On July 8th, 2009 I left Jackson, MS and headed to Jackson Hole Wyoming. I spent the night there and the next day headed to The Thunderhead Ranch in Dubois, WY. The Thunderhead Ranch is the location for Trial Lawyers College (TLC) founded by famed trial lawyer, Jerry Spence (if you do not know him Google Jerry Spence). The ranch was once a 30,000 acre working cattle ranch. It is nestled between mountains and the ranch is split in half by the cold, clear flowing Wind River.
When I arrived I was assigned a roommate who was Mark Choate from Alaska. There were 52 other lawyers accepted to The Trial Lawyers College for July. The accommodations are simple but comfortable. The Big Barn as we call it is just that-a huge barn. The top floor of the barn serves as the largest classroom capable of holding all the students and many staff members. The bottom of the barn contains about twenty rooms with double occupancy. Each room has a bed, table, chair, and a lamp. The rooms are smaller than a college dorm room. The is a wing that is connected to the barn at a perpendicular angle that houses about twenty other students. The men and women have separate bathrooms in the Big Barn. The bathrooms reminded me of the high school locker rooms. Clean but little privacy.
Scattered across the ranch are other small cottages that house both students and staff members. These cottages are charming and set back in the trees by the river. You can hear the Wind river from almost every room. There are no air conditioners at the Ranch. The weather is mind and pleasant during the day and cool or many times chilly at night. There are also classrooms on the grounds with names such as the Milk Barn, Johnson Barn, Rec Room, ect. Everyone eats at the mess hall. The College has engaged a culinary chef to prepare the meals. The food is fantastic and you never lack for something to eat or drink. The mess hall is open 24 hours.
The staff at Thunderhead Ranch are all graduates from the Trial Lawyers College and are some of the most accomplished lawyers and generous people in the world. The donate their time and energy to the College and will help a student in any way possible. My relationship with the staff was all positive.
Classes start at 9:00 a.m. The day actually begins at 5:30 a.m. Practically everyday we got up and hiked up a steep, strenuous mountain and back down before breakfast at 7:30. Out of the 22 days I was at the College I only missed three hikes. The morning class goes until noon. The second class starts at 2:00 p.m.and continues to 5:00 p.m. and the evening class starts at 7:00 p.m. and concludes at 9:00 p.m. Classes usually went longer than schedules so on the average we were in class over 8 eight hours per day. The days are gruelling. The methods taught at the College are different than what you are taught in law school and most legal education classes. It is no secret that Jerry Spence believes the practice of law is an exploration into the lawyers own life and soul. He teaches methods of self explorations and self discovery that would not interest many lawyers. These methods take place the first 7-9 days then the College moves into trial skills. At the root of even the trial skills classes a lawyers will find the life skills taught in the beginning at the college.
The College ends with a mock trial and a final class of psychodrama. Our graduation was officiated by the Chief of the Shoshone Indian Trial. This was a rich cultural experience. I learned many things during my stay at the ranch/college. I would say to any attorney who wants to be a better person, friend, spouse, or lawyer: apply to the Ranch. Leaving town for three weeks and being out of touch with your office and family is hard, but worth every minute.