The Astounding Kristoff, J.D.

By day, Christopher Harristhal is a business litigator; by night, he’s Kristoff the sleight-of-hand magician 

Published in 2019 Minnesota Super Lawyers — July 11, 2019

If you searched online, you’d find plenty about the professional life and career of Christopher Harristhal, a business litigator with an employment focus at Larkin Hoffman in Bloomington. What’s a little tougher to find? That he’s been performing as a magician for decades.

“That’s very deliberate,” Harristhal says with a smile. “I had kept it in the closet because the personalities are so different.”

Maintaining these two personas is a bit of a juggling act in itself. “If I have a magic performance in the evening,” he says, “I have to leave the office by noon and totally flush law. I can’t take a business call; I can’t look at a brief. There are definitely two personalities: The magic one is all fun, and the law one is risk avoidance, issue spotting. You can’t have that kind of an attitude and have fun on stage. But I don’t make any bones about the fact that I’m a lawyer when I’m doing magic. It gives birth to a fair amount of humor, as you can imagine.”

Harristhal’s obsession began when he was 6 and watched his older brother do two tricks with a silk handkerchief. “It drove me nuts,” he says. With the aid of countless books and props, “for the next 15 years, I tortured him at every turn with, ‘Pick a card, any card,’” Harristhal says.

His family was supportive, just as his wife and six sons are today. His mom made him his first magician’s jacket, and gave him the stage name Kristoff. “When I was about 12, I started doing it semi-professionally at my dad’s bar,” says Harristhal, an Ely native. “I also performed for charity, church events, and at some reservations.”

Not a bad way to help put yourself through college and law school. After classes, Kristoff would appear at local bars to entertain patrons with his close-up magic—mostly involving cards and coins. “There’s an intimacy of close-up magic that makes it really fun because you’re working right under somebody’s nose,” he says.

Kristoff’s presence has expanded in recent years, with appearances at corporate events, private parties, casinos, and lake and river cruises—often in Miami, New York and Los Angeles. “Three weeks ago, I was performing in Bermuda for a public event at a hotel that brought me in for the guests,” he says.

His tricks have evolved but he continues to tweak something nearly every day—especially when it comes to the patter. “After every show, I think of something else and add to the script,” Harristhal says. “A group of intellectual property attorneys had me perform in Pasadena last winter, so I worked in a fair amount of IP humor, if there is such a thing. I’ll do that sporadically the week before the gig. Sometimes I’ll get hired for a trade show, and work in the company that’s hired me, their product line, and I think about how to build their theme into some of the routines.”

Some of the most memorable moments come from the unpredictability of audience members. One of Kristoff’s tricks, which he calls French Kiss, involves a participant selecting a card, folding it, and holding it in their teeth, as he does the same with another card. The trick is that Kristoff’s card magically transports to the other’s mouth. “I did it about two weeks ago, and I called up a woman to help me. She folds up the card and somebody says, ‘She’s a germophobe.’ They weren’t exaggerating. This woman was just terrified. She puts it in her mouth and then, when they change places, she started to sob. She was laughing and tears are just streaming down her face. The house came down.”

While Harristhal loves magic in its own right, it’s also “cross-training for trial work,” he says. The parallels are many—from the preparation and performance that must win over a captive audience to selecting both a good jury member and a good crowd participant. “A lot of magic is reading people, and I think the better lawyers are also really good at reading people,” he says.

In the end, he says, Kristoff’s job might be the more difficult.

“When you’re standing in front of an audience and you’re trying to fool the pants off them, that’s hard,” he says. “It’s a challenge. Now, mind you, I don’t mean to belittle my trial practice or appellate work, because obviously those are art forms and there’s so much to be done there, but talking to a jury or a judge, by comparison, just struck me as so much easier. You don’t have to do sleight of hand at the same time as reading the panel and entering questions.”

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