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Sunday, October 30, 2005

Galanter on Lawyer Jokes and Legal Culture

Galanter1005_1 Brian Z. Tamanaha (St. John’s) has published a book review of Marc Galanter, Lowering the Bar: Lawyer Jokes and Legal Culture (University of Wisconsin Press, 2005), in the Law & Politics Book Review.  Here is the opening:

It is rare to find a book that skillfully weaves together empirical data, sociological analysis, and broad knowledge about the legal profession, in a pleasantly readable package that delivers multiple insights about contemporary legal culture in the United States. It is unique to find a book with all of these qualities that is also funny. Marc Galanter manages to pull off this feat in Lowering the Bar.

Here are some of my favorite lawyer jokes:

Did you hear about the post office having to cancel its commemorative issue honoring lawyers? It seems that it was too confusing—people didn’t know which side of the stamp to spit on. (p.198)

[A lawyer explaining his fees to his client] “If you want justice, it’s two hundred dollars an hour. Obstruction of justice runs a bit more.” (p.238)

Hear the good news and the bad news? The good news is that a bus load of lawyers just ran off the cliff. The bad news is that there were three empty seats on the bus. (p.213)

There is an old story of a lawyer named Strange and his wife having a conference as to the things he wished done after he had departed this life. “I want a headstone put over me, my dear,” said the lawyer, “with the simple inscription—‘Here lies an honest lawyer.’” The wife expressed surprise that he did not wish his name put on the headstone. “It will not be needful,” he responded, “for those who pass by and read that inscription will invariably remark: ‘That’s Strange.’” (p. 36)

I recounted some tax lawyer humor in one of my earliest articles, Tax Myopia, or Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Tax Lawyers, 13 Va. Tax Rev. 517 (1994). Here are some of my favorites:

A tax lawyer is a person who is good with numbers but who does not have enough personality to be an accountant.

The perceived differences separating tax law and tax lawyers from their nontax counterparts are reinforced by the legal profession. I received my first hint of this attitude my first day as a summer associate at a Wall Street firm. At a presentation by senior partners of the firm's various departments, the tax partner extolled the virtues of his department by emphasizing that because of the intellectual rigor of the field,20 tax associates were encouraged to go home at 5:30 every day; tax practice was simply too complex to be done when an associate was tired. (Only later when I spoke with some of the permanent tax associates did I learn that he was referring to 5:30 a.m.).

The view that tax law is less interesting or important than other areas of law pervades even the Supreme Court....[W]hen asked why he sings along with the Chief Justice at the Court's annual Christmas party, Justice Souter replied, "I have to. Otherwise I get all the tax cases."

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