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Bar News - April 20, 2016

Book Review: Lawyer Joke Book Is Quite Portable


Comebacks for Lawyer Jokes: The Restatement of Retorts - Humor that Shifts the Balance of Power to YOU
By Malcolm Kushner
Museum of Press (2015)

What makes a good joke? When is it appropriate to tell lawyer jokes, or for that matter, jokes about doctors or accountants?

When NH Bar News asked for a volunteer to review this book, I immediately jumped at the chance. How hard could it be to read a book of jokes and then write something funny? It’s not like I’m reviewing the Fifth Restatement of Admiralty Law. Soon the slim volume arrived. I promptly put it in my work bag, where it didn’t see the light of day for a month. A few days before the deadline I emailed to ask for an extension, which I was graciously given.

The day before my extension runs, I haven’t yet read the book. I ask my loving and caring wife, would she help me write the review? Later that day, while listening to my voice-recorded notes made earlier that morning I can hear that same loving, caring wife laughing at my self-imposed predicament.

According to author Malcolm Kushner, lawyer jokes have ebbed and flowed and not just recently. He cites the ancients, Aristophanes in the play The Cloud, and of course, William Shakespeare, in Henry the VI, Part II. I would include one of these hoary bon mots here, but they’ve lost something over the centuries. (If anyone can explain the joke from Joe Miller’s Jests from 1739, on page 8, please let me know.) The author contends that lawyer jokes peaked in the 1980s, when they were particularly hostile.

I’m not really sure where we are in this cycle of ebb and flow of lawyer-bashing masquerading as harmless joke-telling right now. Possibly because we have the spectacle of a Presidential primary season to distract us from, well, everything else. Kushner divides his book into three sections: comebacks, offensive jokes (as in the best defense is a good offense, not as in inherently offensive jokes), and jokes that make lawyers look good.

Part I: Defense without Being Defensive, offers comebacks to a wide variety of “the classic” lawyer jokes. For instance:

Say: What’s the difference between a jellyfish and a lawyer?

You Say: Aquariums don’t beg jellyfish to be on their board of directors.

Before They Say: One’s a spineless, poisonous blob. The other’s a sea creature.

This section is the bulk of the book, and it provides great fodder for derailing the attack, and changing the topic if you find yourself at a cocktail reception, drink in one hand and tiny plate of meatballs in the other, and someone starts in.

As Kushner points out, we lawyers are trained to anticipate objections and be ready to respond. Well, this advice may resonate with litigators. For us transactional attorneys, we tend to anticipate things like undischarged mortgages and shadowy Uniform Commercial Code filings, or a “forgotten” love child, a.k.a. heir. Not the sort of anticipation that the author seems to be thinking about. All that said, this book helps any lawyer prepare for the joke assault, no matter your practice area.

Part II: Offense, consists of jokes about other professionals who seem to most frequently tell lawyer jokes. Kushner notes that these jokes in the arsenal should be reserved for when the comebacks in Part I don’t carry enough firepower, and you need to escalate the confrontation. Take, for example:

Q: If an accountant’s spouse can’t sleep, what do they say to their spouse?

A: “Tell me about work today, dear.”

This section contains a number of lightbulb jokes by profession, my personal favorites. These alone might be worth the cost of the book, including gems like:

Q: How many plastic surgeons does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: It depends what you want to change it into.

Finally, “Jokes That Make Lawyers Look Good” is the shortest section. I know what you’re thinking, there is a joke in there screaming to be let out. These are not many in number, but they do provoke us into action and successfully quash a funny-on-the-surface but passive-aggressive barrage of lawyer-bashing by lawyer joke.

Kushner doesn’t offer much here, but there is one really good joke. It appears on page 185, and is entitled, “The Euology.” I’m probably pushing the boundaries of copyright fair use already, so, I won’t include it in its entirety. But, the punchline is, “I would like to hear them say ‘Look, he’s moving.’”

Comebacks for Lawyer Jokes is a quick read, and takes up very little room in your briefcase or workbag, which is why I was able to read it and write a review the same day. I unequivocally recommend this book to all lawyers. Go out and buy it immediately. (Mr. Kushner, please send the check to my home address. Or better yet, send cash.)

David Sturm

David Sturm practices in Milford with his loving and caring wife, Sheila. Together they do estate planning and administration, elder law, business formations and transactions, family law, and mediation.

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