On being selfish

Some folks ask how did I become so well known, or “famous.”  That is mostly a matter of luck.  I took cases that I thought were important, that turned me on. I was selfish. I wanted to satisfy my own needs, namely, to engage in something meaningful. I wanted to help, but that is because I needed to help, and in the end, that is taking care of one’s self.  Being selfish for the right reasons is the trick. I have not always been successful there.



44 responses to “On being selfish

  1. We all have regrets, Gerry, and we agonize over things we should have done differently. You’ve brought justice to so many people that you can be forgiven for any transgressions you may have done. Flawless people simply don’t exist.

  2. Always remember this my man; that no matter how many people know you, or of you, an even greater number of people have never even heard of you and would not know who you were if you walked up and goosed them on the ass.

    As my old grandad says, fame is fickle, but hard work and living right are always worth their weight in gold.

    You’ve worked hard and lived right, Gerry. The fact people have taken notice is great. The fact you walked-the-walk is what really counts at the end of the day.

    Thanks for serving as an example for us younger warriors as we try to walk-the-walk in our legal endeavors. Hopefully we can find the courage and take those cases that are important to us and our clients……and ultimately society as a whole!!!!

    Love and Peace my Brother!!!!!!

  3. Gerry’s comment invokes the works of Adam Smith, on the invisible hand.
    On meaning, knowlege, where people go, what they do:
    We(most) all have no clue on the bigger bang stuff, how the universe came roaring through space, moving at vast speeds, and then we are here, and some try and do good, find meaning.
    Finding meaning, is essential, wherever one goes, regardless of the road, one finds oneself on.
    But, on knoweledge, we all may not know the vast depth of big bang stuff, but we all know something unique to our own life, our own independent being, that sets us apart as “human”, fully human, with choices–each day.
    I noticed something about failure, I have learned more from my failures, than my successes, and exaimined how I can do things better, because there is no statute of limitations on failure, that says one can’t do it different or better the next time.
    Hopefully, for most there is some next time, if the time before was not all roses.

  4. But did you want the resultant fame? I have seen you surrounded by people and wondered if you enjoyed it or not.

    • Beth:

      Fame is both a burden and a blessing. If there is no one to listen to you and you think you have something important to say, well, that can be bemusing.


  5. For the right reasons:
    Like: eating, paying the rent, having cash flow for stuff, house, car, etc.
    Oh, your mean like the right right, really right reasons, like
    ………….well, maybe you could expound further, would not want to put words in your area of “right reasons”.
    Some have heard some politican say doing things for the “right reason”.
    That is a most curious term. Sometimes people think they are doing things for the right reasons, and it turns into a swamp. Then, the mind plays tricks on how one got into the swamp.
    But, I suppose some would never say, I got into that for so many wrong reasons—in retrospect, of course.
    When a right reason becomes a wrong reason is one of the great conundrums of life.
    But, reason is indeed in the eye of the beholder, most obviously, at the beholder’s points in time.
    Bush thinks he got into Iraq for all the right reasons, but his view of right, seems to be not so, in the eyes of others.
    So, what was the right reason as to the Marcos matters, didn’t they set up a great torture network, and were they not sued for many human rights violations ? Their regime was a giant rape and stealing operation of a Nation. But, right reasons… OK, what… let us know.. A lot of people were impressed you got the shoe Lady Off.
    I mean it was a win for the Marcos.
    But, right reasons, you sure did not get paid chicken feed for that.
    Everyone is entitled to an attorney in America/ NY, even those who have big amounts of money. Sure they go looking for the best they can find.
    And that fits into the right reasons–don’t it ?

    • Norm: I took Imelda’s case because when I asked her what she wanted from me she said, “I want you to defend my husband. He is dead and cannot defend himself.” She wasn’t interested in her own defense, but it turned out pretty good. Guiliani was the DA in New York. He put in his best trial lawyers, called forty or more witnesses in three months of trial and not one of them laid a finger on her. Not one. I rested and the jury acquitted.


  6. David Beauvais

    I agree with you, Gerry. There’s no getting around selfishness. The most selfless acts imaginable are done for selfish reasons even if only to make us feel good about ourselves. Therefore, being selfish is perfectly consistent with action that creates a better world. To think otherwise is to fool ourselves. I think it’s also key to keep ourselves in check so that we don’t turn into egomaniacal do-gooders. I’d almost rather deal with the authentic “greed is good” type than the do-gooder. At least with the latter, you can be sure where they stand.

  7. Were you turned on by the
    Cantrell case, in Rock Springs, moved to a more gun friendly Wyoming location ?
    What ever happened to
    Becky Rosa’s wrongful death suit that arose out of the Rock Springs killing of her husband ?

    • Kelly, I liked Ed Cantrell a lot. He was a true character out of the old West. I wanted to save him both for him and for Christopher, my son, aged ten who saw Ed as his hero. They used to go hunting Muskalaros (Indian ghosts I think). They herded cattle all day together while Ed was awaiting his trial. I can’t tell you what happened to Becky Rosa’s wrongful death suit. Perhaps it sort of faded away after Cantrel was acquitted.


  8. Gerry:

    Thanks for the vindication. I, like you, take on cases where justice is dying from thirst and hunger. On the other hand, unlike you, I am not wise. I have a propensity for picking up the “banner” on cases, although well-deserving of representation, that only God, himself, could only win. Although, only 12-years younger than you, I have never developed the wisdom to cull out the cases that have no chance. Now, I am not sexist and am only repeating a phrase that probably pre-dates 99% of TLC, but I am like the gal who can’t say no.

    I love you, Gerry.

    Rick Reno

  9. Gerry, how do you determine what the “right reasons” are?

  10. I am probably in the minority, but I have no desire to become famous. I prefer practicing law in relative anonymity, hopefully underestimated.

  11. I think the Randy Weaver case is one that truly represents Gerry’s best, and for the right reasons.
    Further, it showed up abuse of power, and more.
    Here a dirt poor citizen, who was not going to get any real representation—and Mr Spence shows up.
    If some were ever in trouble they could only dream of getting such stand up repesentation.
    So, few real do.
    The aftermath of that case, I believe was the State of Idaho indicted the killer of Vicki Weaver, then the DOJ moved to sabotage the State indictment, then it was a complex web of federal litigation.
    A poor woman, holding her baby in her arms, and just put in the bulls eye of the Federal sharp shooters.
    Mr Spence’s finest hour in my humble opinion was in the Weaver matter.
    Janet Reno when one thinks back was a real dragon Lady, on all the horror she unleashed, under her failed and tragic lack of leadership.
    She looked the other way on campaign bribes, money laundering, her DOJ stints were so tragic in so many ways: Corrupt is the word that sums it up, out of the DOJ chamber of horrors.

    • Janet Reno wasn’t AG when the standoff was ordered and Mrs. Weaver was killed. It happened under Bush the First’s administration in September 1992. The trial took place after a change in admins, beginning in April 1993. I think she had little to do with the Weaver affair.

  12. OJ like in Wyoming.
    Fact; Ed Cantrell shot and killed Mike Rosa in Rock Springs in 1978.
    It has been the subject of books, and many pieces;
    Gerry achieved a not guilty verdict for Mr Ed Cantrell in a criminal trial.
    That is not the end of the story, just as it was not for OJ in CA in his bloody rampage in Brentwood, Ca, where his ex wife had her throat cut, nearly slicing off her head.
    Seeminly, however, missing in the news is the wrongful death suit of Mike Rosa’s wife. Becky.
    It led to one of the most significant civil right cases / rulings decided, in 1982, which was after the Wyo criminal jury verdict, which was a subject of Gerry’s Book,
    “Gunning for Justice”
    Some of you, if you care on the whole story on justice etc, might want to look at it, a reported case in F. 2d


    The State of Wyoming must have been so embarrased it just wants a black out, what any settlement was seems to be sealed in some dark vaults of secrecy, but
    isn’t it amazing, some wives, and relatives do not take kindly to the wrongful death of their relatives, loved ones, even if the DA does not get a conviction, as a wrongful death case is a civil case, one has a right to pursue, even if the DA don’t get a conviction.
    Surely, Gerry is a strong believer in wrongful death suits, and suits for civil rights violations for people.
    The City of Rock Springs was a main defendant in the civil suit.
    I don’t believe seals should be allowed on civil settlements, to make all court proceedings secret, that is not good, and it hides what goes on in America.
    Gerry spoke on the trouble with seals, I hope he is still against seals on settlements.
    Insurance companies love seals, It is not good as to all the stuff insurance companies cover over with seals–their hide the truth operations.
    Hopefully, most of you on this board don’t want to seal the full truth.

  13. Gerry:

    I am not an attorney, but aspire to become one someday, in part because of your work. I work as a paralegal in a small, but effective, disability rights law firm. Paul Rein, my employer and friend, who has practiced as a trial lawyer in California for over 40 years, took me to see you accept the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008 from the California Trial Lawyers. That was a meaningful experience to me- to hear what is possible as a lawyer, while retaining one’s humanity. You touched on the topic of fame in that speech too, but what struck me was your humility in the face of it, your acknowledgment of other lawyers doing good work without deserved recognition.

    For me, presented with the option of acquiring tremendous law school debt while supporting and raising my twin toddler sons, law school is not feasible at this time. I did learn however, that California still allows one to “read the law” (study for and take the Bar without law school, but under the supervision and sponsorship of an attorney). I plan to begin this process soon at my work.

    Whether blessing or burden, your fame is in part responsible for me knowing of you at all, and the inspiration I feel today is due in part to the dignity in your work and you meaningful choices.

    Thank you.

    Any advice for young legal minds out here?

    Aaron Clefton

    • Thanks, Aaron. As for advice, get out of law school as quickly as possible. The experience sucks out the feeling part of the students, transforms them into mechanisms called lawyers, and deprives them of the ability to relate to living human beings. Be ware of professors who are locked in their heads. Understand them, but do not emulate them.

      Good luck. And fight for little people.


  14. I agree, the Randy and Vicki Weaver case in Idaho is why people will remember the name Gerry Spence even 100 years from, now.
    Why, why do think, isn’t it
    obvious. Courage is one thing– there are others.

  15. I have nightmares, when ever the name Janet Reno comes up. But, she was a player in the impeachment of Clinton, she had to approve and keep Special Counsel Prosecutor Ken Starr. What happened is, Bush loaded up the belly of the beast , D C DOJ, with his cronies, who basically hung in DOJ, as career fixers, who controlled Reno who was a person more spineless than a jellyfish, yet allowed more havoc to unfold than most will ever realize. Ruby Ridge was only the tip of the iceberg.

  16. Rahm Rabani III

    Wasn’t Bernie Madoff a selfish putz..? And for all the wrong reasons.
    Most ironic, he is now called someone who is a “financial murderer”.
    He created bogus trade tickets, and duped supposedly the brighest
    big money investors in all the hot spots, NYC, L.A, Palm Beach, Aspen.
    How did he dupe so many for so long, in such an audacious scam ?
    I wish Gerry could enlighten us on this one…
    And beyond, there is a sucker born every minute.

  17. Gerry, don’t you really surmise that your books were the key element in your “fame”. Starting with “Gunning for Justice”, to “Making of…”.
    St Martins Press was the spur to your renown.
    It is indeed lucky to get a publishing house, who will market your practices.
    I have to say “Gunning for Justice” seems to be some paradox, given the situation, one man dies, another lives, and the City of Rock Springs never wanted anything to do with Mr quick gunner, after his acquittal.
    I was always curious about guns, and quick draws, the Wild West.
    I hear another guy was gunned down, by Billy Simpson, in Wyo, & some say in broad day light.
    But, do you know the full story on that quick draw, by chance. It was in Fremont County.
    I have heard conflicting reports on the matter.
    Anything you can do to shed light on that, would be terrific.
    It is great you turned into an amazing writer, obviously people find your books fasinating.
    Mr Rosa was painted as the moody outsider, Mr quick draw as the stuff of old west legends.
    Given Wyoming’s love of guns, and the Cowboy, it was gunning, but was it “justice” ?
    Well, you must write books to have people contemplate matters, after all.

  18. Gerry,
    It took me a very long time to realize that my love for representing the citizen accused was a deep inner desire (compulsion?) to be needed. I always “got a rush” when the right client with the right case came along and needed the kind of help that I could provide. I was the noble knight riding the white horse who was going to save the day. I read a wonderful book called “Love Is A Choice” and discovered that because I, like many others in the service industry, possess a burning longing to be needed, that I am codependent. I need to be needed.

  19. It is not the proper role of Government to “break down (a person’s ) humanity, and will to live.”
    See latest on the issues Gerry raises on tortue(other Blog topic, prior, as more is coming up, every day. And, on Government that includes “Government actors”, those who profess to act for the Government.
    And, I not only 2nd the notion of Gerry’s finest hour was the Ruby Ridge case for the poor family, targeted by snippers, to hunt down like dogs, it was something in the history books, now that many law schools must be looking at.
    Sadly, the main Bush DOJ operative on tortue is a professor at U C Berkeley where Yoo, still promotes his stripping people of their “humanity”.
    a 42 page ruling has stripped Yoo of his immunity, hope some can find, & post to the BLOG…

  20. Maybe writing books is a ticket to fame, renown, celebrity, riches, clubs, the fast track.
    Why– I was reading Obama’s book the “Audacity of Hope”.
    He never noted one case where he had to toil in the pits of American court rooms for some poor American, to deal with big powerful corporations running credit default swaps or some other gimmicks to impoverhish people. etc.
    At least Gerry did not start writing books, until he toiled in the fields for many — a lot of many–years, representing the Weavers, or others targted by BIG GOV, or some other political henchmen.
    Nobody knew or heard of Gerry , for so many years when he was representing the invisible Americans, busting his guts to stand up to the raw power of corporations, out to stick a knife in some Joey So and so invisible American’s back…
    Gerry is famous due to to a situation which is in 3 words:
    St Martins Press…

  21. Gerry: How do you feel about being famous? Do you like it? Why?

    • It is a mixed bag: First I am not all that famous. Most people don’t know me or only recognize this unbeautiful face. I like fame from the standpoint that it gives me a chance to speak to more people than I might were I relegated to Riverton, Wyoming, where I practiced for seventeen years. I dislike fame because it creates false images. I am not all that bright, wise of insightful. Too much is expected of me. I am still a country lawyer which most people think is a put-on by me. But it’s true.


  22. I must have it back words, in Gerry World, I have sought to be unselfish, but, is it for the wrong reasons, according to the latest Global Ozone fur sniffing, political changers ?
    During the race 08, the de jure slogan were uber strutting tel-promter reading D C posturing leaders saying they became involved in some greater purpose(cause if you will—Party linked), greater than themselves, & became apart of something more driven for the public good.
    Really, if we(America) have all these professed leaders so unselfish, why does this Nation have such massive trillions loaded on the backs of future generations–debt galore ?
    We have become a Nation of takers, and those taken for a ride, by so called leaders who lead the taker CLASS, as its Faustian purpose.
    And, at some point, there will be a major collision, like the Pacific plates, in
    the zone of global shifts.
    Mr Spence reaches into the breach, and says he has not always been successful on the “tricks”, merging the right reasons, and the pursuit of meaningful actions.
    Most interesting.

  23. Gerry, due to your “fame” how many persons, who have dire legal problems, contact your Jackson office, desperate, & thinking Gerry will help, only to find out, you, or your firm won’t even handle their matter, hardly give most the time of day ?
    And, even if a matter is taken in your office, you don’t handle, as you are busy with the media, or writing books , or assorted .
    I appreciate you are very talented in a court room, but do you think that rubs off on even those who attend your TLC, up in the Mountains, every summer.
    I know you probably don’t like the expression, “God”, but you were given a great talent, and it is not like a fungible commodiy, that can just be passed on in mass, like some widget, or cookie cutter, off the dough lines molded. Your God given talent, how ever it came to you, is rare.
    Maybe it wasn’t a God given talent, but it is like a big league hitter, who hits 360, season after season, there are only so few who can, so very few.
    Also, you kind of court room talent is pretty much tamed, these days, due to the limitations on access to federal courts, which is a great problem in the Nation, as big corporations control the motion calanders.

    • ERIN, what is the point you are trying to make? I use, as I hope we all use, whatever talent that we have to the best ends. As I write this I am at Trial Lawyer’s College trying to teach those who represent citizens facing the death penalty how to succeed in defeating that shameful part of our culture that teaches that WE kill those who have killed — that WE hate those who we taught to hate. I do what I can. I hope you will too.


    • The purpose of TLC is to teach lawyers to be or become themselves, not to be Gerry.

      What rubs off while spending three weeks in the mountains at the Thunderhead Ranch is the fact that Spence is who he is.

      Lawyers who discover who they are will be more effective in trying to tell their client’s stories to jurors.

      Most law offices, not just the Spence Firm, have people approach them all the time about their dire legal problems and the reality is you can not take every case, as to do so would make you ineffective.

      I was a full-time public defender for 7 years, and our office had to take every case that came in the door. That led to huge caseloads, like I averaged around 1000 cases per year and nearly two jury trials every month. Clients of public defenders often complain that their lawyers do not have enough time to handle their cases. It is hard to argue with that, when caseloads at most PD offices are 300 times greater than that recommended by most state bars.

      No way could any private law office take on a public defender model and accept every case without opening themselves up to ethic complaints, legal malpractice claims, etc.

      Additionally, most private firms do not have an entire division devoted exclusively to pro bono work……..but that firm in Jackson with Spence on the side of the building does.

      Beyond that, if the only thing Spence ever did was stop the FN yuppies from developing the East Wind River into ski country, and instead creating a huge area of public land, makes him a huge hero in my eyes.

      Good luck telling the U.S. attorneys office in Detroit that Spence’s courtroom skills have been taimed in anyway ; )

    I am a graduate of Trial Lawyers College (TLC) and can tell you that it does make a difference. There is a group of true lawyers for the people who have come from the college. I am one. There are cases that my office has taken that changed things in regards to discrimination in Nevada, that have found justice against a insurance company, found freedom for one wrongly accused. None of that would have happened without Mr Spence and his college. I would not have taken the cases but for TLC. It started with me going to a Spence seminar trying to find out how to maximize my verdicts and learn a few new lawyer tricks. It change me, the way I feel and I have discovered again why I wanted to first become a lawyer.
    Mr Spence does not brag of the changes he has caused all over this nation through TLC, and he doesn’t make a dime on it and it costs him a lot of time and money each year just to make a difference. He has created an army of attorneys for the people to make a difference. What an example for all of us to follow in making a difference however we can. That is why in part so many of us that know him say we “love” him because we do.
    I realize that the access to justice for many is hard but Mr Spence has helped change that in a very real way with TLC. Show me one other lawyer who has done so much for the people.
    It seems in your email that you may be looking for help, let me offer this, click on my name and contact me, let me see if I can give you some. No fee just lets see if there is something I can do to help you. In part to honor Mr Spence and in part because that is why I became a lawyer is to help people.

    • Hardy: Your comment made an old man weep a little even if I realize I am not doing enough. Caring is contagious. You prove it in what you write to Erin. I am honored.


  25. There is only one person who in the history of major league baseball had a life time batting average over 360, known as the Georgia peach. Even the best hitters in baseball do not get on base about 60 % of the time. Fame is fleeting, so many have no clue, now, who the Georgia peach is.

  26. I can’t help but wonder if your selfish or righteous or even foolish enough to get a decent man released from the darkest of labels. I’ve dreamed of the day.

  27. This is in response to Kelly M.

    Indeed fame can be fleeting. As a lawyer who has been practicing for over 30 years, it upsets me when I speak with younger lawyers who do not know who Gerry Spence is or who have only a passing knowledge of his accomplishments. Instead they are impressed by local, self-promoting prima donnas whom Gerry (or almost any of his Trial Lawyers College graduates) could easily defeat in court.

    But all is not lost, You see most of the world still knows that Ty Cobb was the Georgia Peach.

    And so I predict that the history books will mark Clarence Darrow and Gerry Spence as being the two greatest lawyers from the 20th century. And with Gerry’s brilliant and successful defense in the Fieger case, just last year, perhaps some of the 21st century will belong to him as well.

  28. Kentucky Scot

    I have blown myself up taking on local governments that have behaved in reprehesible ways. Despite having some good arguments, properly supported by law, and put forth to benefit the public, the judiciary has uniformly ruled in favor of government interest. I could care less about fame, but it would be nice to win one — especially, when the issues I fought for deserved to be winners. Sometimes fighting goliath is not so gratifying.

  29. Being the greatest lawyer is only 1/2 the story now.

    With a baby boomer wife and being a 78 year old physicist myself, in the medical community he is now singlehandedly keeping 2 generations from premature senile dementia with his extemely thought provoking website.

    If it ever becomes a total burden – as my wife says: “We’ll take crumbs, happily”.

    A million thanks from all of us, Gerry.

  30. Gerry:
    You rock, as they say… To me you are a rock. Rock solid and the world could definately use more people like you; let alone attorneys.
    I hope to have the honor of meeting you someday.

  31. To AaronC: I didn’t realize that CA allowed law students to study law without the law school requirement but under the advice or sponsorship of a practicing attorney. I sometimes wish all states did this.

    As you pointed out, law school is often not possible due to difficult circumstances. But I have never believed that one’s education began and ended with the classroom. I think it is always a continuing process for those who seek to learn new ideas and skills. Thank goodness for our books, and for Gerry and the other authors who care enough to write them with the intent to teach. I wish you the best of luck and hope you will become a practicing attorney in the not-too-distant future. 🙂

  32. Dear Gerry;

    You ARE famous, and for the right reasons, too. A genuine hero.

    My question, related to “fame” is…I have just watched the “Trial Of Lee Harvey Oswald” (the fictional trial, produced for television) in which you defended Oswald against the great prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi.

    If I had been on the jury, I would have acquitted him…and not just because I like you…I think that your arguments were flawless, and that there was plenty of “reasonable doubt” in that case.

    What are your impressions of why you “lost”? Do you think the television enviros, or artificiality of the trial affected the jury decision?

    My feeling has always been that the Kennedy assassination was such a traumatic experience for Americans, that this mock-jury (and most other Americans) just wanted to put a quick, tidy bandage on it and get on with things…

    What do you think?


    • Scott, the jury was hand picked by the English producers of the show from the Dallas populous. You can imagine that Dallas wanted to cleanse itself by adopting the guilt of Oswald and slamming the door shut on the case. We had nothing to do with jury selection, perhaps the most important segment in any jury case.

      Thanks for asking.


  33. on being selfish:
    Brilliant words. Seems like a buddhist version of the Tao.
    Truly gifted.

  34. Mr. Spence, there are two people I truly admire and am honored to have lived in their time era. Mr. Zig Ziglar and you, Mr. Gerry Spence.

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