USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘lawyer’
Folk speech
general

Office Folk Speech for Being Busy

Context:

Leighton Lord is my father. Given this relation to me, I was interested in procuring some folklore that both of us participated in, but obviously from his perspective as he and my mother were the ones who set the traditions that we followed. Another unique perspective he has is being instilled in Southern traditions after twenty two years spent in Columbia, South Carolina following his marriage to my mother, a native South Carolinian. He grew up in Delaware, and was fascinated upon arriving in the South and witnessing the obsession with tradition and particularly talk about ancestors. I collected several pieces of folklore from him during a recent trip he made to Los Angeles. He currently practices law.

Transcript:

Owen: Can you give me some lawyer folklore? Like some water cooler kind of talk? Lingo, that kind of thing.

Leighton: Well there’s kind of this competition to always be the busiest. Like it’s embarrassing to not have anything to do. So you run into someone, elevator, whatever, and you ask how they’re day’s going. And in the office it’s usually something like “I can’t breathe with all this work” or “client’s got me in the weeds.” Stuff like that. Just complaining about how busy you are all the time. But I think most lawyers would go crazy if they weren’t. I think it’s American.

Interpretation:

I have also noticed this folk speech in college. Often, even if I am having an enjoyable week, I’ll catch my self complaining about work to someone merely to relate to them. It sort of feels like a ‘we’re in this together’ sort of mentality. Also, I find it interesting that my father included the bit about his particular work experience being a more general American thing. There could be truth to this, as laziness is looked down upon in the US.

 

Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Lawyer Hunting

Informant: So, a man runs into his buddy, and he sees that his friend’s car is totaled. Just—[makes face to indicate car is not in great shape]  leaves and dirt and branches all over the front. The windshield is shattered. There’s some blood.

And so he asks his friend, “What on earth happened to your car?”

“Well,” the friend says, “I ran over a lawyer.”

“A lawyer?” [informant alternates tone to indicate change in speaker]

“A lawyer.” [solemn nod of head]

“I guess that explains all the blood,” the man says. “But, I mean, what about the leaves and dirt and branches?”

And his friend goes, “Well, I had to chase him through the park.”

The informant (my dad) is a particularly self-deprecating lawyer. While he does take pride in his work, he often admits that he only went to law school because his father had been a lawyer, and the informant had “no idea what to do with [his] life” after he graduated from college. The informant currently works at a law firm in San Francisco (he recently changed firms, after his former firm became too large and very corrupt. I suspect the series of lawyer jokes he told me were told with some of his old colleagues in mind.) This joke was told to my family over the dinner table, and was very much enjoyed by my mom (also an attorney).

This joke, which the informant picked up from another lawyer, plays on the idea that every hates—or at least distrusts—attorneys, enough to get a laugh out of the idea that someone would go to such an extent to run one down with his car.

Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

“Skeet”

Informant: What do you call twenty skydiving lawyers?

Me: I don’t know. What?

Informant: Skeet.

 

The informant (my dad) is a particularly self-deprecating lawyer. While he does take pride in his work, he often admits that he only went to law school because his father had been a lawyer, and the informant had “no idea what to do with [his] life” after he graduated from college. The informant currently works at a law firm in San Francisco (he recently changed firms, after his former firm became too large and very corrupt. I suspect the series of lawyer jokes he told me were told with some of his old colleagues in mind.) This joke was told to my family over the dinner table, and was very much enjoyed by my mom (also an attorney).

This joke, of course, plays on the negative stereotypes surrounding lawyers. Nobody really likes lawyers; at least, nobody trusts them. Skeet, for those who are unfamiliar, is a recreational and often competitive form of shooting. Participants use shotguns to take down clay disks (or “clay pigeons”). The informant, despite having many lawyer jokes in his arsenal, is especially fond of this one, and likes to end the performance of it by pantomiming the act of aiming a shotgun at the sky and then making a pt, pt, pt sound (shooting) followed by mock wailing (from the lawyers).

Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Lawyers in the Ocean

Informant: What do you call a group of a hundred lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?

Informant: A good start.

The informant (my dad) is a particularly self-deprecating lawyer. While he does take pride in his work, he often admits that he only went to law school because his father had been a lawyer, and the informant had “no idea what to do with [his] life” after he graduated from college. The informant currently works at a law firm in San Francisco, CA (he recently changed firms, after his former firm became too large and very corrupt. I suspect the series of lawyer jokes he told me were told with some of his old colleagues in mind.) This joke was told to my family over the dinner table, and was very much enjoyed by my mom (also an attorney).

The informant told me that this joke was relayed to him “a couple weeks ago” by a close friend and colleague. Given how often the informant complains about other lawyers being “assholes” and the stereotype of the conniving and greedy attorney being true, I suspect that this joke was aimed mainly at those in the profession who reflect this kind of negative image. It’s probably very important to note that the informant and the friend who told him this joke both left the firm they worked together at a handful of months before this joke was passed on to my family.

Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

California’s Lawyer Problem

Informant: Why did New Jersey get all the toxic waste and California all the lawyers?

Informant: New Jersey got to pick first.

The informant (my dad) is a particularly self-deprecating lawyer. While he does take pride in his work, he often admits that he only went to law school because his father had been a lawyer, and the informant had “no idea what to do with [his] life” after he graduated from college. The informant currently works at a law firm in San Francisco, CA (he recently changed firms, after his former firm became too large and very corrupt. I suspect the series of lawyer jokes he told me were told with some of his old colleagues in mind.) This joke was told to my family over the dinner table, and was very much enjoyed by my mom (also an attorney).

This joke in particular is one the informant might connect to because he is stationed in California (the same state in which his wife works as a lawyer and his father worked as a lawyer). He is also very aware of the negative stereotypes surrounding his profession, and finds enjoyment in laughing about how truly awful some of the people he’s had to work with have been (though the informant also admits that many lawyers are, in fact, “extraordinarily decent people”). This joke seemed to be particularly active in California; the informant said it’d been told to him by three different colleagues on three separate occasions.

In addition, I discovered this joke was published (word for word) in a joke book.

Citation: Arnott, Stephen, and Mike Haskins. Man Walks into a Bar: Over 6,000 of the Most Hilarious Jokes, Funniest Insults, and Gut-busting One-liners. Berkeley, CA: Ulysses, 2007. Print.

Folk speech
Humor
Narrative
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Joke: A Lawyer, Doctor, and an Engineer

Informant: “So, a lawyer, a doctor and an engineer go golfing and they’re out there and they’re trying to play but there is this foursome in front of them who are god-awful, and they are hitting the ball but they are hitting it all over the place, sometimes it seems as if they can’t even find the ball, and their shots are just terrible. And, so the threesome, the lawyer, the doctor and the engineer, they call over the course manager and say ‘can you just help the group in front of us speed up a little bit, either that or just let us play through because this is just getting really obnoxious.’ And the course manager says, ‘oh I’m sorry you guys, but that’s Fred, Bill, Bob, and Joe and uh they are local heroes they are firefighters that saved a bunch of children from a school that was burning down uh but they all lost their sight so we try to do our part and let them play the course for free.’ And, they’re taken aback and the lawyer says, ‘oh, my god that’s awful well I’ll contact my legal firm and see if we can do anything, to help them maybe work with new resources to help them with their sight and at least help them with all the problems they must have now,’ and the doctor says, ‘oh, that is terrible, well I’ve got some friends who work with blindness research and I’ll see what they can do,’ and the engineer looks and his friends and looks at the course manager and says ‘why can’t they just play at night?’”

The informant is a young man from the suburbs of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is a freshman at USC and is majoring in Environmental studies. He is also an active member of his school community, participating on several club teams and is an honors student. In addition, the informant is close with his family.

The informant heard this joke from his dad, who is an engineer, when he was about eight. The informant said that his father repeats this joke often because his father finds the joke amusing.

The informant likes this joke because “I golf and my dad golfs, because its fun to listen to engineering jokes, and because my dad has that background, and probably because he tells it so often.” So, the informant also uses this joke to connect with his dad.

This joke is a form of occupational lore because it stereotypes three professions – lawyers, doctors, and engineers. This particular joke depicts engineers negatively because rather than try to find a way to alleviate the difficulties of the firefighters, as the other two professions do, the engineer is still focused on the earlier (and more self-centered) problem that the firefighters are completing the golf course slowly.

Humor

Taxi Lawyer Joke

“So, this taxi driver used to be a lawyer, and he was a really successful lawyer until one day he screwed up in court.  For whatever logistical reasons, he lost his lawyership.  He became a taxi driver.  But you know, once you become a lawyer, you get a radar for lawyers.  So every time he sees a lawyer, he tries to run them down with taxi. (He gestured as if he was driving a taxi and running someone over).  One day, a priest got in his car.  He saw a lawyer, and he was getting excited to hit him.  He remembered there was a priest in the car though so he changed his mind, and he swerved at the last minute.  He heard a clunk, and the lawyer was dead.  He turned around and whispered, ‘I’m sorry father.  I didn’t mean to.’  The priest replied, ‘That’s okay. I got him with the door.'”

The informant learned the joke at Boy Scout camp over one summer.   He said it was one of the jokes they would tell around the campfire.  He doesn’t tell the joke regularly, but he was really entertained as he told it to me.

The joke plays to a lot of different groups.  It makes fun of lawyers in a way while also reaching out to taxi drivers and priests.  The joke finds its humor from the fact that the priest who is supposed to be good purposefully hurts the lawyer instead of the ex-lawyer who had previously been bad.  The joke takes on religion and purity in a humorous manner, but it can also just be seen as a good funny narrative joke.  I found the joke funny myself because the ending is so unexpected.

 

Humor

Joke

A new client had just come in to see a famous lawyer.
“Can you tell me how much you charge?” said the client.
“Of course”, the lawyer replied, “I charge $200 to answer three questions!”
“Well that’s a bit steep, isn’t it?”
“Yes it is”, said the lawyer, “And what’s your third question?”

Phil was a lawyer who practiced for thirty years before retiring.  In the course of his practice he was told and sent many different lawyer jokes.  He said he chose this one because it captured two of the main themes used in lawyer jokes, tricky wording and over charging.  He heard jokes from many different people including clients and other lawyers.

This is a piece of occupational folklore.  It serves to stereotype people as well as identify them.  Obviously it is stereotyping lawyers.  It also helps to identify lawyers because they are the ones who have heard most of these jokes.  It also requires some sort of knowledge about the law business and its stereotype in order to understand the joke.

The first stereotype the joke plays on is that lawyers over charge.  The lawyer states a very large price for asking just three questions, and the client points out that this is the case.  The second stereotype involves the trickery of lawyers.  The client believes that he is simply trying to find out how much it would cost to use him.  In the end, he finds out that he is already using his services and being charged $200.

I had never heard this joke before my dad told it to me.  But, as he was telling it I knew what the ending was going to be.  This is because I grew up with a lawyer as a father and he often had trouble setting apart work from family.  So, I learned how to spot many lawyer tricks growing up.  This shows how stereotypes are not always wrong, and can often be enforced by the person who is being stereotyped.

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