Today is Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Trouble With Lawyers

By J. Noel G. Tijam

GOD created the world in six days without much difficulty only because there were no lawyers to delay and complicate the process. In Shakespeare’s Henry VI, one of the characters remarked, “the first thing we do, let’s kill all lawyers.” What could have inspired such loathing for lawyers? Have they been equated with witches and heretics of old that they should be detested to the point of murder? Are lawyers incapable of goodness that their mere profession should summarily incur a death sentence or at least a life sentence of ridicule in the court of public opinion? If it is goodness among lawyers we speak of, we have St. Thomas More, the patron saint of lawyers. However, despite taking the moral high ground, even he was not spared execution. Lawyers just could not seem to get a break!

Times have not changed. Even today, lawyers are perceived to be skilled manipulators of the law and the legal system; they are still regarded as expert prevaricators trained to tweak the facts and the law for money. People still have a penchant for deliberately mispronouncing “lawyers” as “liars.” Lawyer jokes, that resonate dishonesty, heartlessness and greed, continue to proliferate. It seems the only time a person appreciates a lawyer is when he is being defended by one, but the appreciation quickly ends when the lawyer sends his bill for professional fees.

Of late, I came across this lawyer joke: An elderly lady was riding up an elevator with a lawyer. The elderly lady asked: “Do lawyers have offices on all the top floors of the building?” “Yes, they do,” answered the lawyer. The elderly lady then said: “It’s a good thing. That’s probably as close to heaven most lawyers will ever get.”

People say jokes are half meant, since it is the grain of truth that makes the jokes funny. If it is so, then as far as lawyer jokes are concerned, there is good reason for the hilarity, or at least half of it, to die down.

The irony is that the legal profession is both held in high esteem and subjected to much ridicule at the same time. The prestige of the legal profession can no more be measured than by the considerable number of people now entering law schools, and the excitement and publicity elicited by the bar examination, its results and the bar topnotchers. I know of no other national government examination that would require the closing of main roads to accommodate the examinees and their supporters. Yet, despite this prestige, lawyers are still fair game for deprecating humor.

One theory I consider is the legal profession’s intrinsic susceptibility to public ire. This is particularly true in the case of litigation lawyers who work in situations involving conflict. A litigation lawyer gains as many adversaries as he does clients. In every case he handles, the opposing party is likely to be displeased with him. Multiply the displeasure with the number of cases he handles, then multiply the result with the number of litigation lawyers, and you will get a multitude of irate people ready to pounce on lawyers. Lawyers have not also been consistent in terms of preparation, performance and conduct of trial. Excerpts from the book DISORDER IN THE AMERICAN COURTS (published by court reporters who had the torment of staying calm while these exchanges were actually taking place) record faults, errors and irrational thinking of lawyers in actual trial. Thus:

ATTORNEY : Are you sexually active?

WITNESS  : No, I just lie there.


ATTORNEY : What gear were you in at the moment of the impact?

WITNESS   : Gucci sweats and Reeboks


ATTORNEY : This myasthenia gravis, does it affect your memory at all?

WITNESS   : Yes.

ATTORNEY : And in what ways does it affect your memory?

WITNESS   : I forget.

ATTORNEY : You forget? Can you give us an example of something you forgot?


ATTORNEY : What was the first thing your husband said to you that morning?

WITNESS   : He said, "Where am I, Cathy?"

ATTORNEY : And why did that upset you?

WITNESS   : My name is Susan!


ATTORNEY : Do you know if your daughter has ever been involved in voodoo?

WITNESS   : We both do.

ATTORNEY : Voodoo?

WITNESS    : We do.

ATTORNEY : You do?

WITNESS   : Yes, voodoo.


ATTORNEY : Now doctor, isn't it true that when a person dies in his sleep, he doesn't know about it until the next morning?

WITNESS    : Did you actually pass the bar exam?


ATTORNEY : The youngest son, the twenty-year-old, how old is he?

WITNESS   : Uh, he's twenty-one.


ATTORNEY : Were you present when your picture was taken?

WITNESS   : Are you sh*tt'in me?


ATTORNEY : So the date of conception (of the baby) was August 8th?

WITNESS   : Yes.

ATTORNEY : And what were you doing at that time?

WITNESS   : Uh.... I was gett'in laid!


ATTORNEY : She had three children, right?

WITNESS   : Yes.

ATTORNEY : How many were boys?

WITNESS   : None.

ATTORNEY : Were there any girls?

WITNESS   : Are you sh*tt'in me? Your Honor, I think I need a different attorney. Can I get a new attorney?


ATTORNEY : How was your first marriage terminated?

WITNESS   : By death.

ATTORNEY : And by whose death was it terminated?

WITNESS   : Now whose death do you suppose terminated it?


ATTORNEY : Can you describe the individual?

WITNESS   : He was about medium height and had a beard.

ATTORNEY : Was this a male or a female?

WITNESS   : Guess.


ATTORNEY : Is your appearance here this morning pursuant to a deposition notice which I sent to your attorney?

WITNESS   : No, this is how I dress when I go to work.

ATTORNEY : Doctor, how many of your autopsies have you performed on dead people?

WITNESS    : All my autopsies are performed on dead people. Would you like to re-phrase that?


ATTORNEY : ALL your responses MUST be oral, OK? What school did you go to?

WITNESS   : Oral.


ATTORNEY : Do you recall the time that you examined the body?

WITNESS    : The autopsy started around 8:30 p.m.

ATTORNEY : And Mr. Denton was dead at the time?

WITNESS   : No, he was sitting on the table wondering why I was doing an autopsy on him!


ATTORNEY: Are you qualified to give a urine sample?

WITNESS   : Huh....are you qualified to ask that question?


And the best for last:

ATTORNEY : Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?


ATTORNEY : Did you check for blood pressure?


ATTORNEY : Did you check for breathing?


ATTORNEY : So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?


ATTORNEY : How can you be so sure, Doctor?

WITNESS    : Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.

ATTORNEY : I see, but could the patient have still been alive, nevertheless?

WITNESS    : Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and practicing law.

Another reason, less philosophical but more controversial, involves money. There are among the brethren, ambulance chasers and lawyers who encourage or perpetuate conflict for the sole purpose of financial gain. Some lawyers charge excessive amounts for their services, which may have not even been rendered. Further still, there are some lawyers who immediately bail out on their clients when they could not pay the attorney’s fees.

It has also been observed that more lawyers are focused on defending their clients at all costs, rather than being, foremost, officers of the court. This breed of lawyers may encourage frivolous suits, or use the legal system to defeat or delay justice. They forget that legal advocacy meant advocacy for the law, and not the client. Some, therefore, ask whether instruction in law schools has put more emphasis on the role of lawyers as protectors of their clients, rather than on their public duty as officers of the court, and if so, whether it is high time to realign the focus to the lawyers’ duty to the court and society. Many have also observed that there are far too many lawyers in this country, and in that number, some are bound to be bad eggs that would spoil the entire bunch, so to speak.

But apart from these reasons, I find that the criticism and the jokes are rooted in the fact that the public expects much from lawyers who, by their mere profession, are at once viewed as men and women of intellect and influence. As the line in a famous movie goes, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Indeed, with the prestige of having “Atty.” prefixed to lawyers’ names come great expectations. One lawyer put it best when he said that next to priesthood, there is no other profession more morally exacting on its members than the legal profession. Hence, the Code of Professional Responsibility was fashioned, not so much as to make saints of lawyers, but to serve as guideposts for them to veer away from the path of mediocrity and depravity. ; Rule 7.03 of the Code, in particular, states that a lawyer shall not engage in conduct that adversely reflects on his fitness to practice law, nor should he, whether in public or private life, behave in a scandalous manner to the discredit of the legal profession. Indeed, unlike many other professions, the requirement of good moral character pervades even a lawyer’s private affairs.

Cautionary tales abound in jurisprudence involving lawyers who have chosen the road less traveled. These cases show that the law is hard on lawyers who have mishandled or misappropriated their clients’ money or property, or who had extra-marital affairs, punishing such acts with suspension from the practice of law or even the ultimate penalty of disbarment. Still, other cases show lawyers being suspended from the practice of law for negligence, dishonesty and disrespect to the court. The lessons of these cases can be summarized with these simple instructions we learned in our childhood: Do your homework. Respect authority. Do not cheat, lie or steal.<

Honesty, courtesy, diligence, competence, and morality – these are the cornerstones of the Code of Professional Responsibility. It is only when lawyers begin to display these virtues that they will cease to rouse any homicidal tendency as in Henry VI, or inspire another scathing lawyer joke.

So to all lawyers, the next time you hear and laugh at another lawyer joke, remember, the joke is actually on you.

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