Legally Speaking: I can't make this stuff up

By John G. Browning | Sep 3, 2013

I’m proud to be a lawyer.  I make a comfortable living, and I get to help people and companies solve their problems and resolve their disputes.

But apparently, not that many members of my profession share this sense of pride.  According to a recent survey by the national recruiting agency Randstad, only 59 percent of those working in the “legal sector” were proud to be a part of it, far below those who work in the insurance industry (90 percent), the property and real estate field (83 percent), the media (81 percent) and utilities (76 percent).

Yet there are a lot of positives about the legal profession: for one thing, lawyers are a lot less likely to get killed at work.  Just take a stroll through the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest cheery contribution to our summer reading lists, the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries.

The bad news from the report is that 4,383 people died at work last year.  Transportation incidents were the most common causes, followed by workplace violence, getting struck by something, falling, and exposure to deadly substances or fire.

Luckily for me and virtually all of the other lawyers out there, these aren’t exactly common occupational hazards for lawyers.  Only eight people in the legal industry died at work last year, according to these BLS statistics (lawyers tied with those in the computer and mathematical fields for lowest risk of death at work).  So, we have that going for us at least.

And, we get to work in a legal system chock-full of built-in humor and other lighter moments.  I mean, where else could you see a man whose legal name is “Beezow Doo-Doo Zobittybop-Bop-Bop” (can we call you Bop for short) get arrested?

Not surprisingly, the 32-year-old man with the unusual name (he was born Jeffrey Drew Wilschke, but had it legally changed in October 2011) was arrested on a drug-related offense, possession of marijuana with intent to manufacture.

The Madison, Wisc., man with the name straight out of a David Lee Roth song was stopped July 20, 2013, for driving a minivan with an expired registration sticker.  Sheriff’s deputies found marijuana, more than 100 small plastic bags, scales and marijuana pipes in the vehicle; if convicted, Zobittybop-Bop-Bop faces up to five years in prison.  Something tells me he’ll probably wind up with a new name in prison too.

And from the “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” department, we bring you the tale of Andy’s ex-wife.  Recently, we shared the story of a man so embittered at having to pay a court judgment that he paid the debt in quarters—7,500 pounds of them.

Courtesy of, this week a Nebraska man named Andy posted images of his ex-wife’s unconventional way of paying $50.12 she was ordered to pay him as part of their divorce settlement.  The ex paid the amount (almost) entirely in pennies, sending Andy three plastic bins filled with $47.12 in pennies (a note explaining the other $3 went to pay for the plastic bins they arrived in, and rice and beans (as a nod to her Latina heritage).  I pity the poor bank teller who has to count all those out.

Many people have brushes with the law in their youth, but few have gotten as early a start as Caidence Leadbitter of West Midlands, England.  Caidence recently received a warning letter from local police for civil disobedience and anti-social behavior, allegedly because elderly neighbors reported feeling “intimidated” and “harassed” by gatherings of children stomping on local plants and trees.

Caidence, by the way, is 3 years old.  Her mother, Kelly Leadbitter, is outraged by what she sees as ridiculous accusations and an overzealous police force.  Isn’t this what time-outs and being sent to bed without supper are for?

Finally, where else but the legal system can you see lawyers being criticized for speaking like . . . well, lawyers?  In a recent case from Florida’s First District Court of Appeals, Parris v. Cummins Power South (Aug. 13, 2013), Jerral Parris appealed the dismissal of his lawsuit against the defendant boat repair company because the opposing lawyer used confusing Latin terms like “collateral estoppel” and “res judicata.”

Mr. Parris represented himself (or was “pro se,” as we fancy Latin-spouting lawyers like to say, a term that roughly translates to “couldn’t afford a lawyer”).

Parris claimed that the boat company’s lawyer “chose to dredge up these esoteric terms from a dead language to confound, stupefy, [and] isolate” him.  He also argued that the “use of Latin is a violation of [his] Constitutional Rights as a citizen of the United States of America,” and that the legal profession embraces a culture of allowing attorneys to “extract a fee by chanting unknown terms from a dead language.”

In all fairness to Parris, arguably the preeminent authority on legal writing and usage, Professor Bryan Garner, has also bemoaned the profession’s needless use of Latin phrases.

As he states in his authoritative work, A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage, “The rightful objects of our condemnation are the bombastic, vestigial Latinisms that serve no purpose but to give the writer a false sense of erudition.  These terms convey no special meanings, no delicate nuances apprehended only by lawyers.  They are pompous, turgid deadwood.”

But while the Florida appellate court expressed some sympathy for Parris’ position—admitting that the specialized vocabulary of lawyers “can obscure meaning and detract from comprehension even for those laboring within the guild”—Parris’ claim didn’t form a basis for any relief.

The court held that “The assertion that lawyers (and presumably judges too) who speak in legalisms violate litigants’ constitutional rights is frivolous.”

So there’s yet another reason to enjoy being a lawyer: getting to use words other people don’t understand.

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