on July 4, 2004
As a long-time practitioner, I thought that I'd heard all of the lawyer jokes.
I once wearily took pen in hand to write to the California Bar Journal after they included a cartoon drawn by the unspeakable Wiley about a shark that refused, out of professional courtesy, to attack a lawyer.
"ANOTHER shark joke," I declared. "I haven't heard one of those in at least 24 hours."
It goes without saying that this collection of jokes, quotes, and anecdotes about the legal profession does include at least one shark joke.
It also includes the old saw about the devil daring God to sue him, "Where are you going to find a lawyer?"
But here is something that is especially praiseworthy: the famous Shakespeare quotation about killing all of the lawyers (the first thing we do) is included but included IN ITS CONTEXT.
I've heard that phrase used by working-class behemoths who never opened a work of Shakespeare in their lives and were possibly unaware of the quotation's origin.
As the editor indicates, the character who inveighs against the lawyers is a humorous villain who represents outlaw and disorder; just the sort of world that WOULD exist without lawyers. The same character inveighs against LITERACY in the same breath. He is obviously not speaking in the author's voice.
The law can be too intrusive at times, sometimes humorously so, and this book contains its share of yet-unrepealed "blue laws" that provide comic relief but that inevitably are delivered without explanation. No one ever explains WHY it's illegal to own a hippopotamus in Los Angeles or to put graffiti on someone else's cow in Texas or to gurgle in public in Hot Springs, Arkansas. It's funnier to leave the explanations to the reader's imagination.
But surely the prohibition in Montreal against watering one's garden while it's raining is a water conservation measure. Surely, the stricture in Kentucky against using reptiles during religious services is a response to the dangers posed by certain snake-handling sects. The humor is lost once the reasoning is discerned.
While this edition includes its share of lawyer-bashing jokes and homilies ("Lawyers are like physicians," says Yiddish author Sholom Aleichem. "What one says, the other contradicts"), it is clearly no more of a lawyer-bashing fest than are Larry Wilde's joke books, for example, an attack on the Jews or the Irish.
A number of the humorous observations in here are actually directed against the principals in the legal system, rather than the practitioners. No one has yet been able to discover a single instance of a lawyer putting a gun to a litigant's head and forcing him to retain counsel, and as Gore Vidal observes, "For certain people after fifty, litigation takes the place of sex".
There would be no demand for lawyers in the first place if humans were angels. One witness explains in a transcript of an actual court hearing included in this book, "The pedestrian had no idea which direction to go, so I ran over him".
A rueful plaintiff might observe that his lawyer didn't "give" him bad advice - "I paid for it". But Daniel Webster also observes in this same volume, "Most good lawyers live well, work hard, and die poor."
The book also reveals more than the author might have intended about the profound effect that the study and practice of law has on those who engage in it.
There is a true-to-life transcript of a lawyer asking the mother of a minor child if she has been his mother for all of his life. There is another excerpt where a lawyer asks a witness what she was doing at the time that her child was conceived and yet another where a lawyer asks a threatened witness if the defendant killed him.
The uninformed among the readers are going to assume that the lawyers in question are either drunk, insane, or magnificently stupid. But those who have actually been through the wringers that are the study and practice of law will understand that these fauxes pas result from the tortuous steps that an attorney learns to take when building a "foundation". They are actually a result of too MUCH care taken during the witness's examination, not too LITTLE.
It's said that after Desiderius Erasmus published his "Praise of Folly", he became disillusioned after an associate suggested that he write another volume praising wisdom - because Erasmus thought that he had already done just that.
A similar finding can be made regarding the "attack" on the legal profession that is made in this book.
on July 4, 2001
My book is so dog-eared it is almost twice as thick as the original! The book is replete with short exchanges that reveal human foible, skewer pomposity and give solid evidence to the all-to-common, yet painful, truth of living in a society where the law is an essential ingredient to necessary order. At times I found myself laughing out loud for minutes at a time. Other times, I had to put the book down to reflect on the truth revealed in words uttered from the mouth of laymen. If you know and love lawyers, get frustrated in legal processes or just want a riotous, light-hearted read, this book is for you.