From the Stage to the Court Room: My Non-Traditional Path to a Legal CareerDecember 5, 2016
There are a lot of skills we learn throughout our undergraduate and legal education – reading, persuasive writing, and research. While these are undoubtedly important lessons, there is an essential component missing from legal education: theater.
Long before I came to work for Hinckley Allen, I was a student of theater. First, as a theater major at St. Lawrence University and then as a student at The New Actors Workshop, I learned the finer points of acting and improvisation (“improv”) from the three-headed monster that was Mike Nichols, George Morrison, and Paul Sills. While I couldn’t have foreseen the traditional path my career took, I now know that acting has given me essential skills that I use every day in the practice of law.
Beyond the obvious benefits – increased confidence and self-presentation skills – taking part in theatrical productions made me team-oriented and collaborative. Improv was especially helpful in developing these skills as improv requires a group of performers to work together to create an entertaining experience at the moment it is performed. Because it is not planned, improv forces you to quickly evaluate and react to the strengths and weakness of each party involved-including yourself. There is no such thing as a one-man improv performance.
You make it work together. Improv is a particular medium in which the story can only evolve through the actor’s ability to actively listen and emotionally empathize and react to their teammates. Theater further stimulates empathy as it is a performing art. Performing art provides a medium for self-expression, teaches you to open your mind and think creatively and provides a positive environment for problem-solving.
Acting also taught me was to prepare for anything. Thespians are constantly preparing for roles in a devoted and physical way. We put 100% of our efforts preparing for known and unknown situations, memorizing monologues and action cues, researching decades for period pieces, among others. Just like every role is different, so is every client. As an attorney, I continue to prepare for my leading role as my client’s advisor and advocate. These finely tuned skills of absorption and observation allow me to better provide sound advice and counsel because of I have greater and more acute understanding of my clients and their business.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, acting teaches you that while failure and rejection are inevitable, it is how you learn from those setbacks and work to correct them that is going to define your performance at work and in life. Actor/lawyers are well-versed in receiving constructive criticism. This experience gives us the confidence to handle any reaction and to use that feedback as a tool for growth and improvement. Because of this, actor/lawyers are also prepared to deliver hard and, perhaps, bold or risk-taking advice. Having this willingness to deliver challenging advice is essential to guiding the client to best and most successful result.
Certainly some of these skills can be achieved through various life experiences. However, the stage provides a palpable avenue for jump-starting and accelerating this learning curve. For greater success as a lawyer, be a thespian first.
See Nathan’s original post on LinkedIn