Message from President Sloan as appeared in Winter 2016 Warrior Magazine introducing the fundraising campaign to build a new $5 million Gerry Spence Education Center on the Thunderhead Ranch Campus:

Dear Warriors,
I’m excited to be able to share with you some very important news for the Trial Lawyers College. As many of you are aware, there have been plans in the developmental stage for the construction of an Education Center on the campus at the Ranch. The TLC Board of Directors has now taken some major steps towards making the Education Center a reality and I am devoting this issue’s President’s column to a discussion of the Board’s reasoning, the initial steps taken in pursuit of this goal, the finances for the Education Center and my excitement about what this opportunity means for the future of the College.

The Board’s efforts to make the Education Center a reality began in earnest over two years ago, when the Board began to consider what type of facility might properly house the growing institutional identity of Trial Lawyers College, including the extensive archives of our founder, Gerry Spence. In early 2014, at the Texas Regional Seminar in Grapevine, we were first shown a conceptual drawing of what the Education Center might look like and ideas about where it might be located. These initial plans were so exciting that we agreed as a Board to go further with the planning. We see the construction of an Education Center to house the archives of Gerry Spence and the Trial Lawyers College and other of our Warriors to be vital to the long-term survival of the College. TLC has grown each and every year it has been in existence. We are training an increasing number of Warriors each year but, unfortunately, we are limited by our facilities and the fact that our meeting rooms are not winterized.

In an effort to be completely transparent about the financial situation of the Trial Lawyers College and the efforts to fund and build the Education Center, we need to make sure the TLC Tribe is part of the ongoing conversation. In an attempt to facilitate that dialog, the Board has summarized its discussions into 12 Core Truths bearing upon this subject that we believe to be important. Many of these truths have already been spoken of and written about on several occasions. They are:

  1. TLC operates at a deficit: it does not take in enough money, through tuition, to pay all of its bills at the end of the year. This deficit was approximately $450,000 in 2015.
  2. Historically, TLC makes up this deficit through fundraising, including Ranch Club memberships. This deficit has historically run between $600,000 and $700,000 annually. With the great work that Laurie Goodman and JR Clary have done in watching our expenses, the deficit was cut to $450,000 in 2015.
  3. Over the past 20 years, through its fundraising, TLC has been immensely fortunate to raise more money than needed to cover its annual operating shortfall. The Board began and continues to save the funds within conservative investment vehicles such as CDs, bonds and mutual funds. TLC has not gambled with any savings and chooses only the most conservative options. As many of you know, the returns on such investment vehicles are abysmal, to say the least, in today’s market.
  4. Because the money raised to cover the annual deficit grew as a result of TLC’s efforts, the TLC Board categorized the funds as Savings and often referred to that savings pool as an endowment. The hope was that, in the future, these funds would evolve into a true endowment which could be used to fund the operation of TLC through production of passive income. If such a goal could have been realistically attained, it would have made it unnecessary to have multiple fundraisers annually.
  5. By mid-July 2015, TLC had $2.5 million in the savings referred to as the endowment, and a second savings account of $1.5 million to cover excess operating costs, unexpected expenses, and other capital expenditures. This was incredibly short of what it would take to fund a true, College-supporting “Endowment”. Our dream of ever raising an endowment large enough to meet the yearly deficit of the college was decided to be just that-a dream. At today’s interest rates, one can quickly calculate that we would need over $30,000,000 in our endowment to cover our annual shortfall! Raising that pool of resources from within our own Tribe was an impossible dream and an unfair burden.
  6. The discussions with the Executive Committee and the TLC Board expanded to consider whether a modern, winterized building on the Ranch could be used as a year-round venue to conduct additional TLC programs to train more lawyers. This would, hopefully, alleviate the need for some of the expensive off-site regional seminars held around the country. The least expensive programs that we run as a college occur at the Ranch-where we thereby earn the highest return on our Program investment.
  7. Given all this, it was decided that a much better use of these funds would be the building of an Education Center on the Ranch to house the institutional knowledge of TLC and Gerry Spence’s career. Gerry has talked to students at the College on many, many occasions (thousands of hours) about different aspects of trial work. Many of these discussions have been video-taped and are of such quality that it’s practical and prudent for the College to save them in a permanent archive. In addition, Gerry has donated to the College all of his professional television and lecture appearances over the years. We have complete access to all of these materials and we can use them for future training and education of lawyers, marketing, and a multiplicity of purposes related to TLC and our needs and history. Gerry Spence made this generous donation to TLC with a simple request: “Do not embarrass me.”
  8. In July 2015, the overwhelming majority of the TLC Executive Committee and Board voted to establish a building fund to build an Education Center on the Ranch and voted to dedicate $3 million of TLC’s savings to the building fund, leaving us $1 million in unreserved dollars that will be carefully retained in savings and thereby available for future operating expense shortfalls, should they be needed. Historically, we have had about $1 million in our savings since 2005 and we have never dipped below that amount in savings. Thankfully, and due to the tribe’s generosity at our fundraisers, the College has never had to “dip” into its savings to meet operational needs. Thus, the $1 million savings not segregated to support the Education Center was deemed a prudent reserve by the Board.
  9. At the outset, there was a percolating concern that TLC savings were being segregated to build a building on land that TLC does not own. (Here, it is important to observe that, as of yet, NO sums have been approved for actual construction expenditure. Presently, only segregation of the funds for this building purpose has been approved.) In any event, concern in this area was alleviated for two main reasons: First, the Education Center will be used to enhance revenue and house all of the precious archives given to TLC free of charge by Gerry Spence. Secondly, the lease that TLC currently has with The Spence Foundation is in its 3rd year of a 25-year term -meaning that the current lease is in effect thru 2039. The current lease has an option for renewal for an additional 25-year term, which would extend the lease thru 2064. The Spence Foundation has agreed to grant the option for an additional 25-year term thru 2099. Thus, in truth, the life of the TLC lease for the Thunderhead Ranch extends beyond the anticipated life of the Education Center building itself.
  10. As of now, the final cost of the building and/or cost to maintain are not yet known. We are in the early stages but as soon as this information is gathered, it will be shared. An estimate of a cost of $5.0 million has been discussed, but we do not have any firm bids with the cost. You can be assured that we will not commit TLC to pay anyone for construction until we know the total cost on all the relevant fronts.
  11. Funds that have been given by members of the Tribe for scholarships are specifically earmarked as such and are used solely for scholarships and not included in the endowment or building fund donation. Ranch Club donations have typically been expended on ranch operation expenses and some of it may go to savings for capital expenditures, which in turn may support the building fund.
  12. Since the establishment of the building fund, there is a capital campaign underway to raise additional money for the Education Center headed by John Zelbst and Joey Low. Even though they have just undertaken the task of asking, as of now over $575,000 has been pledged. We have appointed a building committee that will spearhead our efforts to get the information we need to proceed. I am pleased that Anne Valentine, John Vincent and Imaging Spence all have agreed to serve in this capacity.
This country desperately needs what TLC provides in the way of training trial lawyers for the people. We believe the permanent TLC Education Center is part of this growth. This will be especially true as we transition into a time, hopefully a long time from now, when our founder will no longer be with us. Throughout this journey and our attempt to make real for the people of America the mission statement of the Trial Lawyers College, the ardent support of The Tribe is imperative. With the support from our own hearts and our own resources, we will grow and prosper. Without such a wellspring of support, as Gerry has often said, we will die.

John Sloan
To learn more, or make a contribution to the new Education Center,  please contact Lori or Nancy in the main office and they’ll put you in touch with Johnny Zelbst or Joey Low.  
Call:  307-432-4042 or email: