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What is the Trial Lawyer’s College and who attends?

By June 12, 2018April 2nd, 2024No Comments

If you’ve read Jacqui Ford’s bio, you may know that she’s been involved with the Trial Lawyer’s College since 2013 –  first as a student and now as a faculty member.

But what is the Trial Lawyer’s College like? What can a lawyer gain from it?

In this post, Jacqui provides insight into the TLC and how it has shaped her legal practice to the benefit of her clients.


What is the Trial Lawyer’s College and who attends?

Founded in 1994 by renowned criminal defense attorney Gerry Spence, TLC is an elite college of lawyers who represent people. The basic requirement is that one must be either a criminal defense or a plaintiff lawyer. (Prosecutors and lawyers who represent insurance companies cannot join.)

“These other guys are in the business of holding people down. As government or corporate lawyers, they have unlimited resources at their disposal,” explains Jacqui, “So maintaining exclusivity is important to us because we are the underdogs.”

The goal of TLC is to arm criminal defense and plaintiff lawyers with the skills needed to effectively try their cases in front of a judge and jury.


Learning to be a better lawyer

As Jacqui learned, TLC is not for the faint of heart. Admitted to the college after a vetting process, attendees must give up three weeks of their lives to fly to Jackson Hole, Wyoming in the summer. The journey doesn’t end there though…

Lawyers go to the Thunderhead Ranch, 100 miles from Jackson Hole, fifteen miles off the nearest paved road.

There is no cell phone service. No television. No radio.  

A group of about 55 lawyers sleep in the old barn that has been converted to dormitories and a classroom.

(Not what you were picturing, right?)


The TLC Process

The objective of trial lawyers often involves persuading people to go against biases and opinions they already have.

“Most people are already inclined to believe the police officer. Most people already have opinions about things like DUI and rape. We have to as lawyers ensure a fair trial and see to it that the falsely accused go free,” says Jacqui.

To do this, lawyers must first start with themselves. They must “work on the horse” as they call it at the Ranch.

After all, someone can dress up in cowboy shoes and a hat and throw a $1000 fancy saddle on a horse. But at the end of the day, if it’s a $10 horse, what good is the $1000 saddle?  

Using intensive psychodrama techniques, lawyers first learn to reenact scenes from their own childhood in front of their peers– something that is scary and emotionally exhausting.

These 12 hour group therapy sessions allow trial attorneys to understand themselves, but they are also crucial to shaping how they practice law.

As lawyers learn to walk in another person’s shoes, they begin to able to walk in their clients’ shoes. If they can walk in their clients’ shoes, then they can walk in the shoes of a jury member.

Lawyers at TLC also learn to listen, to observe, and to reflect.


After the Ranch

Other lawyers joke that when Jacqui returns from a TLC trip, she is “Zen Jacqui.” If the practices at the ranch seem all little wonky and a little New Age-y, it’s because they are designed to take lawyers out of their comfort zone.

At its core, TLC aims to restore the humanity back in the practice of law.

Through TLC Jacqui and her team have built an amazing network of some of the nation’s leading trial attorneys, who often come to each other’s aid when they need to workshop strategy for tough cases. Together they can sometimes turn a $100k case to a $1 million case.

“A public defender may come to me with a DUI case, and he’s not sure how the jury will act. He can’t afford to hire a mock jury, so I can do is get 12 lawyers together. Through psychodrama we can take on the personas of different jury members to figure out how the public defender should tackle strategy and jury selection. We’ve just provided him with a focus group,” explains Jacqui.  

For the past three years Jacqui has served as a faculty member teaching at TLC workshops around the country for lawyers who can’t make it to Wyoming.

At the end of the day it is about helping lawyers help people.


Success as Result

As Jacqui admits, “I was a good lawyer before the Trial Lawyer’s College. Sure, I won some awards. But I wasn’t a great lawyer. TLC let me focus on what matters in the courtroom and what matters to my client.”

Jacqui continues to rack up victories in court by practicing the techniques and skills learned through TLC. She was recently recognized with the Lifetime Achievement Award from America’s Top 100 Attorneys, an award bestowed on less than one-half percent (0.5%) of active attorneys in the United States.

“When I look at the attorneys who have received the award, I feel honored to be in such great company,” says Jacqui–who for the record, does not like to talk about herself (but we did anyways).

If you’re a trial attorney who would like to learn more about TLC, or if you are in need of a criminal attorney, contact Jacqui Ford Law today.