Roger writing the LAWmag
22
Feb 2014

Lawyer Jokes - The Abuse Must End

There are few subject matter is more worthy of a large grant by a government research or culture-promotion agency then the alleged incredible harm done to society by the prevalence and the repetition of lawyer or attorney insults (aka "jokes"). These jokes, the Big Bang theory goes, are not innocent and diminish the profession of law in the eyes of the public in this, according to an eye-popping number of legal academics, could result in an apocalyptic collapse of our legal system.

Lawyers as a profession do not have really, really, really thick skins. Nor did lords or barons in medieval times or (and take this as legal advice), you would not want to be making any Christianity jokes in Spain at the time of the Inquisition.

old British lawyerThe remark about thick skins is admittedly an unfair generalization. Still, if you are really bored on a rainy Saturday morning in southern Canada near a law library, do a search and a bit of reading under the topic of law journal articles with the words "lawyer jokes" in the title and before too long the clear impression will emerge that lawyer jokes are by definition not only dirty, sick and politically incorrect but harmful to society.

In a nutshell, lawyer jokes bring the profession of law into disrepute. Sometimes, the economic theory continues, the joke has meaning outside the context of its performance to leave the impression that the distorted reality presents reality.

In other words, the dull theory goes, lawyer jokes are neither jokes nor are they anything to laugh at.

In one tragic case, Harvey Saferstein, the then-president of the State Bar of California actually suggested making lawyer jokes illegal, adding that it was:

"... as heinous as all forms of bigotry. There's a point at which jokes and humor are acceptable in a point at which they become nothing more than hate speech.... I call on all Americans to stop the lawyer-bashing that has been going on, particularly by national, commercial sponsors, that sometimes can ignite violence and aggression toward lawyers.... While jokes have their place, accepting or inviting violence against attorneys is no longer funny."1

A hate crime?

Here are some of the other conclusions drawn by highly paid, well-educated legal academics on the very serious subject of lawyer jokes:

• Civil law countries do not joke (as much) about lawyers.

• "American lawyer jokes have become so much more mordant and are far more vitriolic than those in other common law jurisdictions."

•"Jokes may reflect client discomfort with dependence on lawyers. Despite the myth of litigiousness, individual Americans use lawyers very sparingly-an average of twice a lifetime. They typically do so under duress, at moments of great vulnerability. There are many reasons for this reluctance, but cost is the most important. Lawyers feel entitled to charge high fees by reason of their investment in human capital; they are empowered to do so by their control of the market."2

This One Is NOT Funny

Consider, then, that in 1994, the New Mexico State Senate actually resolved by a majority vote, to finance a "Study to Regulate the Hunting and Harvesting of Attorneys".

The resolution, intended as a lawyer joke, died on the order paper but read as follows, no kidding:

WHEREAS, IT IS NECESSARY FOR THE PUBLIC PEACE, HEALTH, WEALTH AND WELFARE THAT A STUDY BE CONDUCTED TO PROTECT A DYING BREED: HONEST ATTORNEYS;

NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF NEW MEXICO THAT IT RESPECTFULLY REQUESTS THE DEPARTMENT OF GAME AND FISH TO CONDUCT A BRIEF STUDY THAT INCLUDES BUT IS NOT LIMITED TO THE FOLLOWING PROPOSED REGULATIONS FOR THE HUNTING AND HARVESTING OF ATTORNEYS:

A. Any person with a valid state rodent, skunk, snake or pigeon hunting license may harvest attorneys for recreational and sporting, non-commercial purposes;

Not funny NM

B. Because of their overpopulation and the damage they cause, attorneys may be hunted year-round, except on April Fools' Day or Halloween, with no yearly total limits;

C. Taking of attorneys with traps or deadfalls is legal. The use of United States currency as bait, however, is prohibited;

D. The willful killing of attorneys with motor vehicles is prohibited, unless such vehicles are ambulances being driven in reverse. If an attorney is accidentally struck by a motor vehicle, the dead attorney should be moved to the roadside within seven working days to prevent further damage to other vehicles. The motor vehicle that struck the attorney should immediately be taken to the nearest car wash and run through twice. The game warden should be notified as to the location of the body, as vultures will not clean up the remains of their own kind;

E. It is unlawful to shout "whiplash," "ambulance" or "free scotch" for the purpose of trapping attorneys;

F. It is unlawful to hunt attorneys within one hundred yards of BMW, Porsche, Cadillac or Mercedes dealerships except on Wednesday afternoons;

G. It is unlawful to hunt attorneys within two hundred yards of courtrooms, law schools, law libraries, state capitols, health clubs or hospitals due to the danger of accidental injury to the public at such locations;

H. If any attorney gains elective office, it is necessary to have a license to hunt, trap or possess same,

I. It is unlawful for a hunter to wear a disguise as a reporter, ambulance driver, accident victim, physician, divorcee, chiropractor, tax accountant or insurance adjuster for the purpose of hunting attorneys; and lastly

J. The bag limits per day are: one yellow-bellied will sucker; two two-faced tortfeasors; three backstabbing divorce litigators; four horn-rimmed cutthroats; five greedy-eyed settlement bleeders; six shovel-mouth trust managers; and seven loud-mouthed plea bargainers.

Be it further resolved that for the unlikely survival of this endangered species, it (is) imperative that this study take place immediately.3

Speaking (seriously) as clerk of the United States Bankruptcy Court, District of New Mexico, J. Greacen responded with appropriate outrage, calling the use of formal legislative process to make a lawyer joke "chilling".

He added that formal government encouragement of disrespect for officers of the Court, lawyers, had serious consequences:

"We cannot do our jobs as well in this environment. Our ability to resolve legal disputes is impaired by an atmosphere of distrust and disrespect for the legal system. The relationship of trust between attorney and client - deemed so essential to the functioning of the legal system that it justifies rigid confidentiality requirements in our code of ethnics, supported by an evidentiary privilege as broad as any recognized by law - is less likely to develop."

It was a lawyer joke gone too far, far too far. Funny, one would have to grant it that, but for a deliberative assembly to approve something lke that formally?

The occasional lawyer joke is fine though you won't catch many lawyers telling them.

And there is no epidemic.

So for those lawyer-joke haters out there, chill.

REFERENCES:

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