[First published 11/28/98]
The following (in no particular order) are some of my favorite jokes about lawyers and the legal system.
The word "oxymoron" is from a combination of Greek words for "sharp" and "dull," and it is used to describe a phrase that has an internal conflict or contradiction, such as "military intelligence" or "postal service."
The legal profession has its share of the usual two-word oxymorons, such as "legal ethics" and "Justice Rehnquist," but is unique in also providing us with the only one-word oxymoron: brief.
The Devil appeared to a lawyer and offered him all the worldly wealth and pleasures the lawyer could imagine, provided the lawyer give the Devil his eternal soul and the eternal souls of his wife and children. The lawyer thought about it for a few minutes, then finally said, "Okay, I give up. What's the catch?"
A man telephones a law office and says: "I want to speak to my lawyer." The receptionist replies "I'm sorry but he died last week."
The next day the same man phones again and asks the same question. The receptionist replies "I told you yesterday, he died last week."
The next day the man calls again and asks to speak to his lawyer. By this time the receptionist is getting a little annoyed and says "I keep telling you that your lawyer died last week. Why do you keep calling?"
The man says, "Because I just love hearing it."
A New Orleans lawyer sought an FHA loan for a client. He was told the loan would be granted if he could prove satisfactory title to a parcel of property being offered as collateral. The title to the property dated back to 1803, which took the lawyer three months to track down. After sending the information to the FHA, he received the following reply:
Upon review of your letter adjoining your client's loan application, we note that the request is supported by an Abstract of Title. While we compliment the able manner in which you have prepared and presented the application, we must point out that you have only cleared title to the proposed collateral back to 1803. Before final approval can be accorded, it will be necessary to clear the title back to its origin.
The lawyer responded as follows:
Your letter regarding title in Case No. 189156 has been received. I note that you wish to have title extended further than the 194 years covered by the present application.
I was unaware that any educated person in this country, particularly those working with real property titles, would not know that Louisiana was purchased by the United States from France in 1803, the year of origin identified in our Abstract of Title. For your edification, I should explain that title to the land in question was acquired by the United States by purchase from France, which had acquired it by right of conquest from Spain. Title to the land had come to Spain by right of discovery made in the year 1492 by a sea captain named Christopher Columbus, who had been granted the privilege of seeking a new route to India by the then reigning monarch of Spain, Queen Isabella. The good queen, being a pious woman and careful about titles, had taken the precaution of securing the blessing of the Pope before she sold her jewels to fund Columbus' expedition. The Pope is the emissary of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And God created Louisiana.
Now, may we have our damn loan?
A local charity office realized that it had never received a donation from the town's most successful lawyer. The director called him, hoping to get a contribution.
"Our research shows that out of a yearly income of at least $500,000, you give not a penny to charity. Wouldn't you like to give back to the community in some way?"
The lawyer replied, "First, did your research also show that my mother is dying after a long illness, and has medical bills that are several times her annual income?"
Embarrassed, the director mumbled, "Um...no."
"Or that my brother, a disabled veteran, is blind and confined to a wheelchair?"
The stricken director began to stammer out an apology but was interrupted.
" . . . or that my sister's husband died in a traffic accident," the lawyer's voice rising in indignation, "leaving her penniless with three children?!"
The humiliated director said simply, "I had no idea . ."
"So if I don't give any money to them, why should I give any to you?"
How not to conduct a cross examination is illustrated by this classic (and supposedly true) story from a trial:
A man was being prosecuted for criminal assault for biting off the ear of another man during a fight in a bar, and a witness had taken the stand and testified that the defendant had bitten off the ear of the other man. The defendant's lawyer proceeded to cross-examine:
Q: The bar was quite crowded that night, wasn't it?
Q: And the two men who were fighting were rolling around on the floor, were they not?
A: They were.
Q: And while they were rolling about, one man would be on top, and then other, correct?
A: That's correct.
Q: And there was pushing and shoving and shouting around you by other people watching the fight, isn't that right?
A: That's right.
Q: So you couldn't see the fighters all of the time, could you?
A: That's also right.
Q: In fact, isn't it true that your view was so obstructed that you didn't actually see the defendant bite the ear of the other man?
A: Yeah, you're right. I didn't really see him bite the ear off.
At this point, the lawyer should have quit. But something in him made him ask one more question.
Q: So why did you testify that the defendant bit the ear off?
A: Because I saw him spit it out.
The Pennsylvania Estate and Trust
Daniel B. Evans , Attorney at Law
P.O. Box 27370
Philadelphia, PA 19118
Telephone: (215) 233-0988
Copyright 1998 Daniel B. Evans. All rights reserved. Not legal advice.