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.

Cost.

  • $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.

Cost

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.

Recommendation

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.

Why?

  • 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.

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2 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Courses (or How Lawyers Should Spend a Few Grand)

  1. Eric. You are spot on in regard to TLC. You should apply for the college – or at least attend a regional. It sounds like you have a lot to offer … And I know TLC has a few gifts for you.

    • I’ve always considered it, especially after meeting Josh. I learned more from 1 week with him than in all other advocacy training combined.

      I’ve heard others bemoan the cost of TLC. I think the other example used here puts that into perspective.

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