Putting the Cards on the Table

Brent Cromley: Litigator. Mediator. Politician. Magician

Published in 2017 Mountain States Super Lawyers — July 2017

Chances are, Brent Cromley’s got a deck of cards on him right now. He likes the occasional game, sure, but more importantly, practice makes perfect, and you never know when there’ll be an audience. 

“If I’m at a bar or something, somebody might want to see a trick,” says Cromley, who is not only a distinguished litigator and mediator at Moulton Bellingham, but also a magician. He is, in fact, the only attorney in Montana who is a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians. 

He doesn’t recall a “magic moment” from childhood that attracted him to the craft so much as a natural curiosity. “I remember my dad showing me a couple of tricks, like a lot of parents and grandparents do,” he explains. “I also grew up in Great Falls, Montana, and there was a fairly active magic group at that time that really helped me. 

“I think most kids go through a phase where they pick up a few tricks, and it just stuck with me. At various times I’ve been more or less active, but about seven years ago I got re-involved. … I needed another hobby, I guess.”

Cromley—the deputy mayor for the city of Billings and a former state senator and congressman—is involved with The Billings Magic Society, which meets monthly. It’s both a social activity and a safe place to try new tricks and techniques, learn from others and pass on the knowledge he has accrued. “Plus this way, I don’t tire on my wife entirely,” he jests. 

Occasionally, Cromley puts on a show for a charitable group or teaches magic to kids at Friendship House, a Christian center for children. “I concentrate on cards, and I don’t do any fancy manipulation, like making them disappear and reappear,” he says. Cromley’s act is typically 20 to 30 minutes—because “you can only do so many card tricks.” He’s got the pick-a-card-any-card staples—and the “Is this your card? No?! Oh, well this is” variant, but he likes to focus on variety for the sake of his audience. 

“Some of the stuff I saw as a kid I still see done today. It’s maybe a little different, with a little twist, or with different patter,” he says, adding that Lennart Green, a Swedish world champ of card tricks, is a personal hero. “That’s a challenge with cards, but generally, my act is more humorous. I like to throw in comedy and my own little stories. Probably 90 percent of magic is presentation.”

Another important aspect of card tricks is math, which happens to be Cromley’s undergraduate degree. He even taught math in a small Indian village while in the Peace Corps. But showmanship and public speaking are key, Cromley says, and that should come as no surprise from a trial attorney. 

So how many clients and juries has he won over with his hobby? 

“You know, I’ve probably lost some,” he says with a laugh. “Everybody jokes that, ‘Oh, you must be great at convincing a jury,’ but that’s not the way it works, obviously.”

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