Lawyer jokes, which predate Shakespeare's era, are commonly told by those outside the profession as an expression of contempt, scorn and derision. They serve as a form of social commentary or satire reflecting the cultural perception of lawyers.
The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers—"Dick the Butcher" in Shakespeare's Henry VI, part 2, act 4, scene 2, line 73
In the 1700s, when jurors were not allowed to eat or drink until they reached a verdict, Alexander Pope penned the satirical verse:
- The hungry judges soon the sentence sign,
- And wretches hang that jury-men may dine;
- The merchant from th' Exchange returns in peace,
- And the long labours of the toilet cease.
- 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, pence, chest and chicken
- It ever was decreed, sir
- If Lawyer's Hand is fee'd, sir
- He steals your whole estate
In the modern era, many complaints about lawyers fall into five general categories:
- abuse of litigation in various ways, including using dilatory tactics and false evidence and making frivolous arguments to the courts;
- preparation of false documentation, such as false deeds, contracts, or wills;
- deceiving clients and other persons and misappropriating property;
- procrastination in dealings with clients; and
- charging excessive fees.
A recurring theme, historically and today, is that of exorbitant legal fees consuming the entire value of property at stake in an estate or a dispute.
The tale of the freshly-acquitted horse thief pleading that the judge issue an arrest warrant for "that dirty lawyer of mine" because "Your honour, you see, I didn't have the money to pay his fee, so he went and took the horse I stole" is merely modernised to "he went and took the car I stole" with little or nothing else changed.
While recounting of an ethnic joke risks the label of racism, lawyers are perceived as a highly privileged class, seemingly accountable only to other lawyers; the Bar Association, the judges, even many of the politicians and legislators are their fellow lawyers who inevitably give them free rein. Furthermore, one does not choose their own ethnicity but may choose whether to pursue a career in law.
Lawyer jokes, of jokes about all professions, are often the most blunt and to the point:
What is the difference between a catfish and a lawyer?
One is a scum-sucking, bottom-feeding scavenger. The other is a fish.
Why don't sharks eat lawyers?
Oft retold is the anecdote where a wealthy lawyer, solicited for a charitable donation, replies "Did you realise my mother is dying of a long illness and has medical bills several times her income? Did you know my brother, a disabled veteran, is blind and in a wheelchair? Do you understand my sister is widowed and penniless with three dependent children? Well, since I don't give any money to them, why should I give any to you?"
Lawyer: "I have some good news for you"
Client: "What good news? You lost my case, I was convicted of a murder I did not commit and was sentenced to die in the electric chair."
Lawyer: "That's all true, but I got the voltage lowered."
Other anecdotes are based on logical fallacy, such as a lawyer defending a client on trial for killing his parents: "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I appeal to your basic decency to take mercy on this poor, defenceless orphan!"
Occasionally, lawyers themselves use self-deprecating humour about lawyers or the legal profession in an attempt to add levity to otherwise bland topics. Lawyers giving a talk, especially to the profession, often employ jokes as icebreakers.
- Beth Tripmacher (2002), Best Lawyer Jokes Ever, MetroBooks, ISBN 9781586636142
- Staff of BN (2002), Best Lawyer Jokes Ever, Barnes & Noble, ISBN 9780760728871
- Sterling Publishing Company (2003), Best Lawyer Jokes Ever, Sterling Publishing Company, ISBN 9781402709609
- Blanche Knott (1990), Blanche Knott's Truly Tasteless Lawyer Jokes, St. Martin's Paperbacks, ISBN 9780312922269
- Jeff Rovin (1992), Five Hundred Great Lawyer Jokes, Penguin Group, ISBN 9780451173874
- Jess M. Brallier (1992), Lawyers & other reptiles, Contemporary Books, ISBN 9780809239191
- Jess M. Brallier (1996), Lawyers and other reptiles II: the appeal, Contemporary Books
- Ellie Grossman (1993), Lawyers from Hell Joke Book, Signet, ISBN 9780451177582
- Alex Steuart Williams, Graham Francis Defries (2007), Lawyers Uncovered: Everything You Always Wanted to Know, But Didn't Want to Pay £500 an Hour to Find Out, Aurum Press, ISBN 9781906217082
- Mark Geoffrey Young (2011), The Best Ever Book of Lawyer Jokes: Lots and Lots of Jokes Specially Repurposed for You-Know-Who, Createspace Independent Pub, ISBN 9781468080131
- William L. Pfeifer, Jr. (2007), The Greatest Lawyer Jokes of All Time: A Collection of Humor about Attorneys and the Legal Profession, Pipers Willow, ISBN 9780978727772
- John Patrick Dolan, Dale Irvin (2008), The Lawyer's Joke Book: There Are Some Things a Rat Just Won't Do, Advantage Media Group, ISBN 9781599320687
- Stan D. Ross, Ysaiah Ross (1996), The Joke's On... Lawyers, Federation Press, ISBN 9781862872400
- Edward Phillips (2001), The Tiny Book of Lawyer Jokes, HarperCollins, ISBN 9780007128778
- Larry Wilde (1982), The official lawyers joke book, Bantam Books, ISBN 9780553201116
- Comp. Kuldeep Saluja, The Unofficial Joke Book of Lawyers SMS, Diamond Pocket Books, ISBN 9788184190113
- Larry Wilde (1987), The Ultimate Lawyers Joke Book, Bantam Books, ISBN 9780553267365
- Steven D. Price (2013), The World's Funniest Lawyer Jokes: A Caseload of Jurisprudential Jest, Skyhorse Publishing, ISBN 9781620879696
- Marc Galanter, Lowering the Bar: Lawyer Jokes and Legal Culture
- Daniel Kornstein (2005), Kill all the lawyers?: Shakespeare's legal appeal, U of Nebraska Press
- The Rape of the Lock, canto 3, l.21^2, Alexander Pope, 1717, cited by 
- Lowering the Bar: Lawyer Jokes and Legal Culture, Marc Galanter, page 72 
- Erin Barrett, Jack Mingo (Jan 31, 2002), Dracula was a Lawyer: Hundreds of Fascinating Facts from the World of Law, Conari Press, ISBN 9781573247184
- Lowering the Bar: Lawyer Jokes and Legal Culture, Marc Galanter, page 71 
- Geoffrey C. Hazard, Jr., Legal Ethics: A Comparative Study (2004) 60.
- Lowering the Bar: Lawyer Jokes and Legal Culture, Marc Galanter, page 70 
- Studies in Applied Interpersonal Communication, Michael T. Motley (editor) page 236
- Peter Hay, The book of legal anecdotes, Barnes & Noble, 1989, ISBN 9780880299763
- Laughter Ever After: Ministry of Good Humor, Donald Capps, http://books.google.ca/books?id=1QZhHbxsoeIC&pg=PA68
- You've Got To Be Kidding!: How Jokes Can Help You Think, John Capps, Donald Capps