Inside Perspective: Lawyer jokes

Dan Harper is vice president, corporate counsel and secretary for Océ North America, Inc.  He is also president of the Chicago Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel. The views expressed herein are the opinions of the author and do not reflect the position or viewpoint of Océ North America Inc., Canon Inc. or any of the Océ or Canon companies.

What do you call 5,000 dead lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?
A good start!

I hate lawyer jokes.  I am sorry, but I just can’t stomach the inevitable jibe at my profession when a newly introduced person finds out that I am a lawyer.   “Google” the phrase “lawyer jokes” – you’ll get over a half million results.  I really don’t know why people feel so free to criticize such an honored profession.  When I meet a doctor or an accountant, I don’t roll out some over-told joke, “hey – did you hear the one about the emergency room doc and the pickle….”?

I know that some people “hate” lawyers because they think lawyers are the cause of their problems.  What better way to get back at those pesky lawyers than to poke fun at them.  I think many people forget that we lawyers solve client problems,  we do not create them.  I for one know that through my legal counsel I have comforted many more people than I have aggravated.

Isn’t there a grain of truth to the old adage “Everybody hates lawyers until they need one”?  When a client encounters a business problem or wants to roll out a new marketing program or needs to understand the risk attached to certain activities (business or legal), the first person they contact is their lawyer.  They don’t pick up the phone and call their best friend, their accountant, their mother or their brother-in-law (unless any of the aforementioned happen to be lawyers).  Why then, are lawyers the butt of so many jokes when they provide solutions to so many problems?

I am extremely proud of being a lawyer and the good work that I have done over the years (and hope to continue to do over the coming years) as you should be too.  Maybe this is why I feel so offended by lawyer jokes.  Or, maybe I am just too sensitive and should let the joke roll off like water rolls off a duck’s back.

Maybe folks fear lawyers so much that they address those fears through humor.  I hope that is not true.  As in-house counsel and members of the business team, we must do all that we can to make our in-house clients feel comfortable, unafraid and welcomed into our offices with any questions they may have.  We have to be approachable, empathetic and good listeners.  If  a client acclimates by telling a corny lawyer joke, well, I guess we may have en “ethical” obligation to humor him.  But humor works both ways.  So, I am going to develop a lawyer joke database where the lawyer is the hero, not the butt of the joke.  I won’t make fun of other professions, but will work to elevate the lawyer to a stature befitting the profession.  Then I’ll answer every lawyer joke with my own, “good” lawyer joke.

By the way – did you hear the one about the butcher and the lawyer’s dog?  A  lawyer’s dog got out of the backyard and headed for the butcher shop where he stole a steak.  The butcher pops over to the lawyer’s office and asks, “if a dog running unleashed steals a piece of meat from my store, do I have a right to demand payment for the meat from the dog’s owner?”  The lawyer replies,  “Absolutely.”  “Then you owe me $8.50. Your dog was loose and stole a steak from me today.”  The lawyer, without a word, writes the butcher a check for $8.50. The butcher, having a feeling of satisfaction, leaves. Three days later, the butcher finds a bill from the lawyer: $100 due for a consultation.

Touché!   Now that’s a good lawyer joke – one where the lawyer has the last laugh!

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