In the data desert on a horse with no name

As an attorney representing injury victims, I feel I keep things in pretty good perspective. My worst day is better than the best day many of my clients have. What I faced last week, however, challenged my resolve.

Perhaps it is best to start this story at the beginning. In fact, this story is about me telling stories - my client's stories.

I hit a particularly low point in my career a few years ago. I felt like a failure and a fraud. I thought about calling all of my clients to apologize. In fact, I wondered whether I should change careers.

A disinterested third party might have attributed this angst to the approaching end of my forties, or the fact that I had lost a couple of "unlosable" cases. The problem was deeper than that.

I was incorporating some new methods into my trial practice that changed not just what I did for clients but how I felt about it. I won't name the methodology except to say that it is a bit slithery. In any event, the words coming out of my mouth didn't feel like my own. Strangers could sense that things weren't genuine, that stories were forced.

I asked one of the method's founding fathers for some assistance in getting back on track, and his answer was that I needed to get deeper in the methodology. In other words, three gallons of the magical elixir wasn't enough, I needed to drink a fourth. Instead, I abandoned the cult altogether.

I wound up at the website for the Trial Lawyers' College, or TLC. I applied to the first college in 1994 but was not accepted. This time, I got in.

The traditional graduation path is a three week stay at Thunderhead Ranch, just outside of Dubois, Wyoming. It is beautiful and isolated, the kind of place where one gets lost in learning as there is nothing else to do.

A few years ago, the College offered a different track for students to attend regional classes and complete the curriculum in seven steps rather than one stay at the Ranch. Actually, that track takes eight steps; a weeklong graduate course is the final step after completing the first seven. I graduated from TLC last August. Grad courses are only held at Thunderhead Ranch, and I just made my third visit there.

I am not good at geography. I get lost a lot. Dubois is the kind of town you only find if you are actively looking for it. It is a couple of hours from Jackson Hole, just past Grand Teton national park. There are no stoplights. Most of the stores are tourist traps.

We stopped at a gift shop on the main street and met the store's proprietor, the artist whose work was on the walls, the high school football coach, the middle school football coach and the sole member of the Board of Adjustment for property disputes. He was a very nice man.

I grew up in a small town, one even smaller than Dubois. My geography teacher doubled as the girls' basketball coach and when you wear a lot of hats, some of them don't fit very well. I won't blame my teacher for all of my geographical ignorance. I can only guess who taught geography to my cell phone carrier however. They still haven't found Dubois.

My friends with other cell phone carriers could take and make calls and receive text messages. They even got internet access. I got calls if I climbed to the top of a pretty tall hill - it felt like a small mountain, especially from the top - and stood on my left foot with my right arm extended. I could receive text messages but not reply and the internet was unreachable.

I felt isolated, cast back to pioneer days. A Google Fu ninja had been neutralized. I envied my friends and hated my cell phone carrier. Data envy is ugly. Having a brand new cell phone but no signal is like getting a new bike for Christmas when there are ten inches of snow on the ground.

For a geek lawyer, being completely disconnected is worse than smallpox, and hopefully as rare. I actually twitched the first couple of days. I snuck off from the seminars to find unsecured WiFi leaking from a church or restaurant and parked nearby, grabbing a few moments of connectedness like an addict scouring a crack house for scraps on the floor.

As the week progressed, I found less time to get away, and the twitch subsided. I don't know if I am entitled to a badge or medal, but I am a proud survivor of data withdrawal. Should you wind up in a Data Desert, be strong. You can survive, and the world will await your return. Support groups meet on Thursdays by the way, and there is free Wifi available if you want to share your stories.


©2016 under analysis llc. under analysis is a nationally syndicated column. Spencer Farris is the founding partner of The S.E. Farris Law Firm in St Louis, Missouri. He has reconnected to the world and is buried under emails at the moment. Comments or criticisms about this column may be sent c/o this newspaper or directly to Under Analysis via email at

Published: Fri, Sep 02, 2016