Marc Galanter lectures on implications of lawyer jokes

by Jim Patterson Marc Galanter

Did you hear that Saddam Hussein took a hundred lawyers hostage and said that if his demands weren't met, he'd start releasing them one by one?

Question: How many lawyers does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: How many can you afford?

Legal scholar Marc Galanter has collected hundreds of lawyer jokes in Lowering the Bar: Lawyer Jokes and Legal Culture (University of Wisconsin Press, 2005), which is actually a scholarly treatise on the ways lawyer jokes reflect changing public attitudes about lawyer and the law.

Galanter, the John and Rylla Bosshard Professor of Law and South Asia Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and LSE Centennial Professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science, delivered a lecture at the law school February 21, cosponsored by Vanderbilt's Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities.

During the course of his research, Galanter tracked down thousands of lawyer jokes, ultimately using 300 in his book, which traces the evolution of jokes about lawyers. According to Galanter, lawyer jokes experienced a surge of popularity in the 1980s. He believes their increasing popularity reflects a corresponding increase in anxiety about the extent to which law has come to dominate lives in our society.

"The jokes are a screen on which people project their feelings about lawyers and the law," Galanter said.