‘If the world’s a stage, then being a lawyer is a tremendous role to play’

A performer since childhood, Frankie Troncoso ’21 is now ready for anything

If all the world’s a stage, Frankie Troncoso ’21 has an outsized role to play.

As he finishes up his Harvard Law career this semester with a clerkship for Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) at the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, the New Jersey native is looking ahead to joining Davis Polk’s litigation practice in New York before beginning two judicial clerkships, first for Judge Edgardo Ramos ’87  of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, and then for Judge Patty Shwartz of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. But after three years, during which he juggled coursework with both La Alianza and the Latinx Law Review, Troncoso is ready for anything — thanks to his background in musical theater.

Troncoso — who earned his B.A. at Brown in philosophy, politics, and law, and in theatre arts and performance studies — describes himself as “passionate about public service.” He has already logged over a thousand pro bono hours of government service, with the Judiciary Committee, during a 2020 clerkship with the Iowa State Attorney General’s Office, and at an internship with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.

COVID has made service more complicated. Troncoso, who had been vice president of communications for La Alianza, had taken on the role of law firms relations chair when the pandemic shut down in-person gatherings. He ended up hosting virtual receptions to give second-year students and law firm sponsors a chance to meet, at times manually rotating participants through Zoom breakout rooms for more casual one-on-one chats. “I did what I could to give as complete an experience as we could,” he said. “It’s a tough process as it is, and adding the remote component to it doesn’t make it any easier.”

His theatrical training, he explained, made it possible, empowering his willingness to improvise when life changed. “Theater is where I learned to stand without shuffling my feet to speak with confidence,” he said. “It’s where I actually thought I would pursue a career before I settled on the law.”

A performer since childhood, Troncoso studied voice and trod the boards at the prestigious regional Paper Mill Playhouse, in N.J., as well as at the Kennedy Center (with iTheatrics youth productions). While Brown allowed him to “tend to intellectual curiosities,” as he put it, he returned to the Paper Mill for an internship after his first year. The result was enlightening. “I had this realization that I didn’t know if I loved the idea of doing theater as my livelihood because it felt different doing it to survive as opposed to doing it for the joy that it provided to me.”

The next summer, he tried a different tack, serving as a summer analyst at Goldman Sachs in litigation and regulatory proceedings. “I found a similar rush responding to government inquiries, assisting with internal investigations, and all this other stuff.” For Troncoso, who doesn’t have any lawyers in his immediate family, it was a whole new world. “I decided to chase that feeling.”

That pursuit has taken him across the gamut of government law, from a deep dive into criminal appeals in Iowa to the broad reach of federal policy on Capitol Hill. “I wanted to use my time at law school to gain a full sense of what it means to be a government lawyer,” he said.

The Judiciary Committee clerkship with Senator Coons’ staff, said Troncoso, has been surprisingly intimate despite the lack of in-person contact. “I’ve worked very closely with the two counsels and one chief counsel,” said Troncoso, who relocated to Washington, D.C., but worked virtually. “I truly feel like I could reach out and ask anyone questions on anything. It’s surprising how open and not hierarchical it is. One of the best parts is that I’m looped in on every email.”

After the close focus on litigation in his previous role, he found his work in the Senate very different. “I’ve been focused on sweeping legislation, thinking about pathways to citizenship, potentially for millions, and how we can ensure that large tech companies are being held accountable.”

Both, he noted, contain that element of service. “It’s so rewarding being able to work on a policy that could really make a huge difference,” he said. “But at the same time, criminal cases are so meaningful to the people who are involved.”

Going forward, Troncoso is still uncertain which path he’ll follow, a question that the next year at Davis Polk may help decide. “I am interested in seeing how I like being a trial attorney.” Identifying “a performance element” to litigation, he added, “I’m very excited about clerking and seeing what lawyering looks like live.”

For Troncoso, both relate back to the stage. “Litigation involves storytelling. It involves portraying one side, and it involves capturing facts in a particular light.” Policy work touches on another theatrical note. With the Judiciary Committee, he said, “I saw the law as a mechanism to achieve what I saw the theater as working towards, which is a more empathetic world.”

Those who know him understand the connection. “I knew Frankie was a gifted singer from our first meeting at a lunch with other La Alianza students his 1L year, when he told us about that passion of his,” recalled Professor Andrew Manuel Crespo ’08. “But it was in Criminal Procedure, his 2L year, that I saw he was a virtuoso in more ways than one, sharing thoughtful and nuanced insights about case after case, class after class.”

No matter where Troncoso’s legal career takes him, one theatrical element will remain. He cites the improvisation maxim — in which the actor accepts every challenge by asking “yes, and…” — as his rule for going forward. “I’ve always found that when I try to plan things out, the world happens and things end up going awry, so I’ve learned to just embrace the uncertainty.”

“What the theater has taught me is to seize the opportunity. If Shakespeare’s right and the world’s a stage, then being a lawyer is a tremendous role to play,” he said. “There’s a lot of good that can be done.”