All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts[.]
As You Like It, Act II, sc. 7
To help them prepare for an upcoming production, last week I conducted a little workshop on A Midsummer’s Night Dream for my daughter’s fifth-grade class. We focused on the Rude Mechanicals and how their efforts to prepare a play for the Duke’s wedding are like what they are trying to do in preparing a play as a class project. Implicit in the comparison was how they can use the Mechanicals’ experience to help them avoid making some terrible choices, such as:
- Interrupting the director at every turn with self-serving disgressions;
- Trying to play all of the parts;
- Adding material to the script out of fear that the audience won’t “get it” or to make sure that members of the audience aren’t so moved that they become unhinged by the power of the performance;
- Worrying about their costume or the lighting before they have even started practicing their lines;
- Having people impersonate set pieces (like “The Wall” or “Moonshine”) and thinking that will help create just the right mood;
- Breaking character in the middle of the performance;
- Saying all their lines at once, cues and all.
The Mechanicals do all of these things and more—with unintentionally hilarious effects. Or at least it should be hilarious if the actors playing the bad actors can act well enough to earnestly perform being a very sincere bad actor.
Lawyers as well as fifth-graders can learn from the Mechanicals bumbling efforts! Here’s how the above precepts might apply to law practice:
- Don’t interrupt the judge in court or the client in the conference room when they are trying to direct traffic to show your superior grasp of the situation.
- Don’t try to do everything; find effective ways to delegate—while keeping in mind that you remain ultimately responsible for all beneath you in the chain-of-command (including more junior lawyers, paralegals, secretaries, law clerks making photocopies, etc.).
- When drafting any kind of legal writing—including briefs for a court or memos for a client—don’t feel compelled to explain everything and “show all of your work.” It will not earn you extra credit for being a hard worker; it will just exasperate your audience.
- Take time to prioritize and don’t let concerns about minutiae distract you from absorbing the substance first.
- Recognize that atmospherics matter—but shouldn’t steal focus or create comedy when you were going for tragedy.
- When performing in public, such as at trial, realize that you are never “off stage.” You should care deeply about your client. And if any juror ever catches you treating that client—or any member of the court personnel--with disrespect or even indifference, your cover will be blown and your performance a bust.
- A successful lawyer has to be part of a dialogue that involves a larger context and multiple players; lawyers aren’t hired to give monologues devoid of feedback from their fellow performers or environment.
Now go forth and break a leg!