Lawyer Jokes Etcetera:
What Oft Was Thought But Ne'er So Well Expressed

open book

The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.

Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part 2, c. 1591

The lawyers rejected the counsel of God.

Luke 7:30

Woe unto you, lawyers!

Ibid., 11:52

When you have no basis for argument, abuse the plaintiff.

Cicero, Pro Flacco

My suit has nothing to do with the assault, or battery, or poisoning, but is about three goats, which, I complain, have been stolen by my neighbor. This the judge desires to have proved to him; but you, with swelling words and extravagant gestures, dilate on the Battle of Cannae, the Mithridatic war, and the perjuries of the insensate Carthaginians, the Syllae, the Marii, and the Mucii. It is time, Postumus, to say something about my three goats.

Martial, Epigrams, VI.

I, Lucius Titus, have written this, my testament, without any lawyer, following my own natural reason rather than excessive and miserable diligence.

The will of a Roman citizen

No-wher so bisy a man as he ther nas,
And yet he semed bisier than he was.

Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1342-1400),
The Canterbury Tales (regarding the Man of Law)

Lawyers use the law as shoemakers use leather; rubbing it, pressing it, and stretching it with their teeth, all to the end of making it fit their purposes.

Ascribed to Louis XII of France (1462-1515)

Among the learned the lawyers claim first place, the most self-satisfied class of people, as they roll their rock of Sisyphus and string together six hundred laws in the same breath, no matter whether relevant or not, piling up opinion on opinion and gloss on gloss to make their profession seem the most difficult of all. Anything which causes trouble has special merit in their eyes.

Desiderius Erasmus, Praise of Folly, 1509

One thing I supplicate your majesty: that you will give orders, under a great penalty, that no bachelors of law should be allowed to come here [the New World]; for not only are they bad themselves, but they also make and contrive a thousand inequities.

Vasco Nuñez de Balboa to Ferdinand V of Spain, 1513

[The Utopians] have no lawyers among them, for they consider them as a sort of people whose profession it is to disguise matters.

Sir Thomas More, Utopia, c. 1516

There is no cause so bad which does not find a lawyer to defend it.

François Rabelais, Pantagruel, 1532

Little money, little law.

Anonymous, The Parliament of Byrdes, c. 1550

Such poor folk as to law do go
are driven oft to curse:
But in mean while, the Lawyer thrives,
the money in his purse.

Isabella Whitney, A Sweet Nosegay or Pleasant Posye
Containing a Hundred and Ten Phylosophicall Flowers,

Lawyers and physicians are an ill provision for any country.

Michel de Montaigne, Essays, III, 1588

Beware that thou give it not to a lawyer's clerk to write, for they use a legal hand that Satan himself will not understand.

Cervantes, Don Quixote, 1605

Kent: This is nothing, fool.
Fool: Then 'tis like the breath of an unfeed lawyer—you gave me nothing for't.

Shakespeare, King Lear, I:iv, c. 1605-6

A man may as well open an oyster without a knife as a lawyer's mouth without a fee.

Barten Holyday, Technogamia, 1618

The devil makes his Christmas-pie of lawyers' tongues and clerks' fingers.

Thomas Adams, Sermons, 1629

Lawyers are accounted knaves over all the country.

Anonymous, The Countryman's Care, 1641

These men of Law and their confederates ... the caterpillars of this Kingdom, who with their uncontrolled exactions and extortions, eat up the free-born people of this Nation.

Bathsua Makin, The Malady ... and Remedy of Vexations
and Unjust Arrests and Actions,

Litigious terms, fat contentions, and flowing fees.

John Milton, Tractate on Education

A modest lawyer! a silent woman! A paradox in nature.

John Wilson, The Cheats, I:iv, 1664

With books and money plac'd, for show,
Like nest-eggs, to make clients lay,
And for his false opinions pay.

Samuel Butler, Hudibras, 1663-78

Once, says an author, where I need not say,
Two travellers found an oyster on their way.
Both fierce, both hungry, the dispute grew strong,
When scale in hand, Dame Justice passed along.
Before her each with clamor pleads the laws,
Explains the matter, and would win the cause.
Dame Justice, weighing long the doubtful right,
Takes, opens, swallows it before their sight.
The cause of strife removed so rarely well,
"There, take," says Justice, "take you each a shell,
We thrive in courthouses on fools like you.
'Twas a fat oyster; live in peace—Adieu."

Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux (1636-1711)

Bluster, sputter, question, cavil; but be sure your argument be intricate enough to confound the court.

William Wycherley, The Plain-Dealer, c. 1674

A man without money needs no more fear a crowd of lawyers than a crowd of pickpockets.


That litigious she pettifogger.


Next bring some lawyers to thy bar,
By innuendo they might all stand there;
There let them expiate that guilt,
And pay for all that blood their tongues have spilt.
These are the mountebanks of state,
Who by the sleight of tongues can crimes create,
And dress up trifles in the robes of fate,
The mastiffs of a Government,
To worry and run down the innocent.

Daniel Defoe, A Hymn to the Pillary, 1703

Law is a bottomless pit, it is a cormorant, a Harpy that devoures everything.

John Arbuthnot, The History of John Bull, 1712

They put off hearings wilfully,
To finger the refreshing fee.

Bernard Mandeville, The Fable of the Bees, 1714

Sometimes a man who deserves to be looked down upon because he is a fool is despised only because he is a lawyer. - Montesquieu, Persian Letters, 1721

[There is] a Society of Men among us, bred up from their Youth in the Art of proving by Words multiplied for the Pleasure, that White is Black, and Black is White, according as they are paid. To this Society all the rest of the People are as Slaves. . . . In pleading, they studiously avoid entering into the Merits of the Cause; but are loud, violent, and tedious in dwelling upon all Circumstances which are not to the Purpose. . . . It is likewise to be observed, that this Society has a peculiar Cant and Jargon of their own, that no other Mortal can understand, and wherein all their Laws are written, which they take special Care to multiply; whereby they have gone near to confound the very Essence of Truth and Falsehood, of Right and Wrong. . . . In all Points out of their own Trade, they [are] usually the most Ignorant and stupid Generation among us, the most despicable in common Conversation, avowed Enemies to all Knowledge and Learning; and equally to pervert the general Reason of Mankind in every other Subject of Discourse, as in that of their own Profession.

Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels, 1726

My Lawyer being practiced almost from his Cradle in defending Falsehood; is quite out of his Element when he would be an Advocate for Justice, which as an Office unnatural, he always attempts with great Awkwardness if not with Ill-will.


A fox may steal your hens, Sir,
A whore your health and pence, Sir,
Your daughter rob your chest, Sir,
Your wife may steal your rest, Sir,
A thief your goods and plate.
But this is all but picking,
With rest, peace, chest, and chicken;
It ever was decreed, Sir,
If lawyer's hand is fee'd, Sir,
He steals your whole estate.

John Gay, The Beggar's Opera, 1728

Lawyers and preachers and tomtits' eggs, there are more of them hatched than come to perfection.

Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanack, 1734

Necessity knows no law, I know some lawyers are the same.

Attributed to Benjamin Franklin (1706-90)

I know you lawyers can, with ease,
Twist words and meanings as you please;
That langage, by your skill made pliant,
Will bend to favour ev'ry client.

John Gay, "The Dog and the Fox," Fables, 1738

And when the relics of humanity left among the Spaniards induced them to forbid their lawyers to set foot in America, what must they have thought of jurisprudence? May it not be said that they thought, by this single expedient, to make reparation for all the outrages they had committed against the unhappy Indians?

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, A Discourse on the Moral Effects of the Arts and Sciences, 1750

The laws I love; the lawyers I suspect.

Charles Churchill, The Farewell, 1764

Lawyers are always more ready to get a man into troubles than out of them.

Oliver Goldsmith, The Good Natur'd Man, 1768

Lawyers and rogues are vermin not easily rooted out of a rich soil.

Horace Walpole, letter to Sir Horace Mann, 11 August 1777

The Lawyers may revere that tree
Where thieves so oft have swung
Since, by the Law's most wise decree,
Her  thieves are never hung.

Robert Fergusson, Epigram on a Lawyer's desiring
one of the Tribe to look with respect to a Gibbet,

A lawyer art thou? Draw not nigh!
Go, carry to some fitter place
The keenness of that practised eye,
The hardness of that sallow face.

William Wordsworth, A Poet's Epitaph, 1800

Young lawyers attend the courts, not because they have business there but because they have no business anywhere else.

Washington Irving, Salmagundi, 1807-8

It is the trade of lawyers to question everything, yield nothing, and to talk by the hour.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

The mere title of lawyer is sufficient to deprive a man of the public confidence. . . . The most innocent and irreproachable life cannot guard a lawyer against the hatred of his fellow citizens.

John Quincy Adams (1767-1848)

Lawyers are the only civil delinquents whose judges must of necessity be chosen from themselves.

Charles Caleb Colton, Lacon, 1820

Lawyers sometimes tell the truth. They'll do anything to win a case.

Attributed to Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)

Lawyers, I suppose, were children once. - Charles Lamb (1775-1834).

When Mr Justice was a counsellor, he would never take less than a guinea for doing anything, nor less than half a one for doing nothing. He durst not if he would: among lawyers, moderation would be infamy.

Jeremy Bentham, Truth v. Ashhurst; or Law As It Is, 1823

The lawyer is a gentleman who rescues your estate from your enemies, and keeps it to himself.

Lord Brougham (1778-1868)

There are three sorts of lawyers—able, unable, and lamentable.

Robert Smith Surtees (1803-64)

Shyster lawyers—a set of turkey buzzards whose touch is pollution and whose breath is pestilence.

G. G. Foster, New York in Slices, 1849

Resolve to be honest at all events: and if in your judgment you cannot be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer.

Abraham Lincoln, notes for a lecture, 1850

The one great principle of the English law is, to make business for itself.

Charles Dickens, Bleak House, 1853

No doubtful balance of rights and wrongs,
Nor weary lawyers with endless tongues.

John Greenleaf Whittier, Maud Muller, 1854

The appearance in our courts of these learned gentlemen of the law, who can make black appear white and white appear black, is forbidden.

Decree, Government of Andorra, 1864, still in effect

It is a strange trade, that of advocacy. Your intellect, your highest heavenly gift, hung up in the shop window like a loaded pistol for sale, will either blow out a pestilent scoundrel's brains, or the scoundrel's salutary sheriff's officer's (in a sense), as you please to choose for your guinea.

Thomas Carlyle, Lord Jeffrey, 1867

A client is fain to hire a lawyer to keep from the injury of other lawyers—as Christians that travel in Turkey are forced to hire Janissaries, to protect them from the insolencies of other Turks.

Samuel Butler, Prose Observations

A lawyer's dream of heaven—every man reclaimed his property at the resurrection, and each tried to recover it from all his forefathers.

Samuel Butler (1835-1902)

My strong point is weeping as I appeal to the jury, and I seldom fail to clear my man. Out of eleven murder cases last year I cleared nine of the murderers. Having been in jail no less than four times myself, my experience cannot fail to prove of value to my clients. Come early and avoid the rush.

advertisement by a Major Hopkins, late 19th century

To succeed in other trades, capacity must be shown; in the law, concealment will do.

Mark Twain, "Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar," Following the Equator, 1897

America is the paradise of lawyers.

Attributed to Justice David J. Brewer (1837-1910)

"An Honest Lawyer"--book just out--
    What can the author have to say?
Reprint perhaps of ancient tome--
    A work of fiction anyway.

Grace Hibbard, Books Received

Two attorneys can live in a town where one cannot.

V. S. Lean, Collectanea, 1902-4

The epithet beautiful is used by surgeons to describe operations which their patients describe as ghastly . . . by lawyers to describe cases which ruin all the parties, and by lovers to describe the objects of their infatuation, however unattractive they may appear to the unaffected spectator.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)

Litigation: A machine which you go into as a pig and come out of as a sausage.

Appeal, n. In law, to put the dice into the box for another throw.

Lawful, adj. Compatible with the will of a judge having jurisdiction.

Lawyer, n. One skilled in circumvention of the law.

Litigant, n. A person about to give up his skin for the hope of retaining his bones.

Litigation, n. A machine which you go into as a pig and come out of as a sausage.

Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary, 1906

Such professions [as] the soldier and the lawyer . . . give ample opportunity for crimes but not much for mere illusions. . . . If you have lost a battle you cannot believe you have won it; if your client is hanged you cannot pretend that you have gotten him off.

G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

I used to be a lawyer, but now I am a reformed character.

Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924)

But in point of substantial merit the law school belongs in the modern university no more than a school of fencing or dancing.

Thorstein Veblen, The Higher Learning in America, 1918

Palestine needs earth, but it does not need lawyers.

Franz Kafka (1883-1924)

If you can eat sawdust without butter, you can be a success in the law.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841-1935)

Lawyers spend a great deal of time shoveling smoke.


The only man in whom ignorance of the law is not punished.

Frank McKinney Hubbard, Roycroft Dictionary and Book of Epigrams, 1923

If all the lawyers were hanged tomorrow, and their bones were sold to a mah jong factory, we'd all be freer and safer, and our taxes would be reduced by almost a half.

H. L. Mencken, "Breathing Space," Evening Sun, Baltimore, 4 August 1924

Nearly every lawsuit is an insult to the intelligence of both plaintiff and defendant.

Edgar Watson Howe, Sinner Sermons, 1926

The minute you read something you don't understand, you can be almost sure it was drawn up by a lawyer.

Will Rogers (1879-1935)

I don't think you can make a lawyer honest by an act of legislature. You've got to work on his conscience. And his lack of conscience is what makes him a lawyer.

Idem, 15 March 1927.

Thelma Todd: I didn't know you were a lawyer. You're awfully shy for a lawyer.

Groucho Marx: You bet I'm shy. I'm a shyster lawyer.

Monkey Business, 1931

"That is difficult to say exactly," said Mr. Kirkwood, enjoying, like all lawyers, making the reply to a simple question difficult.

Agatha Christie, The Murder at Hazelmoor, 1931

No poet ever interpreted nature as freely as a lawyer interprets the truth.

Jean Giraudoux, La Guerre de Troie n'aura pas lieu, 1935

The doctor gets you when you're born,
The preacher, when you marry,
And the lawyer lurks with costly clerks
If too much on you carry.
Professional men, they have no cares;
Whatever happens, they get theirs.
The noblest lord is ushered in
By the practicing physician,
And the humblest lout is ushered out
By a certified mortician.
And in between, they find their foyers
Alive with summonses from lawyers.

Ogden Nash, "I Yield to My Learned Brother, or, Is There a Candlestick Maker in the House?" (1935)

The trouble with law is lawyers.

Attributed to Clarence Darrow (1857-1938)

There are two things wrong with almost all legal writing. One is its style. The other is its content.

Fred Rodell, "Goodbye to Law Reviews," Virginia Law Review, 1936

Judge--a law student who marks his own examination papers.

H. L. Mencken (1880-1956)

To some lawyers, all facts are created equal.

Justice Felix Frankfurter (1882-1965)

Lawyers--they get together all day and say to each other, "What can we postpone next?" The only thing they don't postpone, of course, is their bill, which arrives regularly. You've heard about the man who got the bill from his lawyer which said, "For crossing the street to speak to you and discovering it was not you, twelve dollars."

George S. Kaufman (1889-1961)

Lawyers should never marry other lawyers. This is called inbreeding, from which comes idiot children and more lawyers.

From the film Adam's Rib (1949), written by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin.

When there are too many policemen, there can be no liberty;
When there are too many soldiers, there can be no peace;
When there are too many lawyers, there can be no justice.

Lin Yutang (1895-1976)

Apologists for the profession contend that lawyers are as honest as other men, but this is not very encouraging.

Ferdinand Lundberg (1902-)

Divorce is a game played by lawyers.

Cary Grant (1904-1986)

It's awful to be the wife of a lawyer.

Isidora Aguirre, Express for Santiago, 1960

[The] ideal client is the very wealthy man in very great trouble.

John Sterling, "Lawyers and the Laws of Economics," American Bar Association Journal, 1960

There is a general prejudice to the effect that lawyers are more honorable than politicians but less honorable than prostitutes. This is an exaggeration.

Alexander King, Rich Man, Poor Man, Freud and Fruit, 1965

A lawyer with his briefcase can steal more than a hundred men with guns.

Mario Puzo, The Godfather Papers, 1969

An incompetent attorney can delay a trial for years or months. A competent attorney can delay one even longer.

Evelle J. Younger, quoted in the Los Angeles Times, 3 March 1971

There was a young lawyer who showed up at a revival meeting and was asked to deliver a prayer. Unprepared, he gave a prayer straight from his lawyer's heart: "Stir up much strife amongst the people, Lord," he prayed, "lest thy servant perish."

Senator Sam Ervin (1896-1985)

When the president does it, that means it is not illegal.

Richard Nixon, 19 May 1977

A lawyer is a man who helps you get what's coming to him.

Laurence J. Peter (1919-90)

An odd profession that presents its greatest scholarship in student-run publications.

Morton J. Horowitz, quoted in Newsweek, 15 September 1975

We may be well on our way to a society overrun by hordes of lawyers, hungry as locusts, and brigades of judges in numbers never before contemplated.

Chief Justice Warren Earl Burger, quoted in Time, 27 June 1977

A lawyer's job is to manipulate the skeletons in other people's closets.

Sol Stein, Other People, 1979

We shake papers at each other the way primitive tribes shake spears.

John Jay Osborn, Jr., The Associates, 1979

Some people think about sex all the time; some people think of sex some of the time; and some people never think about sex: they become lawyers.

Woody Allen (1935-)

I decided law was the exact opposite of sex; even when it was good it was lousy.

Mortimer Zuckerman (1937-)

Lawyers may often do well, but not often by doing good . . . even when they try.

Charles E. Sherman (1938-)

I have ne'er been in a chamber with a lawyer when I did not wish either to scream with desperation or else fall into the deepest of sleeps, e'en when the matter concern'd my own future most profoundly.

Erica Jong, Fanny, 1980

To state a lie firmly, categorically and with great authority, undeterred by the fact that all concerned know it to be a lie, is one of the principal activities defined by the term practising law.

Stephen Vizinczey, An Innocent Millionaire, 1983

You don't have many suspects who are innocent of a crime. That is contradictory. If a person is innocent of a crime, then he is not a suspect.

Edwin Meese, U.S. Attorney General, 1985

Legal writing is one of those rare creatures, like the rat and the cockroach, that would attract little sympathy even as an endangered species.

Richard Hyland, A Defense of Legal Writing, 10 August 1986

A British lawyer would like to think of himself as part of that mysterious entity called The Law; an American lawyer would like a swimming pool and two houses.

Simon Hoggart, Observer, 10 August 1986

Nothing could be more boring than an absolutely accurate movie about the law.

Roger Ebert (1942-)

Imagine the appeals
Dissents and remandments
If lawyers had written
The Ten Commandments.

Harry Bender

Any visitor to an historic country town or city quickly becomes aware in his or her peregrinations that the most attractive houses in the centre are invariably the offices of lawyers.

P. D. James, Death in Holy Orders (2001)

Cartoon of scruffy man before a judge.

Judge: I advise you to employ counsel.
"'Scuse me, Judge, but I couldn't 'sociate wit' no lawyer--I got some pride left."

L a w y e r   J o k e s   E t c e t e r a

Riddles | Proverbs | The Legal Mind | Neither Fish Nor Fowl
A Loathsome Miscellany | What Oft Was Thought | A Fitting End