Marine Major Thompson goes full Leeroy Jenkins

Drudging up the old Leeroy Jenkins meme is the only way to fairly describe what Marine Major Mark Thompson has done to himself.

First, some background on Major Thompson, which I hopefully can quickly and accurately distill. If not, check out the great coverage over at CAAFLog. While assigned as an instructor at the Naval Academy, he was accused of sexual assault but only found guilty of lesser included offenses. This stemmed from conduct involving female cadets. He was sentenced the forfeit a lot of pay and spend a few weeks in jail. He then continued his career, presumably to retire in a few years, probably at the grade of O-3. That’s the old news part of this.

That moves us to newer news. Still pissed off about being tried and convicted, he decides to go to the Washington Post, where he gives the mother of all bad interviews, including (allegedly) admitting that he lied about text messages during an administrative hearing. His commander, not thrilled about this new revelation, prefers new court-martial charges against Major Thompson.

Now we’re at the newest news. WaPo released the tape, and it leaves little to the imagination.

Having reviewed the transcript, it appears that Major Thompson went full Leeroy Jenkins. For those not in the know, Leeroy Jenkins is a relatively old internet meme, referencing something that happened several years ago in the video game World of Warcraft. I learned of this by listening to the Dan LeBatard show, where they use Leeroy to describe sports figures who go completely rogue during a team sports. The original meme shows a group of Warcraft guys huddled and talking deliberately about strategy. Leeroy Jenkins suddenly shouts something to the effect of “Let’s do this………..Leeeeeeeroy Jeeeeenkins” and charges into the battle, killing himself and all of his friends.

So, back to Major Thompson.

I can only imagine the discussion he had with attorneys, close advisors, and family.

Friend: Mark, I think we should just let it go. Nothing else to do. Forget the Washington Post.

Lawyer: Yeah, Mark, I think we should just focus on getting you to retirement.

Family Member: We love you, and this needs to just be put behind you. It’s unhealthy to be so immersed in negative thoughts.

Colleague: I’m with them, Mark. The court-martial wasn’t good, but it could have been worse. Count your blessings and move forward. You have our full support as…


I’m a Person!

The fine folks at Fault Lines made me talk about myself. It makes me feel like Steve Martin in the beginning of “The Jerk” when he sees his name in the phone book.

Cross: Eric Mayer, Lawyer, Military-Grade

As a secondary consequence of this, I may start posting here regularly again.


Need More Blood? Try Dual Sovereignty.

It is a frequent question handled by military lawyers. “Well, isn’t that double jeopardy?”

Most of the time, this extends to administrative actions by military officials, such as nonjudicial punishment followed by administrative separation. In these situations, double jeopardy has nothing to do with administrative processes. They’re only limited by regulation and/or law.

The rest of the time, these questions revolve around misconduct that is punished by both state civilian courts and military courts. What I think in response to these types of questions is horribly flippant. “Good job googling “double jeopardy. Now, google “dual sovereignty.”

While dual sovereignty allows prosecution of one crime in multiple jurisdictions, it doesn’t usually happen. The Department of Justice (DOJ) accepts the policy espoused in Petite v. United States. Military services, not limited by DOJ, have policies that generally discourage multiple prosecutions. However, the door is kept open. For instance, the Navy policy leaves this caveat in the event that a person is convicted by a state court, but unhappiness is felt about the overall result:

Other cases in which the interests of justice and discipline are considered to require further action under the UCMJ (e.g., where conduct leading to trial before a State or foreign court has reflected adversely upon the Naval service or when a particular and unique military interest was not or could not be adequately vindicated in the civilian tribunal).

Occasionally, limits of these types of broad caveats are tested by military prosecutors. That’s happening now in United States v. Greening.

A military prosecutor said Friday that another murder trial is warranted for a sailor – who previously served time in prison for shooting and killing his best friend – because the resulting six-month sentence was too light.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Austin Greening maintains he accidentally shot Petty Officer 3rd Class Kristopher Klubert in the face while they were playing video games. Greening was convicted in civilian court of second-degree murder in 2013, but he won a new trial and accepted a plea deal on a lesser charge.

The day Greening was released from prison in September, the military put him in the brig while he waits to face murder and obstruction of justice charges.

OK, so, what is the standard that necessitates a second trial?

During a the military equivalent of a preliminary hearing Friday, Lt. Adam Partridge said another trial is needed “in the interest of justice.” He also said the victim’s parents were “extraordinarily displeased” with the result of the civilian court process.

The two pronged approach to this one is pretty simple:

A. In the “interest of justice.”

B. Family members are “extraordinary displeased.”

Let’s ask a few questions based on this.

Justice? Which definition of justice? There are roughly 319 million people in the US. Thus, there are 319 million definitions of justice. Which of those are we using?

Extraordinarily displeased? How does displeasure rise to extraordinary levels? Simple displeasure? Aggravated displeasure? How many cases can you think of that result in extraordinary levels of displeasure? Even the harshest punishments leave someone in the audience feeling extraordinarily displeased?

What do we know about those who are extraordinarily displeased?

That reasoning is nonsense, said Greening’s civilian attorney, Greg McCormack. McCormack said Klubert’s parents agreed to the plea deal that could’ve resulted in a maximum sentence of three years in prison for involuntary manslaughter. McCormack said the judge rightfully used his discretion in suspending two and a half years of the three-year sentence.

Perhaps, to accommodate the masses, we should change the rule to triple jeopardy, allowing for substantially interested observers to feel pleasure (or a low level of displeasure) at the result of any given criminal prosecution.


Bergdahl: A Digest

Latest Update: 23 December 2015

I’m going to attempt what I perceive to be a pretty daunting task. That is to take the Bergdahl court-martial and dumb it down for the average person, providing some analysis that allows you to see what is happening and what might happen based on what I read and what I have learned from practicing military law for almost a dozen years.

This post will be pinned to the first page of this blog and updated over time. So, please check back. The date of the latest update will always be on top.

First, a couple of things:

  • I have no insider knowledge of Bergdahl’s case. I know and know of some of the players in the case, but I never spoke to them about it.
  • If you see something wrong, let me know. This post will change over time as we learn more and is designed to be informative.
  • I’m not a combat or combat zone veteran. I served in the Army from 1996 to 2001 (Infantry) and 2004 to 2010 (JAG). Prior to 9/11, I spent a few months in Saudi Arabia and another few months in Bosnia. After 9/11, I spent approximately 1 month total (2 trips) in Iraq in Summer 2011 for a court-martial, shortly before the Victory Base Complex was returned to the Iraqi government.
  • As a former Infantryman, I have some strong opinions about Bergdahl. However, I will not express them here. My goal is to be objective, giving you facts and reasonable analysis.
  • I’m starting this now (23 December 2015) because the stage is appropriately set for the court-martial. Charges have been referred, a judge is assigned, and the “real” case begins.
  • The best source of Bergdahl information is at However, the fine folks there are not consolidating their Bergdahl information, and they write for an intended audience of experienced military law practitioners.

So, here’s my plan in the next few days.

  1. Tell you about the charges and the elements of those charges.
  2. Look at the evidence, gauging the likelihood of a finding of guilt.
  3. Look at the possible punishment (assuming a finding of guilty on at least one charge), predicting the likely punishment based on known and perceived aggravation, mitigation, and extenuation.
  4. Analyze the possible 2nd and 3rd order effects.
  5. Discuss anything else interesting about the case.


Bottom Line Upfront (As of 23 December 2015)

Here are my predictions, which I will update as I continue my education on the case. You should accept these predictions in the same way you accept preseason sports predictions. For instance, I’ve predicted a Royals World Series victory every spring since 1980.

Forum Selection: Judge alone (Colonel Jeffery Nance)

Charge I (Desertion): Guilty

Charge II (Misbehavior before the enemy): Guilty

Maximum Possible Punishment (Take this with a grain of salt.): Reduction to the grade of E-1, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, confinement for life, and a Dishonorable Discharge.

My Punishment Prediction: Reduction to E-1, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, 10 years confinement, and a Bad-Conduct Discharge.

Explanation: Prior to Berghahl’s appearance on Serial, I predicted no confinement. However, with the hours of Serial statements that will undoubtedly be obtained by prosecutors, the government will be amazingly prepared to attack all defenses, mitigation, and extenuation. Additionally, his confession on Serial supports the elements of both charges. His pretrial statements help the government to convince the judge that a harsh sentence is necessary in order to deter any other Soldiers from aspiring to be like Jason Bourne in hopes of becoming podcast famous. If it weren’t for his years of suffering in the hands of the enemy, he’d receive 20 years.


23 December 2015 (Charge I: Desertion)

In honor of Festivus, let’s take a look at the charges, which are, in effect, the government’s airing of grievances.

First, military charges are unique compared to most civilian jurisdictions. The way they are written is, to many, peculiar. You’ll notice that they are in the form of Charges and Specifications. The charge is the big picture crime that is being asserted. She specification(s) is the specific conduct that the government asserts to believe that the accused is guilty. For instance, if I murder someone named Daniel, the charge would be Murder, and the specification would list the who, what, when, and where regarding the murder.

So, take a minute and read the charges here. (I’d retype them, but I’m lazy today.)

Two charges. One specification for each charge. Today, I’m going to look at the first charge, as I’m quickly running out of time.

The Charge: Violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Article 85 (Desertion)

Specification: In short, he intended to shirk important service and avoid hazardous duty.

This is important, as there are 3 flavors of Desertion in the Army. The first is absenting oneself without authority and with the intent to remain away permanently (contrast this with AWOL, which is just absenting oneself without authority). The second is to be absent without authority with the intent to shirk important service and/or to avoid hazardous duty (this is what we have). The third is when someone transfers from one branch of the service to another without properly being separated from the prior branch.

The most common Desertion charge is the first, where someone intends to remain away permanently. It is usually proven using circumstantial evidence, though an occasional confession is used to prove the intent to remain away permanently.

In Bergdahl’s case, we have the second flavor of Desertion. The elements of this are as follows (as taken from the Manual for Court-Martial, or, as one of my buddies often typed, the Manuel for Court-Martial (bless his heart)).

  • That the accused quit his unit, organization, or place of duty.
  • That the accused did so with the intent to avoid a certain duty or shirk a certain service.
  • That the duty to be performed was hazardous or the service important.
  • That the accused knew that he would be required for such duty or service.
  • That the accused remained absent until the date alleged.

So, at this point, I’m out of time. In the next installment, I’ll juxtapose these elements with the information we already know and begin a discussion of Charge II.


What is Bergdahl’s Favorite Serial?

Sorry about the title.

I just read it again. Seriously. Sorry about the title. I couldn’t help it.

In what seems like years ago, there was a lot of conversation between legal blogs. One lawyer would write something, and another would respond–all on independent blogs. It sounds like a mess, but it actually was a fun way to share competing thoughts. Through it, I made a few friends and a lot of enemies. Fun times. Sadly, those days are largely gone, and so are many of my most cherished enemies.

That brings us to the new era of legal blogs, where one-author blogs like mine have given way to multi-author behemoths.

A relative new entry to this new genre is Fault Lines, which is a great collaborative effort spearheaded by Scott Greenfield. He collected a fun group of lawyers to write about justice issues across the country. If you haven’t checked it out, do so.

Today, Ken Womble wrote a post that is uncharacteristic for him. In this case, uncharacteristic is not a compliment, as his normal style, tone, and substance are a delight to read. Today, he wrote about the Bergdahl case, criticizing the military justice system and emphasizing the effect that the podcast Serial will have on the overall conduct of the case.

First, I think his assumptions about the effect of Serial are incorrect and inflated. I see Serial as a sideshow, incapable of generating a fraction of the attention of the Bradley Manning case. After all, it is a podcast. Sure, it may be the most popular podcast ever, but that’s like raving about the most popular Bridge match ever to grace Keokuk, Iowa.

Second, he analyzes the military justice process, and his mistaken assumptions are atrocious. This is why I do not go around trying to opine about Latvian Maritime Law. I’d sound just as intelligent.

Note: Like you, I don’t know most of the evidence in the Bergdahl case, but I do know the procedure he faces. Having said that, I suspect that prosecutors feel confident that they can prove the elements of the alleged offenses and are prepared to present truckloads of evidence in aggravation in his case, and his cooperation with the Serial folks is a desperate attempt by the defense team to create popular support for their case. That’s just my gut feeling, based on about a dozen years in doing nothing but military law.

With that said, here’s the substance of my response to Womble’s post at Fault Lines.


Where do I begin? I read this as a former Army Infantryman lawyer with experience in the JAG Corps (prosecutor and defense while in uniform) and as civilian counsel (defense after hanging up the uniform). Do I believe Bergdahl deserves a fair shake and all the due process possible? Yes. He’ll get that in droves. However, most of your assertions mischaracterize the military justice system and the fairness of the process.

Having said that, I’ll go section by section (as I perceive the general points).

1st Section: “Simply, he walked away. He walked away from the US Army.” This oversimplification is a slap in the face of everyone who has ever served honorably. The way you said it makes it sound like his “walking away” is akin to the gordita guy at Taco Bell deciding he doesn’t want to smell cheap ground mystery meat anymore and deciding to abandon his faux Mexican food career. It is not the same. Walking away from the military has serious implications, and it is justifiably criminalized when one thinks of the fact that maintaining a cohesive and effective force is a primary concern for the Army. This isn’t Taco Bell. It is the Army, and their unique and serious mission should never be trivialized.

2nd Section: “…technically could carry the death penalty”? Was the case referred as a capital case per Rule for Court-Martial 103? No. So, no, technically, it cannot carry the possibility of the death penalty. At this stage of the process, mentioning the death penalty in conjunction with this case is promoting stupidity.

3rd Section: “Just life in prison.” Thank you for joining journalists who promote ignorance by focusing on the statutory maximum sentence. Really? Does anyone who has practiced law for a day think that Bergdahl is going to receive the statutory maximum? Do you realize that his possible punishment in a General Court-Martial ranges from “no punishment” to the statutory maximum? That’s a big range, capable of accounting for the total weight of any aggravation, extenuation, and mitigation. For more information about poor journalism in the reporting of maximum sentences in order to achieve sensationalism, refer to Popehat

4th Section (including from the 5th actual para. through “Glad that is all cleared up then.”): It is true that LTC Mark Visger (who I know, but have not spoken to regarding this case) recommended a special court-martial, which could impose a punishment that includes reduction to the lowest enlisted pay grade, 12 months of confinement, and a Bad-Conduct Discharge. While LTC Visger’s recommendation does specify no confinement, he doesn’t go so far as to recommend against a Bad-Conduct Discharge. What he doesn’t say is just as important as what he does say. Did you notice that?

You mention “Abrams’ decision to completely ignore Visger’s recommendation.” Did he? If so, where do you get this information? Consider the process. Visger’s decision would first be provided to the FORSCOM Chief of Justice (a Major or Lieutenant Colonel JAG). Then, it would be discussed with the prosecutorial team, who the Chief of Justice supervises. From those discussions, a recommendation would be formulated, which then would be discussed with the FORSCOM Deputy Staff Judge Advocate (probably a Lieutenant Colonel or Colonel JAG) who weighs in on the recommendation. It is then shared with the FORSCOM Staff Judge Advocate (a very senior JAG Colonel), who would have a chance to give advice and recommendations. Then, it is sent through the chain of command for the accused, and they make recommendations as to disposition. Once everything percolates through the necessary legal and command channels, it is presented to Abrams by the FORSCOM Staff Judge Advocate, and a decision on referral is made.

Notice that this is not a decision made in a vacuum, and no less than 5 lawyers have considered Visger’s decision along with the weight of the prosecution’s evidence (much of which may not have been shared at the Article 32 because they don’t have to present all of their evidence) and any known extenuation and mitigation.

From a utility and procedural standpoint, a General Court-Martial makes sense. They already conducted an Article 32, so referring it to a General Court-Martial adds no additional expense for the government and allows the full range of possible punishment, from zero punishment to maximum punishment (assuming he is found guilty of something). Just because something arrives at a General Court-Martial does not mean there is a presumption of guilt or of anticipated punishment.

General Court-Martial Convening Authorities occasionally go against the advice of Article 32 investigating officers. Nowhere is this more prominent than with sexual assault allegations. In those cases, however, General’s often go against advice to drop all charges, rather than mere advice to seek a lower court-martial disposition. So, while this may be exciting, unique, and newsworthy to you, it is not exciting or noteworthy to those who habitually practice military law.

5th Section: You mention Rep. Hunter, Donald Trump, and Sen. McCain. I assume this is because you want to imply Unlawful Command Influence (UCI). If you’ve been watching things like the MAJ Hasan court-martial, the Brigadier General Sinclair court-martial, the Bradley Manning court-martial, the LTC Lakin court-martial, or any court-martial involving allegations of sexual assault and the pet projects of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, you’d know that comments by third parties and anyone outside the executive branch do not constitute UCI. Appellate courts are unified on this point. In order to have UCI, you must occupy a command position, and it must be proven that such command interference had an influence on the outcome or the sentence.

You claiming this is a clear case of UCI to any experienced military practitioner is like using the “fire in a crowded theater” argument with a First Amendment scholar. It is laughable and demonstrates a lack of understanding.

6th Section: This is the “Bergdahl suffered” portion of your argument. Maybe. In the law we call this mitigation and extenutation, the presence of which does not disprove the existence of aggravation. Do you really think that the prosecution does not have ample evidence to show the harm caused to other Soldiers? I am particularly disappointed in your minimizing of the perspectives of the other members of his platoon. In a case like this, the effect of his actions on the is just as important as the consequences he suffered from his decisions.

Even in training, the worst thing that can happen is to lose accountability of one of your Soldiers. In a combat zone, this is even more dire. Fellow Soldiers and leaders prioritize, as Bergdahl’s chain of command did, finding any lost Soldier. They did what was perceived as necessary, even though it meant imposing on the local population. By the way, that platoon still had a mission in their area of responsibility which did not abate just because Bergdahl quit his post. You obviously do not understand the burden this placed upon even the lowest Soldier in his platoon.

7th Section: This is the “Bergdahl and his defense team have an uphill battle” section. Do they? If so, relative to what? You mention that this is due to “Bergdahl has now publicly admitted that he left his post, essentially admitting to the charge of desertion.” Assuming that his comments covered all the elements of desertion, how is this a shocking and unfair development? Is he the first person to have public comments used against him in a judicial proceeding?

So, is Bergdahl all alone in this? Without a fighting chance?

There are two lawyers given to Bergdahl for free. They are both in uniform. At least one is undoubtedly experienced (by military standards). The third is Eugene Fidell, who started practicing law in the late 60s, teaches at Yale, and has been a member of the leadership of the National Institute of Military Justice since its inception. In my experience, Bergdahl has a more robust defense team than 99.9% of all accused servicemembers at court-martial. They will have a chance, pursuant to the Rules for Court-Martial, to voir dire the panel members, challenge the impartiality of the judge, challenge evidence, and present evidence in defense, extenuation, and mitigation.

Did you also consider that, if he receives a harsh sentence, including one that includes a Bad-Conduct or Dishonorable Discharge, he gets an automatic appeal to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals? For that, he gets another team of lawyers assigned for free (including possibly Mr. Fidell, who I assume has been working thus far pro bono) to write the brief and argue it to the court? Did you consider the possibility of an appeal after that to the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (where he maintains his appellate team)?

Note: I won’t address the apparent defense decision to participate in Serial, as not enough information is known. However, most defense lawyers seem to agree that such statements are ill-advised.

Near end of your post, you rely heavily on the purported validity of Bergdahl’s claim that he had issues that required the attention of the Commanding General exercising authority over Bergdahl’s infantry platoon. Yet, the only evidence we have of this is Bergdahl’s assertions that illegal and immoral actions were taking place. I have yet to see solid, corroborating evidence for this assertion. Some of his peers claim that everyone knew they were returning within a few days to the larger base, and that Bergdahl’s claims are complete BS. However, you seem content that Bergdahl’s actions were justified since he was, for all practical purposes, accepting the role of whistleblower. Is this because you’ve seen all the evidence in this case, or are you just relying upon whatever Serial tells you?

Contrary to what you believe, Serial does not tell the whole Bergdahl story–just the story from his perspective, carefully honed by months of interaction with defense counsel. The whole story will be told in a courtroom, with panel members and a judge or judge-alone. They will make a decision, based on much more than a podcast. They will see the evidence, witness it being challenged by the defense, and make a decision.

I’ll close with an analysis of this statement “the podcast will bring unprecedented attention to a military proceeding that is usually conducted far from the limelight.”

Because that hasn’t happened recently?

In US v. Alberto Martinez?

In US v. Lakin?

In US v. Bradley Manning?

In US v. Sinclair?

In US v. Hasan?

In congressional hearings regarding the military’s treatment of sexual assault allegations (resulting in widespread and fundamental changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice in the last 5 years)?

No, the military justice system has long been open to all and scrutinized heavily by congress and the press. The only difference now is that you are tuning in because you are entertained by Serial, and your judging this case by what you hear on a podcast does not qualify as unprecedented attention.

A Tale of Two Courses (or How Lawyers Should Spend a Few Grand)

The price of some lawyer development courses can be excessive. Today, I saw a new one that focuses on the currently-trending concept of lawyer mindfulness. The price? MSRP $2000.

My thoughts turned to lawyers who might consider this type of course in hopes of improving themselves and reducing stress. While I’m hardly qualified to tell another what to do with their hard-earned cash, I do think it is advisable to be as informed as possible.

If you’re going to spend several thousand dollars on a lawyer improvement course, you should invest in the best bang for your buck. Get something that helps both you and your clients. Become a better lawyer because of it. Stretch your dollar while you do it.

Full Disclosure: I only spend a few hundred dollars each year on continuing education courses to satisfy state requirements. That’s it. Am I open to spending more for a worthwhile course? Maybe.

Lawyer development courses can be a grab bag when it comes to quality. Some are good for lawyers. Some are only good for the profit margins of those teaching the course, some are good for both. Some are client-centric. Some are lawyer-centric. Some, again, are a bit of both.

Let’s look at two courses that are available for a few thousand dollars. In my estimation, their prices are on the higher end. I’ll examine the following criteria:

  • Who is running the course? Important because you want something that is designed and run by someone who has been there, done that, and knows what they are doing.
  • Value Proposition. What is the course giving to the legal practitioner.
  • Cost. The bottom line is the bottom line for a reason. This also focuses on what you get for your $.

At the end, I’ll provide you with my recommendation.

Course A: “Better Lawyering Through Mindfulness”

Jeena Cho heads this course. I’ve read several of her bios, but I’m unclear as to the timeline of her career. While I haven’t seen evidence of a sustained and successful practice, it could actually exist. The lack of clear evidence online just makes it difficult to determine whether this person is truly a successful practitioner and worthy of telling other lawyers how to improve themselves. I checked Avvo for some dates and objective information and uncovered the following:

  • Law School: State University of NY – Buffalo. Graduation Year: N/A
  • State of Florida Bar: 2004. Inactive.
  • State of California Bar: Active Since 2009.
  • Work Experience: JC Legal Group, PC. 2008-Present
  • No other information on Avvo predates 2008, and most is from 2010-2011.

A search of her firm bio reveals a mention of being a District Attorney (and not being happy with it) and states a law school graduation year of 2003. (That’s the same year I graduated from law school. FYI)

She is assisted by a “mindfulness instructor and meditation facilitator.”

Student to Faculty Ratio: 17 : 1

Value Proposition.

If you are struggling to maintain balance in this era of constant distractions and 24/7 connection, you are not alone. In this experiential course, we’ll explore:

  • What does work/life balance truly look and feel like for you?
  • Coping mechanisms for working with difficulties – complex cases, unreasonable clients, hostile opposing counsel and other difficult situations
  • Exploring your goals and values, and finding ways to align your life
  • How to reduce mind wandering – increase focus/ concentration
  • Creating a healthy relationship with digital technology
  • Breaking negative habitual behaviors
  • Using mindfulness to ease stress and anxiety
  • Mindful listening
  • Mindful eating
  • Defining and becoming familiar with your authentic lawyering style

This is a skills based course. We’ll learn the art of mindful listening, engage in dialogue, role playing, and give ample opportunities for each participant to deeply explore his or her habitual thoughts/ behaviors and create room for creating healthier – more authentic responses.


  • $2,000 – regular registration
    • $1,747 – early bird registration (register by January 3, 2016)
    • $1,487 – super early bird registration (register by December 18, 2015)
  • $998 – government and nonprofit attorneys

The course is offered both live and via the internet. Prices are the same for both. This includes two books (one written by Ms. Cho) and 1.25 hours of face-to-face interaction/instruction each week. So, for those attending in person, they meet with Jeena and the other members of the 35 person group once a week for an hour and 15 minutes. This means a total of 10 hours with the instructors.

No CLE credit is advertised.

An optional weekend retreat is available for an additional $400-$1750 (depending on accommodations). This could potentially push one individual’s total cost up to $3750.

Excluding the weekend retreat, let’s figure how much gross revenue is produced, assuming equal participation by each category of registration.

  • 8 regular registration: $16000
  • 9 early bird: $15723
  • 9 super early bird: $13383
  • 9 government/nonprofit: $8982

So, assuming the target enrollment is met and is equally distributed, this course stands to gross $54,088.

Course B: Trial Lawyers College 3-Week Flagship Course

This course is given twice a year (July and September) in Wyoming at Gerry Spence’s Thunderhead Ranch. It is chaired by Gerry Spence, who, if you don’t know his resume, is on Wikipedia. Some, including myself, have criticized him for some of his self-assessment, but you can’t argue with the fact that his representative cases are ones that are tough, physically and emotionally demanding, and professionally challenging. In short, like him or not, he’s been there and done that. He employs a multi-disciplinary team of legal professionals in the Trial Lawyers College (TLC), and a network of TLC trained lawyers support the program in Wyoming and nationwide.

Full Disclosure: I have never attended any TLC events. Given some of the things I’ve said on this blog, I have doubts as to whether I’d be welcomed. However, I did attend a one week (45 hour) seminar given by Josh Karton (a regular instructor at the TLC) while I was still in the Army. It was outstanding, and, to this day, I hold Josh in the highest regard. Every courtroom/hearing success I’ve experienced since 2008 has Josh’s fingerprints upon it.

Value Proposition

This three-week college is TLC’s flagship course. Held in both July and September, from start to finish, this comprehensive program dissects courtroom procedures with painstaking detail to provide hands-on tools toward achieving justice for your clients.

Trial skills are only part of being a force in the courtroom. The trial lawyers’ power originates from within. Knowledge of oneself gives the lawyer the capability to know others and to connect with each person in the courtroom including the witnesses, the judge and the jurors. The power of TLC’s methods come alive through creative, spontaneous, outside-the-box innovations that capture juries and move them to justice.

This three-week college is led by a team of TLC-trained and experienced trial lawyers, behavioral experts and communication experts, with at least a 7:1 student-faculty ratio each week.

Come join us. Learn how to win your cases with TLC’s methods. Meet new trial lawyers who will become life-long friends. Become reacquainted with the man or woman you were before you started law school – before the system wore you away. Connect with a tribe of trial lawyers who want nothing more than to win justice for those who are lost, forgotten, injured and damned.


The seminar costs $3950.

With this you receive approximately 144 hours of instruction. This assumes 8 hours of instruction per day for 18 days (3 days off during a 21 day stay at the ranch). Though, I’ve heard those in attendance work longer than just 8 hours.

The course immerses each attendee in all aspects of lawyering skills and representing clients. While it focuses largely on courtroom presentation and litigation, I’ve heard that it can be just as valuable for transactional lawyers. I’ve surveyed comments made by a handful of graduates, and they all imply a heavy dose of mindfulness and stress management, thought it is not explicitly couched as such. Additionally, you become part of a nationwide network of friends and colleagues who are willing to support, encourage, and train you to be the best lawyer possible.

I am unsure of the total number of students. However, from the pictures I’ve viewed, it appears to be 40. Each class is reputed to develop its own esprit de corps, and the class bonds emotionally during the 3 weeks.

Student to faculty ratio: 7 to 1.

Included: Lodging, meals, all course materials.

CLE credit is available.

Assuming 40 attendees, the TLC grosses $158,000. Though, their costs are significant when you consider facilities, meals, and a large staff.


If you are a lawyer who feels stressed, alone, and under water, save your money and pay for one of the TLC 3 week courses. Plan for this. Make the 3 weeks available. Use vacation time. If you are considering Ms. Cho’s course on mindfulness, put the money you would’ve paid for her course in the bank and add to it incrementally until you have enough time and money to attend the course at Thunderhead Ranch.


  • Immersion. If you want to learn something well, you must immerse yourself in it. TLC does that better than any other program. All that stuff that stresses you? You leave it behind, enter Thunderhead Ranch, and emerge, according to the graduates I’ve polled, as a different person and lawyer.
  • A focus on lawyer skills. Each year, outstanding attorneys have graduated from TLC, and they form a very supportive network nationwide. Some of us, myself included, make fun of these individuals by calling them a cult. However, I think very highly of the TLC graduates I know. I have yet to see one who is a bad person or lawyer. All cite their attendance at TLC as a defining moment in their career.
  • Faculty and Instructors who know their craft. Each one has accomplished much professionally, and you can find information about them easily. Ms. Cho may be a great person with good intentions, but it appears she needs another 10-or-so years of lawyer experience, adversity, success, and wisdom before she is truly qualified to start charging thousands of dollars for advice. I became a member of the bar in the same year as Ms. Cho. I lost track of the number of contested trials I’ve had. Yet, I still view myself as, at best, a tweener in the grand lawyer community. It is still necessary for me to amass more of a body of work before I can start telling others how to do it. We’ll see how things look in 10 years. Until then, one client at a time…
  • Hourly Value. TLC courses cost individuals $27 per instructional hour. Ms. Cho’s course runs as much as $200 per instructional hour or as little as $99.80. That’s a significant and striking difference.
  • TLC seems to focus its instruction on what you can do to help others, not self.
  • When you crunch the numbers and look at value. The choice is clear.

Even if you can’t afford the time or money to attend the 3-week course, it is still a better (and more rewarding) value to attend one of the TLC’s shorter regional courses. The average regional course includes 15-20 hours of instruction and runs $1500-$1750 per course. While shorter in duration and not isolated on the ranch, they are highly immersive.

Finally, consider the competition for each course.

There is no competition for the course at Thunderhead Ranch. It is one-of-a-kind and cannot be replicated by your local bar association.

However, Ms. Cho’s course can be (and often is) replicated. It is done every day through mentorship and supportive groups of local, likeminded lawyers who have the drive to succeed and help others. Qualified and experienced mentors out there. The only hard part is that you have to go out and find them. It can be tough, but it is always worth it. And it’s free.

If You Don’t Like It Here, Leave.

If you don’t like it here, leave. — Brigadier General Freddy McFarren, circa 1995

This is just an anecdote. No punchline. Just a memory for me. I felt compelled to write it down.


We felt pretty proud of ourselves the night before. The entire United States Military Academy Class of 1996 gathered in the south auditorium of Thayer Hall, which was just large enough to hold an entire class. There, Lieutenant General Howard Graves, the Superintendent, gave a briefing about the strategic vision for the academy, upcoming changes, and other academy news. LTG Graves was a tall, barrel-chested, quietly-professional Army officer who, after his graduating from the academy in 1961 spent a few years in England as a Rhodes Scholar. Everyone liked him.

Though we wore pressed wool uniforms, we were still very much traditional college students in the emotional sense, complete with a misunderstanding of the real world. Though, none of us had the wisdom to realize that we lacked the aforementioned understanding. It is important that you realize and acknowledge the shortcomings of a college student’s intellect, else this story will not contain any meaning for you.

LTG Graves’ briefing ended, as it always did, with a question-and-answer period. One of our intrepid classmates stood and asked a very pointed question. It was accusatory, inflammatory, and disrespectful. Being cooped-up Cadets, we found the civil disobedience to be delightful, and we responded to the question with immediate cheers and applause.

LTG Graves answered the question in a stoic manner and abruptly ended the briefing. Our class exited the auditorium with mixed emotions. Some were laughing. Many were quiet.

One of my classmates looked at me. “This isn’t going to end well,” he stated. I didn’t have the maturity to understand what he meant at the time, but I learned quickly.

The next day, at lunch, an announcement was made.

“At 1900, all members of the Class of 1996 have a mandatory briefing in South Auditorium. Uniform is Dress Grey.”

This was curious. We’d never been caused to attend whole-class briefings two nights in a row. They were cutting into our study period. How dare they.

That night, the nearly-1000 of us herded into the auditorium and waited. Shortly after 1900 (7PM), an announcement came from the back of the room.

“The Commandant of Cadets!”

We all sprang to our feet and stood at attention. Behind us, Brigadier General Freddy McFarren started walking down the aisle.

Pause for a second. You need to understand a bit about BG McFarren. Imagine Ross Perot. Now give him a bit more muscle, a more pronounced jaw, but keep the same fiery attitude, Texas accent, and swagger. You now have a thorough, accurate, and complete vision of BG McFarren.

“SIT DOWN!” he commanded.

We complied.

This was unusual. Most Generals would tell us to “Please take your seats.” This sounded agitated. He was clearly angry.

“Who the hell do the lot of you think you are?” I remember it beginning.

I can’t remember many specific things he said, but he called the briefing to address the prior night’s insubordination directed at LTC Graves. His words were blistering. They were angry. They were hurtful. They were not politically correct. They were certainly not for the faint of heart.

And he was right.

Though I don’t remember exactly what he said throughout his 40 minute rant, I remember his thesis, which he stated explicitly and repeatedly.

“If you don’t like it here, leave.” He substituted various synonyms for “leave” throughout the speech, including, but not limited to, “get the hell out” and “quit.”

He ended the briefing as briskly as it began and walked out. Looking around the room, we all wore ashen expressions of shock and embarrassment.

The popular colloquialism applied. He’d just ripped us a new asshole.


Today, I see the behavior toward LTG Graves as our class’ worst moment. I am still embarrassed. Though, I’m able to find humor in it, when necessary. 20 years does have a way of healing wounds.

In retrospect, BG McFarren’s words can be summarized in one sentence. “To be able to attend one’s college of choice is a privilege.” I lacked the emotional maturity at the time to realize this. His stern words helped us to realize this as a class.

In the wake of this one-sided conversation, nobody quit.


I don’t know if anyone from my class ever apologized to LTG Graves, but I hope someone did. He passed away in 2003.

Prior to graduation, I had the chance to meet him on a couple of occasions–mandatory socials and meet-and-greet type situations. I remember him looking me in the eye. He had an extremely kind expression. I remember him being an extremely active listener. He thrived on intelligent and respectful dialogue.

You see, he really did care about our school. Because he wore the title of Superintendent and 3 stars, we Cadets found it appropriate to view him as a dictator perched atop our college, but we were wrong for doing so. He wanted to do the right things for us and the institution. We lacked the wisdom to see his true intentions, or maybe we just chose to see things otherwise because it made for a more exciting narrative. It doesn’t matter at this point.

Any way you look at it, we were wrong. If he were still alive, I’d probably sit down tonight and hand-write an apology. He deserves that, at the very least.

Because he cannot receive my apology, I write this. Maybe it will cause someone to pause for a second and not respond to anger, emotion, or group pressure. Maybe it will facilitate persuasive, intelligent dialogue. Maybe it can help to encourage respectful discussion and prevent angry exchanges and harmful escalation. Maybe.

Today, I’m not an undergrad. I’m not a minority. I’ve never been marginalized (that I know of). I’m generally happy, but bad/sad things have occasionally happened. So, you can write me off. You can discount my words and say I don’t understand. But, I ask that you remember one thing, at the very least.

These words are written by a man who was once a college student, now older, with regrets.