Legal humour and the leading lawyer

Being Princess Diana's divorce lawyer you would think Anthony Julius would be laughing all the way to the bank. Instead he is wondering why the joke is on him and his profession.

“Why are lawyers the butt of so many jokes?” the Mishcon de Reya partner asked a lunchtime audience at University College London on 22 October.

Perhaps because only a lawyer would spend 45 minutes dissecting jokes by quoting French philosophers and using phrases like “hence the humorous utopianism”.

But Julius, whose entertaining lecture was liberally sprinkled with jokes about lawyers, anticipated this criticism

“Analyse jokes and we analyse our social selves and this leads to greater understanding,” he said. “Just as an unexplained life is not worth living, the unexamined joke is not worth telling.”

Julius, who defined a lawyer as “someone who persuades two people to strip and fight and then runs off with their clothes”, said jokes gave people a chance to hit back.

Then there is the jargon; “It's said a lawyer will teach his son the alleged facts of life,” said Julius.

He argued that much of the anti-lawyer sentiment had developed in the US, and added that the jokes did not travel well and were not particularly good or clever.

But far from launching any crusade to protect lawyers from the outrageous slings and arrows of a cynical public, Julius is in fact encouraging the fee-paying rabble.

Lawyers jokes, he concluded, were a foil to self-importance and they should be welcomed.