In 2006, a group of judges and attorneys (many of whom were members of the South Central Texas Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel) decided to write a series of sketches that mixed legal ethics trainings with humor, music, and pop culture references and perform it at the chapter’s annual ethics conference. They called it Ethics Follies. Since that time, participation has more than doubled and more than 20,000 attorneys, accountants, and other licensed professionals have watched—either in person or via webcast or DVD—spoofs ranging from Rock of Ages to Mama Mia! on topics including workplace discrimination, theft, and data privacy. This year’s production, Scamalot, a riff on the musical comedy Spamalot, promises to be just as entertaining, and attendees can receive two hours of CLE credit after the show.
Lee Cusenbary, one of the men behind the madness and general counsel to Mission Pharmacal Company in San Antonio, plays King Arthur in this season’s production, which will be performed live on October 28 and 29 at the Empire Theater in San Antonio. Here he talks about auditions, applause, and his character’s loyal servant, Putsy.
The show themes change each year. How are they selected? I write the story and create a script by parodying a Broadway show. I ask for input from attorneys John Heller, Mary Belan Doggett, and Roland Edmiston, and four or five lawyers write additional parodies when they are inspired by something in the playlist of the show’s songs. I read ethics articles and journals, clipping stories that are interesting or appear to be a trend in the world of legal and business ethics. This year, the biggest concern is cybersecurity, and 2016 will most likely be abuzz with stories about hackers who steal information, sometimes requiring companies to pay a ransom to release their own data back to them.
Can you share a few lines from this year’s show? French Taunter Guard played by Jeff Gifford: “Your father was a chupacabra and your father smells of JJJJJJJJJalapeños!” Also, Putsy, King Arthur’s loyal servant says, “You know what they always say!” to which King Arthur dryly replies, “No dear Putsy, I never really listen to them.”
Tell me about one your favorite memories from this season. We had a really warm welcome and standing ovation from the Bankruptcy Law Section Bench Bar Conference at the Lost Pines Resort. It was the first large audience for this particular show, and the zealous applause and cheering really felt great. The trip to Chicago for the ABA Conference was fun, and we were able to perform for people who had never heard of Ethics Follies. It was memorable, and the ABA invited us to San Francisco next year since our presenter rating by attendees was “extremely high.”
Has it ever been difficult to recruit attorneys? We’ve always had a steady stream of talented attorneys who want to participate for the fun of it and because it helps an important charity. Ethics Follies provides about half the annual operating budget for the Community Justice Program and we have done so for a few years now.
Are there auditions? Not really. My wife and I go to the theater a lot, and if we see someone who is just amazing, we’ll ask him or her to join the cast. It’s a nice mix of attorneys and professional actors, all of whom volunteer their time and have a blast.
How many participants do you currently have? Do they all have a role in the show? There are about 50 people involved in the show this year. About 40 are on stage and the others help with costumes, set changes, writing, and marketing. The glue for the entire production is Amber Clark, the executive director of the Association of Corporate Counsel, South Central Texas Chapter. She communicates with all the corporate sponsors and sets up the theater each year with a team of volunteer attorneys from ACC.
What kind of commitment does it take to participate? Volunteers can spend an hour making a set piece or 100 a year performing in preview and touring performances in a leading role. There are about 10 people who spend a lot of time on the road with me and my wife promoting the shows at the Empire. We are friends, so it’s fun to travel and perform in different cities.
How can someone get involved in Ethics Follies? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll get you involved. It’s that simple.
For more information and to purchase tickets, go to ethicsfollies.com.