Gerry Spence & the Art of Advocacy

Professor James R. Elkins College of Law | West Virginia University


The Art of Advocacy Begins with Discovering the Self

"The Power of Discovering the Self," in Gerry Spence, Win Your Case 9-18 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2005)

"It all begins with the person, with who each of us is." [11] "We cannot understand human conduct without understanding others, and we cannot understand others without first becoming acquainted with ourselves." [Id.]

"Most of us assume we know ourselves. Haven't we lived intimately with this person for all of these years? But we live inside our own self-constructed chicken house, and we've locked the door against our fear of some mythical, marauding coyote that will surely do us in if we throw open the door and venture out. As a consequence we trudge through our lives within those four bleak walls, and over and over bounce against the walls until we have grown used to our self-imposed boundaries.

It's takes a lifetime to build our chicken house. The walls are composed of images of who we are, or the equally inaccurate visuals of ourselves imposed on us by our parents, teachers, and peers. The walls are the defenses we impose against our fear of experiencing the self. . . . Whatever the pain, that tender organism known as the self takes on such defenses as are available--denial of the self, a mythological reconstruction of the self, shallow rationalizations that excuse the self, a closure against feeling once the walls are constructed we live our lives with them believing we are safely ensconced against harm.

Within the four walls of the chicken house most of us have become walking, talking conglomerations of habits, a monumental psychic pile composed of habitual thoughts and feelings, the same old ideas and beliefs, predictable responses and brittle attitudes . . . ." [12]

[Spence has, presented a still more ominous image of the chicken house in which we confine ourselves: "If one visits the monkey cage in the zoo, one will see the fake tree in the middle of the cage and the monkeys climbing it, swinging from its branches, some sitting at the top picking the lice from their hair and looking down with disdain upon the others below them. As I grew, it never occurred to me that the ladder of success as I understood it might be standing in some impalpable cage that had no visible wire or concrete boundaries, but that was a cage nevertheless." Gerry Spence, Seven Simple Steps to Personal Freedom: A Handbook 3 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2001). "Cages are cages whether constructed of steel and concrete or from the fabric of the mind." Id. at 19]["Most of us are trapped--trapped by our education and trapped by the minutiae of our experience. . . . most of us are imprisoned in a false sense of self . . . ." Id. at 38]

"The discover of the self is a lifetime adventure. It begins when we recognize how frightened we are to venture beyond the door." [12]["For all one's conviction that the world should be open to knowing, there are certain forms of knowledge that one fears." [Jerome S. Bruner, On Knowing: Essays for the Left Hand 59 (New York: Atheneum, 1966)]

Spence would have us be "psychic archeologists engaged in an archeological dig of the self." [Spence, Win Your Case, at 13]

"We can begin breaking out of the chicken house in many ways." [13] [Still, Win Your Case, is not a book that will teach you how to know your self. "Such is not a teachable skill. There are no 'How to Know Thyself' courses offered in college. Self-knowledge always remains a work in progress, a different one for each of us, one that reveals a changing landscape as we travel through our lives." Id. at 14-15]

"By learning to listen to ourselves, to fearlessly experience ourselves, we learn to listen to and discover others." [14] "I am merely suggesting that to become aware, to become open to ourselves, is the first toward becoming a person and learning how, in the end, to become open to others." [18]["I remember when I began to feel my own power. Somehow I had discovered the King within--the King of the self. I was fearful of the King, in awe of him. Yet in his presence I felt no servitude to man, to government, to law or to God. I felt as if I could conquer any obstacle, win any case." Gerry Spence, From Freedom to Slavery: The Rebirth of Tyranny in America 164 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993)]

"[W]e do not grow much from joy and pleasure, and we do not learn much from winning. We grow and bloom from our pain and from the lessons of the self that we learn from our pain." [Spence, Win Your Case, at 17]["As I look back, the most fortunate events in my life, although deeply painful, were the rejections I suffered. They proved to be immensely liberating gifts." Gerry Spence, Seven Simple Steps to Personal Freedom: A Handbook 12 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2001). "During those painful, formative years what I had also failed to understand was that every rejection I had suffered was a true gift of self to me . . . ." Id. at 13]

"No power is greater than the power of a self freed of the false ideas of power, for no power exceeds the power of a free self." [Gerry Spence, Seven Simple Steps to Personal Freedom: A Handbook 14 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2001)]["I argue that freedom can exist only if we have first freed the self. And in life the self is ours to free." Id. at 17][And the problem, most basically stated: "Most of us do not want to be free." Id.]

The incompetence of lawyers, according to Spence, "isn't because they want to be incompetent. They study. They try. Some of them worry. Some even grieve. But most lawyers don't recognize their incompetence. That's because their incompetence begins not as lawyers, but as human beings." [Gerry Spence, O.J., The Last Word 111 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997)]["Good trial lawyers need to be evolved persons underneath all the lawyer stuff. Most aren't." Id. at 114]["By the time the young lawyer has percolated up through grade school, high school, and then college, he is pretty well domesticated, pretty well worn down as a person, pretty much weaned from the positive and the creative, pretty much suckled to the negative and mechanical. By the time he gets to law school, he is pretty much trained not to think for himself. He has become a predictable drone. He has lost his creativity. I would suggest he has been educated against feeling, against caring, against being." Id. at 114-115]["What are we to make of America's trial lawyers? Who are they? Why are we so disappointed in them? . . . . What we see . . . are too many pampered kids with diplomas hanging on the wall who have had no life experience, who wouldn't know a shovel handle from a dildo, and who, by the time they have entered law school, have been stripped of most of what makes a human being, their openness, their compassion, their ability to feel . . . ." Id. at 116-117]

Spence on Knowing Who You Are
[video, 3:07 mins.] [2012]

Spence: Doors of Risk
[video, 2:57 mins.]

Some Thoughts About Being In What Gerry Spence Calls the "Chicken House"

Everydayness Grooves Conformity Self-Deception An Unexamined Life

"How much we pretend to. How little we know, really know for sure. Our little worlds swirl on in mysterious ways. We see, we hear, and we believe. But we believe more than we know. And so we act, act in our little worlds, pretending to know how and why. Yet, more than anything, we are creatures of faith, of various faiths, but all of faith. Whoever we are and whatever we do or fail to do, we build our articles of faith to give us our little worlds in which we can move and do, believing we know, but really only knowing we believe." [Walter Probert, Some Reflections on the Teaching of Jurisprudence, 15 J. Legal Educ. 225, 267 (1963)]

"For the most part we live our lives focally, that is, within a familiar range of experiences rendered clear to us by our conceptual systems or simply accepted by habituation. Ideally the focus opens outward, reaching toward a fringe of experiences, often vague and inarticulate but subtly continuous and profoundly meaningful." [John J. McDermott, The Culture of Experience: Philosophical Essays in the American Grain 106-107 (New York: New York University Press, 1976)]

The Mind is Not the Whole Self

"We build the muscles of the mind so powerfully that there is no room for the tiny, atrophied creative and emotional spaces in our makeup. We cannot sing. We cannot paint a picture. We cannot write a poem. We cannot hear the early morning song of a bird and recognize its attachment to heaven. We are crippled by the muscles of the mind." [Gerry Spence, Win Your Case, at 270] ["[I]t is difficult for us to experience passion when our emotional core is buried beneath the rock-hard iceberg of the discipline mind." Id.]

"I am not arguing that we ought not use our minds or that we ought to scoff at intelligence. I am saying that to be real, to be whole, to become a person, we must be open to the heart as well as the mind. To many, especially lawyers, any dealing with heart stuff is frightening." Id.

Know Thyself

Wikipedia (on the Greek origins of the admonition)

Know Thyself: Delphi and It's Oracle

Know Thyself Archive


"Self knowledge is valuable but hard to get. It is often neglected or avoided and may be
one of the last things we seek. If we want to find self knowledge then it is actually hard work
much like the mining for a treasure." [Enneagram: A tool of self-knowledge]


[Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy]







Inner Self | Hidden Self

Hidden Personality

The Hidden Self
[Ron Crossland]


An Ethics of Self-Fashioning: Nietzsche and Foucault
[Alan Milchman & Alan Rosenberg, Parrhesia, 2007]


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