From “Jokes and Targets”

A new book by British humor scholar Christie Davies (via Debra Cassens Weiss, ABA Journal) has a discussion of lawyer jokes, which, Davies says, surged in the 1980s in America in a way not seen in other countries:

…American attorneys in the late Twentieth Century who felt offended by lawyer jokes were trapped, because the television writers and their bosses did not care about the possible hurt feelings of individual lawyers, who for them did not matter, and lawyers’ organizations (which did have power) were only concerned with using television to manipulate public opinion about far more important questions. The rightly saw jokes as utterly insignificant by comparison. The only exception I know happened not in contemporary America but in Britain in the late 1940s, when a senior person from the Law Society was able to persuade the BBC to stop comedians from telling jokes about solicitors (attorneys) who absconded with their clients’ money. The deal was done quietly in that sly, behind-the-scenes British way, paradoxically known as a gentleman’s agreement….

[After rejecting as unreasonable the views of a Pennsylvania lawyer who finds in some American lawyer jokes an “invitation to genocide”:] Likewise, we may dismiss the thesis popular among lawyers that the jokes originated with big corporations, who had them invented to assist in their campaigns against being sued for damages…. jokes belong to the people… they cannot be created by decree, nor can they successfully be repressed…. They are not a thermostat, but they are a thermometer.

What happened in the 1980s especially that might have touched off a popular American interest in lawyer jokes? It’s a mystery! The book can be purchased here, while more about its author is here; David Conway wrote a review for Law and Liberty in 2012, as we noted. (& welcome Above the Law readers)


  • During this time period, at a now defunct seafood restaurant in Pittsburgh, I announced to some friends that I had a great lawyer joke. One couple being seated nearby, immediately requested another table. I still told the joke and no one else asked to be moved during the entire meal.

  • That was obviously in the 1980s. These days the folks at the other table would request that the management tell you to desist, because they were entitled to the services of the restaurant without harassment, and failure to comply would result in a $1,000,000 lawsuit.

  • If you don’t want to be called a geek, stop biting the heads off live chickens.