The Argument For Humor At Law Firm Events
I didn’t expect to uncover a void when I first undertook to make lawyers laugh, I didn’t hear piteous cries. But I was picking up something back then, nearly twenty years ago. Something in the public image of lawyers expressed in scapegoat jokes. Something in the rising tide of legislation which has made lawyers indispensable if not more loved. Something in the way law firms have grown into enormous intractable organisms. (There was a time when group photos of law firms could be taken without aerial photography.) This profession clearly needed to have some fun.
The reasoning which launched my career as a law humorist nearly twenty years ago may be even more appropriate today.
Law firms and associations have social events in the first place because they recognize the need to be more than a collection of professionals. Though the practice of law may itself be a broad landscape of common ground for lawyers, they need to enjoy each other as people, too. Not just as professionals. Of course members of a firm cannot all be close as musketeers. But they can be more than just colleagues.
So the problem is:
How to create an occasion that stimulates lawyers to open up to each other socially?
This is harder with lawyers than with most groups. Skepticism is a requirement of this profession. In an executive-committee meeting any suggestion that the firm try one of the touchy-feely exercises embraced by the corporate world is likely to cause acid rain clouds to form. So, no love fest.
But how then does a law firm have some …if I may say it …fun? Are there catalysts for lawyer lightheartedness?
Music? A band can be enjoyable (if not totally ignored). Problem is, it stimulates no conversation between the lawyers and is forgotten the minute the ballroom empties.
Golf? Golf becomes very expensive when you consider it’s not exactly everybody together enjoying the same thing. It’s foursomes. And not everyone plays.
A dinner then? Yes, that’s a start. But conversation at a dinner is limited to a maximum of ten people at a round table. Usually it’s only between four. (Like golf.) And what about the conversation is unifying?
A dinner with an engaging speaker is better. But what kind of speaker? A jurist? No, that’s about the professional relationship. Like CLE. Politics? Not for everyone. Sports? Same thing. No usual speaker can please all, this sophisticated audience is too diverse.
Humor is the answer. And not only for obvious reasons.
Laughter shakes you loose. It’s physical. It requires a lot of breath, it makes the body move. The notion of lawyers acting in concert physically is perhaps alarming but it shouldn’t be. It’s just shared excitement. (Storming a castle might be even better but this is unavailable at the preferred hotels.) Laughter is unifying. There’s something about witnessing a hard-nosed colleague laughing with you at the same thing. It makes him more human, more accessible. It’s as if you’ve touched without the possibility of stickiness. No fatuous declarations, no fragrance observed, no germs. Shared humor is safe touching.
At events where I entertain, as soon as I leave the lectern every lawyer has new ways to start a conversation, even beyond the event. That includes with the IP associate from the Chicago office. Or with that high-priced lateral hire.
Comedy is a homeopathic miracle, a stimulant and mood-enhancer with no side effects.
But a lot of comics are cheesy. And they know little about the lives of lawyers outside the courtrooms they see on TV.
- The humor has to be intelligent. Nothing corny, nothing juvenile.
- It has to be in good taste.
- But best of all is for it to be relevant to the practice of law.
Skits prepared by the associates can do some of this. They certainly get everyone breathing hard, they can be very funny. But skits frequently trample the above requirements, especially the one about good taste. Egos are not just bruised but barbequed. Embarrassment lingers long after, like smoke damage. Skits are also a tremendous amount of work. Any associate who measures a good night’s sleep in tenths of an hour will concur. No, the humor has to meet not only all of the above requirements but also somehow soften the daily struggles shared by the audience.
To put it another way, humor for lawyers is perfect …if it is taken seriously.