Tag Archives: lawyers

Splitting the Baby

Main Piece

Informant: “So there’s an old Jewish thing where two women go up to King Solomon and both of them claim that a child is theirs. So King Solomon says “let’s split this baby in half and give half to each claiming mother.” The first woman agrees, but the second woman would rather give up the whole child than have it split in half. King Solomon realizes that the second woman is the real mother of the child. The idea is that you use something crazy to bring out the truth. You use this crazy scenario to bring out the truth. So that’s the real story. But attorneys use it as a way to say the judge was not well versed on the topic and came up with a compromise that he believed was fair, but in reality hurts the actual “good person” in the case. Basically we use it as a way to say the judge came up with an unfair compromise. So we actually use that phrase incorrectly, but that’s just how we say it.”


My informant is a General Litigation Lawyer at a major corporate law firm based in Century City, California. He has been working in his field for over five years. My informant uses this phrase often, and only to other lawyers.


This phrase is used in a professional context, but not professionally. One lawyer may say this to another as a way to refer to a court ruling as unfair. The phrase is used in settlement or mediation and it is something either the lawyer tells his client or to another lawyer. This phrase is not used in written official statements, as it is considered unprofessional.

My Thoughts 

I had never heard this saying before, but I found it interesting that lawyers knowingly use this phrase wrong. They are fully aware of how the phrase is supposed to be used, but they still modify it and use it in a way that suits their needs. This is a good example of how the meaning of a piece of folklore can change to accommodate certain groups of people, and in this case, lawyers. Originally, this phrase was used to express an outrageous method that yielded accurate results, but lawyers use it as a way to express an unfair compromise on the part of the judge. Lawyers have adopted this phrase into their occupational folk group and modified it to fit their needs. This suggests that, if someone outside of this folk group were to hear lawyers use this phrase, one would misunderstand what is being communicated with the phrase because it is being used incorrectly. Thus, one would not understand the use of the phrase from the outside looking in.

For further reading about occupational folklore, see Robert McCarl’s chapter in Elliot Oring’s Folk Groups And Folklore Genres: An Introduction titled “Occupational Folklore.”


McCarl, Robert. “Chapter 4: Occupational Folklore.” Folk Groups And Folklore Genres: An Introduction, edited by Elliott Oring, Utah State UP, 1986, pp. 71-90.

Lawyer joke

My friend and classmate Pauline told me the following joke, which she learned from her dad, who is a lawyer:

“It was so cold outside today that earlier, I saw a lawyer with his hands in his own pockets.”

This joke relies upon the stereotype that lawyers are greedy and corrupt, and the metonymic use of the phrase “having one’s hands in someone’s pockets” to refer to squeezing money out of someone, like a legal client. The humor of the joke may be based in a genuine belief in this stereotype for people resentful of lawyers, but in this case its humor comes from a self-aware and ironic acknowledgement of the stereotype by a lawyer who presumably does not believe in it.

Pauline says that her dad has a number of lawyer jokes in his repertoire, which he tells “any time we’re with, like, any other lawyers, or if someone’s giving him a hard time about being a lawyer.” Such jokes are pieces of occupational folklore, which may serve to bond lawyers over their common identity, or may function as self-deprecating humor performed for the entertainment of non-lawyers. Lawyer jokes are a common staple of mainstream American humor, indicating a distrust of or misanthropic feeling toward lawyers from the general public outside of the profession. Their embrace by lawyers themselves is somewhat surprising, but is representative of the ways folklore may shift meaning depending on context.

Lawyer Joke

“If you wanted to have all of the answers before you got there, you should have gone to medical school.”


This occupational joke, often told by lawyers, is disparaging of doctors. It’s funny because usually one would think that doctors have a more difficult job than lawyers because they are dealing with life and death situations, but the joke implies that doctors learn everything they need to know at school. Supposedly, all of the diseases and conditions doctors will encounter are in their medical textbooks. While this is not entirely true, it is clearly a belief held by many lawyers who tell this joke. Those lawyers believe that their jobs are more difficult because they can often deal with situations that have never happened before or have never been documented before. Even if their cases are really just a variation of previous cases, they seem to believe that each situation is unique, whereas, in their opinion, an illness is always the same.

The informant is fond of this joke because she is a lawyer. I have heard her tell this joke multiple times, usually when she is talking about a difficult work-related situation. She seems to tell this joke to remind herself that having a difficult job comes with the territory and that not everything is so cut-and-dry.

Lawyer Joke – American

“So this lawyer is cross-examining this doctor and he says, ‘Doctor, so you’re the one who did the autopsy.’

“And he said, ‘Yes.’

“And he’s like, ‘Well where was the victim when you did the autopsy report?’

“He’s like, ‘On the table.’

“‘Well, what were you looking at particularly?’

“He’s like, ‘The brain. The brain was, you know out of the victim’s head on my table.’

“And he said, ‘Oh, okay. So the victim was dead.’

“‘Yes, there was no way he could be anywhere else. Well I suppose he could be practicing law somewhere else, but other than that, probably dead.'”

Friend showed it to her online. The informant is a Pre-Law student and she was actually accepted into a Law school for the coming year. This joke came up after we had talked about her recent acceptance to a Law school and when we started talking about jokes. She later went and looked up lots of other jokes about lawyers and went through them laughing hysterically. When she told the joke she told it at a pretty speedy pace, somewhat characteristic of someone who has to make detailed verbal reports often. There was not a lot of emotional changes in her voice as she told the joke – it was a fairly dry account. The informant said the that the joke was funny to her because it reminded her of some people that she knew, most likely from her years of participating in Mock Trial.

The informant has, in fact, been on Mock Trial since her freshman year and has know about the inner workings of law for a long time, which meant that she understood the allusions and situational comedy in lawyer jokes very intimately. I in no way doubt that she was thinking about someone she knew as she laughed, but she didn’t initially tell me she knew someone like the lawyer in the joke when she told me that joke. In this way, the joke was somewhat self-disparaging. This may be a case where a person has taken up an occupational stereotype in order to take some of the sting out of it, or to say somehow, “Hey, I can see this joke and I can laugh about it – I’m not some straight-laced, condescending lawyer like the lawyer in this joke.”