just aren’t as flamboyant or eccentric or as narcissistic or as publicity hungry as Spence (well maybe except for Fieger.) But that doesn’t mean all the hype and propaganda about Spence are 100% true. Are there any sources for this claim from any one other than Spence himself or his admirers? I’d like to see them. Maybe it is sort of like Clinton and the definition of “sex.” Maybe Spence defines “never” or “lost” differently than most of us.

  10. J Mitchell

    Scott:
    The operating budget of TLC, according to TLC honcho Slater is $ 1.3 million per year.
    It must cost money for things. Obviously, if TLC held an event in the New Haven Hilton there would be charges.
    The lease from the Spence Foundation to TLC results in what to G Spence personally—is it zero ?
    Maybe facts or property law is not your or Norm’s cup of tea.
    You throw around the cult smear, and you dude dirt.
    But, you are clueless,
    Rick Reno is an example of the cult of Norm.
    In June of 2009 he posts on the Spence blog he loves Gerry. Before he was miffed that Feiger had not been convicted.
    Now, he is posting his rants on Norm’s, sites, about his troubles.
    Do you or Mr Pattis have one iota of evidence that G Spence spun off money from any non-profit to him to illegal benfit himself(personally) in violation of any laws ?
    If not, you are a fool.
    And, Norm’s gift of witholding love from Spence, Oh ya, that shattered Spence, and if you believe that are you so far out of any zone of reality.
    And, Norms mirror, like he is mirror man. If you got any hard core numbers, basis, facts you have not put them up, all your put up are some of your vapid blathring, like maybe that is your deal
    And, I have never bought a Spence mug, or sprung for one of his T-Shits, or forked out some Ranch club fees.
    Does Spence have a giant ego ?
    Does the Bear roam in Yellowstone.?
    But, why is there an absence of numbers on financial things, linked with any innuendo, are you just stupid, can’t quantify anything, so you just splatter empty words over your blogs, and call that some J D Esquire East coast bull.
    You Scott are out to lunch seeming to have been brain washed by Norm.
    If Spence Foundation got some money from the TLC for some lease, so what ?
    Do you in all your Scotty brillance have any basis why that is wrong, illegal, not AOK, etc ?
    Or, is it since Norm is foaming at the mouth, with his mirrors, that really got you to go Postal.
    Norm does not like it when some respond to his dumpings, he goes into cults, secret hand shakes, sees shadows, old crows on the Telly lines.
    it is education, a 501(c)(3′s) is in the mode to education Esq style, and so it engages in the means to do so.
    If some psycho drama in Wyoming had long lasting impact on Norm, and blew his corks, and Gerry is no long his faux God-father, why doesn’t he make a federal case of it, or is it he gets his rocks off writing 25 pieces in some
    kinda of Skull and Bones Society suggestions, like the Sioux rituals were carried too far, and the Ghost dances are not really coming back, and the dudes from the East should have never gotten on the Bozeman trail, because their is trouble at the bend.
    You Scotty are the one who has been drinking Norm’s Kool ade, and look what that brew did to Reno, he has gone off the rails. Dubois and the Sun Dance lives, Warriors, Bub…

  11. J Mitchell

    Spence has asserted that law schools, are a fraud, (see his blogs), and you want us to hang some “dirt amulet” on the corner of the diploma ?
    Didn’t Norm get what he paid for TLC adventures ?
    I don’t have a photo of Spence, inscribed, either.
    And, wht is it about some guy who melted down during the psycho-drama, didn’t Spence play his PA ?
    TLC grads got what they paid for, did you see any fine print about refunds ?
    If Norm, can prove anything, then will that speak well for his TLC sheep skin, if not, then we are all in awe of the audacity of it all !

  12. J Mitchell

    Spence does have a different definition of win, than many, with Bar #’s XXXXX. He must count wins of cases the jury, and courts ruled against him( State v E. L Newton), cases in which a jury verdict is overturned on appeal to go from over $ 10 million to zero( Pring v Penthouse), to name just a few, not a dime collected for that illusive person, called a client.
    However, you think St Martin’s press fact checks. Hardly. Where is O-PRA
    No, St Martins is utterly clueless.
    But, this myth has take flight with deep roots.
    You mean a bunch of dudes from the Coast(s) bought into the Spence myth, and paid a bundle to go to some barn..
    This is a riot. This is really hilarious.
    Sorry to hear of Norm’s dust up, but
    he must be clueless too of the real Spence(his FIRM) record in the 10th Cir, 9th Cir, some State courts, far far from Conn.
    Hey, marketing, is something, when the seeds are planted in St Martins, and he reads his own press releases.
    Gerry had as his hero Mevlin Belli, and there is a cautionary saga there if any ever followed the career of Melvin when he got old, and the tourist trap now down near the Strip.(SAN FRAN)

  13. J Mitchell

    Certainly not to bust anyones’ bubble, but did you all(who did) attend TLC, because you swallowed, that Spence never has lost a criminal case, or a civil case since 1969.
    Hey, you get what you paid for.
    You went to the barn, and you were given the holy water, and you emerged, and were never the same, and you posted on Spencne’s blog you “loved him”, and
    you are the chosen ones, to go forth and save the world.
    So, why are some of you, now looking for more love in all the Mt Passes of
    Wyo-icki-stan ?
    This is some cultural version of Wonderland ranch by the SNAKE River, and the Windy Mts

  14. J Mitchell

    So, the TLC has a budget of $ 1.3 million of late(2009), per notices of Ms Vicki Slater. So, Spence Foundation may get some money from some lease it executed with the TLC, as the TLC uses the grounds property covered in the lease.
    All the Foundations, 501(C)( 3′s) are not Spence personally, but separate entities, legally so.
    So, Norm can “stir the pot” go in and out of peace accords, have flash backs on psycho drama King Lear sessions,
    but, the cult is premised on what ?
    Oh— recall, Gerry has a thing on religion, as does Norm.
    What has Norm proved, exactly, that the TLC is not affliated with ROME, or Pope
    Benny, or don’t get fed grants from
    D C, he points to contributors, those are grown men, they can buy a bike, a car, a spend they bread as they opt to, why does it bug Norm ?
    TLC is not exactly made in the image of BYU.
    The barn takes people out of their usual mode, gets them up for a hike, a chat around the fire place, makes for a different pace, and all attendees, take a nice deduction when they file their returns, claim CLE credits, and
    their is that bonding of the El Groupo, and so paying homaage to a Chief is a big deal in Dakoa Territory, after the pale face took over Teton County.
    Sitting Bull was not even the head chief.
    Norm appears miffed he is only an indian, not a Chief.

  15. SHG

    Do I have any proof?  Only the rantings of a semi-literate, borderline psychopath like you as demonstrated in this and your four following serial comments.  I couldn’t care less about how the money flows or TLC is run.  I’m not involved. But when it brings someone like you, offering comments like these, in your fit of angst, there is no doubt remaining of the cult-like following of the weak and ignorant Spence has generated.

    You want proof? You are the proof.  If you want to see more of it, look in your magic mirror, you nutjob.  You’ve taken up enough space on my blawg with your rantings, so you’re done.

  16. Jonah

    You are a hot topic in several comments to Norm Pattis’ writings on Trial Lawyers College and now in comments to David Tarrell’s blog post on TLC. Would love to see your comments and thoughts about the Trial Lawyers College after you read Pattis’ and Tarrell’s posts.

  17. SHG

    I have no thoughts at all about the Trial Lawyers College.  I never attended, and thus couldn’t possibly speak to its quality or viability.  As for its internal workings, that holds no interest for me at all.  Sorry to disappoint, but I have no horse in the race, beyond an observer seeing what anyone without blinders can see.

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