From the stage to the courtroom, Andrew Janet keeps his audience with him
Andrew Janet’s obsession with theater began when he was cast as the lead of a school production in the fourth grade.
Nearly three decades later, the busy attorney, firm partner, and father of two has less time for theatrical pursuits. But the echoes of his first love, and the lessons learned from the stage, continue to reverberate.
“A lot of what we do in theater is make sure the audience stays with you, and understands what you’re saying,” he says. “That’s law. When you’re making an argument to a judge or jury, it’s the same.”
It’s all about the story—about finding connection and meaning. Janet first learned these skills as a 10-year-old at the all-boys Gilman School in Baltimore, where his teacher, William S. Merrick Jr., was something of a legend, thanks to the original plays he wrote for his fourth graders, including Ichabod Slipshod and the Slipshod Concoction, about a mad scientist whose afternoon naps are disrupted by a band of wild and crazy fourth graders.
As class clown, Janet was tapped by his favorite teacher in 1995 for the lead role. “I had never really thought of myself as a leading man until then,” he says. “But the play was the right level of silliness, and I was always a kid who liked to take the spotlight and entertain.”
Laughs and hijinks ensued, along with Janet’s lifelong love of theater. He continued to act in school plays, singing in the chorus of Oklahoma!, promoting the New Deal as Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Annie, and playing a double role in Annie Get Your Gun.
At the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School, Janet studied economics, marketing and management, while still being involved in theater. “I sometimes felt like I wouldn’t know how to make friends otherwise,” he jokes.
For a time, he lived in New York City, working low-level film industry jobs where he read scripts, wrote coverage summaries of scripts, and once manned the snack table for the universally panned Movie 43.
But theater remained his favorite pastime. When a friend suggested they write a modern adaptation of Ghosts, the 1881 play by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, Janet happily agreed. It debuted in 2011 at the Merchant’s House Museum in Greenwich Village and sold out every night of its two-week run. Thanks to a successful press release, the play even snagged top billing on the Norwegian Embassy’s website. “For several weeks, I was the main story on Norway.org,” Janet says.
Meanwhile, his interest in the film industry waned. Law—which always lived in the back of his mind, thanks to his father’s long legal career—began to seem more promising, and law school became the natural next step. At NYU School of Law, he joined the Law Revue, an annual musical parody student group. Working with a friend, he also penned an operetta on the lives of Gilbert and Sullivan, whose famed works Janet first devoured as an undergraduate.
Captivated by Gilbert’s sharp, satirical lyrics and Sullivan’s exceptional compositions, Janet wanted to share the story of their life and career; particularly, how Sullivan longed to do more serious work but couldn’t shake his connection from Gilbert, who made enemies in his critique of British royalty. “They were an interesting pair,” says Janet. “One knighted and one snubbed.”
In 2013, while still in law school, Janet put on a reading of this operetta at a meeting of the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of New York. It was an unforgettable experience, and he thinks this reading could someday become a full-scale production.
But, for now, Janet’s main focus is his legal work and clients. As in theater, he feels story structure matters deeply in the law, “where you’re telling the stories of your clients and trying to persuade listeners to care,” he says. While actors learn the technical aspects of voice projection, lawyers, too, learn to use their voice.
As co-chair of his firm’s sexual abuse division, Janet uses his to represent victims of medical malpractice, environmental injustices, and sexual abuse, including survivors of abuse perpetrated by priests. He advocated for hundreds of survivors in litigation against former USC gynecologist Dr. George Tyndall.
Janet does not shy away from such gut-wrenching tragedies. Nor does he yearn for the lighter world of theatrical comedy.
“I love what I do,” he says. “It’s a great feeling, using my voice for good, seeking justice for those who have been wronged, and learning and telling stories in the right way.”