From time to time we all have heard lawyer jokes, a good
many of them premised on the notion that lawyers are dishonest cheats
and scoundrels. Here are a few examples of clever repartee in that vein,
some of which may be familiar:
How does an attorney sleep? First he lies on one side, then the other.
reason to feel defensive.
Both assessments are supported by the
title of a popular book about lawyer jokes,
Lowering the Bar: Lawyer Jokes and Legal
Culture. 4 The ironic double entendre in the
name of this publication reflects two compet-
A mother and son were walking through a cemetery when they
passed by a headstone inscribed, “Here lies a good lawyer and an
honest man.” The little boy read the headstone, looked up at his
mother, and asked, “Mommy, why did they bury two people there?”
“Lawyer: One skilled in circumvention of the law. Liar: A lawyer with
a roving commission.” 1
The expectation for
lawyers to be honest is
so great that the
slightest deviation from
“Make crime pay. Become a lawyer.” 2
When a person assists a criminal in
breaking the law before the criminal
gets arrested, we call him an accomplice. When a person assists a criminal in breaking the law after the
criminal gets arrested, we call him a
this expectation results
A man is innocent until proven broke.
in surprise and dismay.
Question: The tooth fairy, an honest
lawyer, and an expensive, dishonest
lawyer are in the same room. There
is a $500 bill on a table in the room.
When they leave, the money is gone. Who took it?
Answer: Since there is no such thing as the tooth fairy or an honest
lawyer, the answer is obvious.
How can a pregnant woman tell that she’s carrying a future lawyer?
She has an uncontrollable craving for baloney.
That lawyer jokes attempt to reduce
respect for the bar—by putting down
members of the profession; or, that
lawyer jokes attempt to reduce the level
of expectation for the profession. This
latter notion implies that the level is
high, at least high enough that it could
be reduced. In other words, while there
may be rare examples in popular experience that give the jokes traction, these
are few and far between.
As you may have inferred from the aforementioned jokes, I have adopted the latter,
positive view. Indeed, I have concluded that
the level of expectation for lawyers with
respect to honesty and integrity is so great
that a failure to achieve that elevated level is
a surprise sufficiently noteworthy for comment. It is this perspective that heartens me
so that I smile whenever I am regaled with a
lawyer joke. Rather than taking affront at a
perceived insult, I find enjoyment in friendly
banter embedded with an implicit compliment toward our profession. If you are a
member of this camp, I hope you have
enjoyed the jokes presented here.
If not, perhaps this one will grab you:
Some have concluded, “Lawyer name-calling is dangerous
because it poisons the atmosphere in the public square and ulti-
mately unravels the legal system.” 3 This conclusion takes lawyer
jokes as caricature, exaggeration or hyperbole. It assumes that
the joke-teller and the listener subscribe to the notion that
lawyers do lie and that calling all lawyers liars is merely expand-
ing upon reality. Lawyers who subscribe to this analysis typically
find lawyer jokes to be offensive.
What’s the problem with lawyer jokes?
Lawyers don’t think they’re funny, and
nobody else thinks they’re jokes. AZ AT
1. AMBROSE BIERCE, THE DEVIL’S
DICTIONARY (1906), available at
2. Will Rogers, quotation at
3. Wendy Bay Lewis, Lawyer Jokes, Lies, and
Name Calling, VOIR DIRE (2004).
4. MARC GALANTER, LOWERING THE BAR:
LAWYER JOKES AND LEGAL CULTURE