Thursday, January 29, 2009

Does Law School Destroy Your Sense of Humor?

Posted by Alan Childress
And if the product of law school is humorless people, is that caused by the education, or are humorless people drawn to enroll in the first place?  That's after years of people telling them they should go to law school, which was said sarcastically, but they did not get the sarcasm because they are humorless.  I do not know, but I hope Bill Henderson launches a multivariate longitudinal study of the phenomenon.  Maybe there is grant money available from Pfizer or whoever makes the anti-restless-leg drug.

I think it is pretty clear that legal education at least alters the sense of humor palpably, similar to how Duncan Kennedy's classic 1982 crit thinkpiece, Law School and the Reproduction of Hierarchy, argued that an ostensibly neutral education is a cover for an intensely person-altering political and social indoctrination.  Maybe med school does the same thing to someone's funny bone--I would never get through the day with a straight face saying "infarction" and "acute angina."  But that only proves I am 14; last week,I kept giggling at an exam answer's reference to a "federal fee-shitting statute" even though I know it's just a typo.  And for sure law school destroys the ability to say "statue" without thinking twice.

Lawyers have our own sense of humor, which isn't funny to "laypeople" (heh heh) and objectively isn't funny.  The punch line of several of my conversations is "Well, yeah, res ipsa loquitur!"  A student lamented to me just last week that she could not get through a lawyer's helping her move in his pickup without enduring several attempts to call himself a "lodestar."  That kind of thing.  You know, unaware unfunny.  I told her to get used to it--you will be this way soon enough. (Sort of like pod people.)

We also don't laugh at some things lay people find very funny.  I got an email today from a non-lawyer all mocking us because of some list going around of stupid questions lawyers ask in court.  The rest of the viral email is below the fold, but here are the sort:

ATTORNEY: Were you present when your picture was taken?
WITNESS:    Are you shittin' me?
ATTORNEY: How was your first marriage terminated?
WITNESS:    By death.
ATTORNEY: And by whose death was it terminated?
WITNESS:    Now whose death do you suppose terminated it?

Because the guy who forwarded this to me asked "Where do these things come from?," and I humorlessly took that as non-rhetorical, I wrote this reply, really:

Half of them come from my teaching in evidence class, to get something in the record even though it seems obvious and a necessary inference from the prior statement.  While inartfully stated, many of these make sense to me.  Some things (like death) are an element of a crime or tort and must be proved in the record by a statement of the witness, not the lawyer, or else it won't hold up on appeal.  Even a picture cannot be admitted into evidence without a witness "authenticating" it, for example by stating that he was there when it was made (and by the next question, recognizes it).  Other questions are worded so as to not sound leading, when really they are, so as to avoid an objection that it is leading.  And some may just be designed to elicit a snear that makes the jury like the witness less.

So that is my reply to this viral email.  (I have reacted humorlessly before to those emails about stupid tort suits; most of them are urban myths.)  I get the joke, but I also get what the lawyer was trying to do.

The full email is:

These are from a book called Disorder in the American Courts, and are things people actually said in court, word for word, taken down and now published by court reporters who had the torment of staying calm while these exchanges were actually taking place.


ATTORNEY:   Are you sexually active?

WITNESS:     No, I just lie there.


ATTORNEY: What gear were you in at the moment of the impact?

WITNESS:    Gucci sweats and Reeboks.


ATTORNEY:   This myasthenia gravis, does it affect your memory at all?

WITNESS:     Yes.

ATTORNEY:   And in what ways does it affect your memory?

WITNESS:     I forget.

ATTORNEY:   You forget? Can you give us an example of something you forgot?


ATTORNEY: What was the first thing your husband said to you that morning?

WITNESS:    He said, 'Where am I, Cathy?'

ATTORNEY: And why did that upset you?

WITNESS:    My name is Susan!


ATTORNEY: Do you know if your daughter has ever been involved in voodoo?

WITNESS:    We both do.


WITNESS:    We do.


WITNESS:    Yes, voodoo.


ATTORNEY: Now doctor, isn't it true that when a person dies in his sleep, he doesn't know about it until the next morning?

WITNESS:   Did you actually pass the bar exam?


ATTORNEY: The youngest son, the twenty-year-old, how old is he?

WITNESS:    Uh, he's twenty.


ATTORNEY: Were you present when your picture was taken?

WITNESS:    Are you shittin' me?


ATTORNEY:   So the date of conception (of the baby) was August 8th?

WITNESS:     Yes.

ATTORNEY:   And what were you doing at that time?

WITNESS:     Uh.... I was gettin' laid!


ATTORNEY:    She had three children, right?

WITNESS:      Yes.

ATTORNEY:    How many were boys?

WITNESS:      None.

ATTORNEY:    Were there any girls?

WITNESS:      Are you shittin' me? Your Honour, I think I need a different attorney. Can I get a new attorney?


ATTORNEY: How was your first marriage terminated?

WITNESS:    By death.

ATTORNEY: And by whose death was it terminated?

WITNESS:    Now whose death do you suppose terminated it?


ATTORNEY:   Can you describe the individual?

WITNESS:     He was about medium height and had a beard.

ATTORNEY:   Was this a male or a female?

WITNESS:     Guess.


ATTORNEY:   Is your appearance here this morning pursuant to a deposition notice which I sent to your attorney?

WITNESS:     No, this is how I dress when I go to work.


ATTORNEY:   Doctor, how many of your autopsies have you performed on dead people?

WITNESS:      All my autopsies are performed on dead people. Would you like to rephrase that?


ATTORNEY:   ALL your responses MUST be oral, OK? What school did you go to?

WITNESS:      Oral.


ATTORNEY: Do you recall the time that you examined the body?

WITNESS:    The autopsy started around 8:30 p.m.

ATTORNEY: And Mr. Denton was dead at the time?

WITNESS:    No, he was sitting on the table wondering why I was doing an autopsy on him!


ATTORNEY:   Are you qualified to give a urine sample?

WITNESS:     Huh....are you qualified to ask that question?


And the best for last:


ATTORNEY:   Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?

WITNESS:      No.

ATTORNEY:   Did you check for blood pressure?

WITNESS:      No.

ATTORNEY:   Did you check for breathing?

WITNESS:      No.

ATTORNEY: So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?

WITNESS:      No.

ATTORNEY:   How can you be so sure, Doctor?

WITNESS:      Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.

ATTORNEY: I see, but could the patient have still been alive, nevertheless?

WITNESS:      Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and practicing law.

...and then it ends with the obligatory salutation which has replaced Sincerely or good-bye:

A Good Credit Score is 700 or Above.  See yours in just 2 easy steps!

Straddling the Fence | Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Does Law School Destroy Your Sense of Humor?:


This is a true excerpt from a transcript in a case I worked on a few years ago. I'm paraphasing from memory, but the substance was something like this:

Q: What was your job at the time?
A: I was working for my father-in-law ....
Q: And who were you married to at the time?
A: His daughter.

Posted by: Ray | Jan 29, 2009 7:36:33 PM


yours is yet another example of a question that may not be as stupid as it appears to a layperson. If there was some reason the lawyer needed to establish in court that the witness was married to the man's daughter, it makes sense to make the witness state those exact facts on the record. A leading question was not allowed (though most probably the other lawyer would not have objected) and so the lawyer did nothing wrong.

Posted by: BB | Jan 31, 2009 4:49:24 PM

You could also have been working for your father-in-law, married to his daughter, then split up, married somebody else, and continued working for your father-in-law, who I suppose technically wouldn't be your father-in-law anymore, but that's awfully technical.

I'm aware of such situations - a talented son-in-law keeps running the family business even though he has split with the daughter. Blood is thicker than water, but lucre is thicker than blood.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Feb 1, 2009 10:59:18 AM

Post a comment