Sep 18, 2008

Auntie Nolo's Favorite Legal Rhymes

Jake Warner: There is a surprising amount of verse -- some of it quite funny -- written about the law, lawyers and lawsuits. I guess one of the oldies is about the 14th-century lawyer who was made a saint because he was so honest:
St. Yves is from Brittany
A lawyer but not a thief
Such a thing is beyond belief.
Auntie Nolo: Not quite -- plenty of rhymes teasing lawyers go back as far as ancient Greece and Rome. For example, the Athenian playwright Aristophanes described the new class of lawyer-rhetorician in his play "The Clouds" like this:
Bold, hasty and wise, a concocter of lies,
A rattler to speak, a dodger, a sneak,
A regular claw of the tables of law,
A shuffler complete, well worn in deceit,
A supple, unprincipled, troublesome cheat,
A hangdog accurst, a bore with the worst,
In the tricks of the jury-court thoroughly versed.
Then the Chorus gets to the point: 
Yes, and men shall come and wait
In their thousands at your gate,
Desiring consultations and advice
On an action or a pleading,
From the men of light and leading
And you'll pocket many talents in a trice.
Jake Warner: So I guess little has changed. Go on the Internet and you'll find plenty of funny legal limericks.

Auntie Nolo: Yes, and one of the funniest of this generation of limerick writers is a lawyer named David Altschull, who wrote Legal Limericks, a little book published by Survival Series Publishing Co. in 1993. Here is one of my favorites, which comments on the case of People v. Langdon 192 Cal. App. 3d 148 (1987). The Langdon case involved a man charged with having sex with under-aged girls (statutory rape) who introduced evidence of his vasectomy, apparently to show that since he couldn't get them pregnant, he wasn't guilty of perpetrating the harm the law was designed to prevent:
Of all rape defenses we've stocked up
Here's the best: "I couldn't get her knocked up"
Though defendant was sperm-less
We can't let him squirm less
He did the act that got him locked up.
Jake Warner: Nice. Do you have a few more?

Auntie Nolo: At least a thousand, but I'll control myself. Here's Madeline Kane's take:

Pity the Poor Lawyer (from Mad Kane's Humor Blog)
"Your billable hours are low," 
Said the partner, "they simply must grow.
It behooves you to hike them,
Or better, please spike them --
To lunch breaks and sleep, just say no."
To which a fellow named Paul responded:
The associate listened in shock
As she learned that her life was in hock
To a clock-punching firm
While her boss, who's a worm
Made her wonder if law's just a crock.
Jake Warner: Legal limericks are obviously becoming an indoor sport for bored -- but never boring -- lawyers.

Auntie Nolo: Well, the Internet provides a great way to disseminate legal doggerel, but it's always been here as these two ditties show:

My wonder is really boundless
That among the queer cases we try,
A land case should often be groundless,
A water case will always be dry.
John Saxe, 19th-Century Poet

He saw a lawyer killing a viper
On a dunghill hard by his own stable,
And the Devil smiled, for it put him in mind,
Of Cain and his brother Abel.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 18th-Century Poet