Lawyer’s jokes

When I was a law clerk I drew up the initial draft of an opinion, including a short comic poem at the start reciting the facts. The judge—a very wise man who had been solving very serious sociolegal disputes before I was born—told me that it was funny but that an opinion wasn’t the place for it. The parties, he said, took their dispute seriously and may be insulted by levity. So he took it out.

You may be tempted to say something funny in a brief: a terrific play on words, a joke, a sarcastic comment. Don’t. The best that you can hope for is: (1) the judge and clerk don’t think that your levity is insulting to the gravity of the dispute; (2) they agree with you that it’s funny; (3) they appreciate your taking up their time with the joke; and (4) they respect and are not threatened by your wit. If you don’t get all four, you lose credibility. Care to calculate your chances?

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