I am intrigued by the world of standup comedy. Not only because many standup comedians entertain me immensely, but there’s probably some delusion in the back of my head that I am 1/19th funny enough to attempt something like that. (Don’t worry, I’m not going to.) Part of what interests me about their profession is the amount of work it takes to “make it.” New comedians, generally, cannot just decide to jump on stage or get a degree and magically be ready for prime time. Honing the craft takes years of practice and perseverance — much like lawyering (stay with me).
Over the holidays, I watched various episodes of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee. Besides the hilarious nature, the shows provide insight into how Seinfeld and his guests came up in the business and continue to work today. They discuss testing new material and events that changed their careers. I read this article about Seinfeld and how, to this day, he still is trying out new jokes at small venues to continuously improve.
I also just watched Mike Birbiglia’s Sleepwalk With Me for a second time. Again funny, but the movie also focused on how Birbiglia’s career got started, including the initial rejection, challenges with family and relationships, and the grind of taking less desirable gigs to gain experience. The movie also highlighted how he networked with other comedians — both experienced and up-and-coming — that led to learning about the profession and referrals for jobs.
New and experienced lawyers can learn from the standup world. For the newbies, any expectation of overnight success needs to go out the door. Simply hanging up the shingle or throwing up a virtual law office out of law school is not sufficient to have a successful practice. You need to understand the fundamentals of the practice first. This means learning the substantive law, observing other lawyers in court, networking with other attorneys, getting involved in bar associations and gaining perspective on what has brought the profession to where it stands today.
Does this mean newer attorneys should avoid delivering services in new and innovative ways and avoid thinking ahead of the curve? Absolutely not — just make sure you have the proper foundation in place.
For the seasoned lawyers, the lesson here is to never stop learning and recognizing change occurs. It is easy to stay complacent and dismiss innovative ways to practice. It is easy to recycle the same documents over and over. Look at Seinfeld. After a successful standup career and television show, he still is going back to his roots and constantly improving his game (and entertaining under new models, such as short online shows drinking coffee and driving around with friends/colleagues).
In standup, the substance of the material and timing of delivery matters. For lawyers, obviously the substance matters, as well as the strategy on how the work product is delivered.
So there. While the war stories will differ and the personality types diverge, both professions are rooted in the notion that years of hard work are necessary to succeed (and that neither are prone to get rich quick concepts). Both require the constant need to improve through learning and reinvention.
Lawyers will do well to observe how comedians evolve — just resist the urge to participate in an open mic competition. Keep your day job.
Photo credit: hiddedevries