Is Lawyer Puns Old School?

The term “lawyer jokes” is widely used to refer to humorous tributes to attorneys and legal professionals. These jokes are made during informal get-togethers or even during casual conversations. Some people compare lawyer jokes to Carter’s humor, a type of American humor popularized by TV comedy programs.

Lawyer jokes, that pre-dates Shakespeare’s time, are often uttered by those outside of the legal profession as an expression of derision, disdain and outright contempt for attorneys. Rather than make light of a legal professional, lawyer jokes mock some of their most sacred beliefs. However, these jokes do not take aim at attorneys as persons; rather, they are aimed at law students who lack information on how their professors dealt with cases. They are a form of cultural commentary or social observation reflecting the prevalent cultural view of lawyers.

In one well-known example, a lawyer joke refers to a student who is suspended from college for fabricating the story of a promiscuous affair with a student judge. The story went viral on the Internet and a number of news organizations ran stories about it. When the lawyer who fabricated the story went to court to defend his actions, the judge asked him to retract his statement. The lawyer instead responded by saying, “My client thinks that judges should be reincarnated from prom queens.”

Another famous example of lawyer jokes is one that parodies the notion that lawyers are smart. A lawyer joke about a judge who supposedly made an “inconvenient ruling” that was “disputed by everybody” goes something like this: “The judge replied, I’ll see you in court, kid.” This is just one example of many lawyer jokes referring to the smartness of the bench. In many instances, the intent of the jests themselves is far from clever. They are meant to be comical, as is almost always the case with legal professionals.

When a reporter asked a group of lawyers about their opinions on the nature of lawyer jokes, they all replied that they did not know. One lawyer said, “I don’t know why people think that we have to use language that is offensive. The point is, we’re lawyers, and we don’t give a damn what anybody else thinks, but we do care about the law.” Another replied, “I really don’t see the difference between a joke and reality.” Yet another added, “You can interpret any ruling however you want, based on what you think is appropriate.” Surprisingly, even when they were pressed to define the difference between reality and fiction, they were unable to do so.

Interestingly, there was one young lawyer who commented that he thought these sorts of jokes were no longer acceptable after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June 2021. He stated, “I thought we were past that point. If you still think that you can say anything without consequence, I think you’re mistaken.” When pressed by a reporter, he replied, “I didn’t mean to offend anyone. I’m just pointing out the fact that these days, jokes that are offensive have consequences, and lawyers don’t like to deal with that kind of responsibility.”

Most of the lawyers that responded to the reporter had either never told any joke before or they didn’t know any lawyer puns. One former Supreme Court Justice commented that it might be time for the bar to get rid of the puns. Yet another said that it wasn’t so much a question of taste as it was a question of law. Still, others simply said that the judge has the final say when it comes to what is and isn’t appropriate.

Whether or not the joke is funny or not is an entirely different matter. Many younger lawyers feel that the bar’s rules and the entire profession will lose its relevancy if there are no more puns. Still, the fact remains that many bar tables still have plenty of lawyer jokes posted and waiting for new additions. Whether or not they are meant to be jokes or not, it seems that some of America’s greatest legal minds agree that some jokes are better than none at all.

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