By J. Noel G. Tijam
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!
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
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.”
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
WITNESS : No.
ATTORNEY : Did you check for blood pressure?
WITNESS : No.
ATTORNEY : Did you check for breathing?
ATTORNEY : So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you
began the autopsy?
WITNESS : No.
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,
WITNESS : Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and
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.
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
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
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
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.
to all lawyers, the next time you hear and laugh at another lawyer
joke, remember, the joke is actually on you.