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Five Myths About Lawyers

As an alumnus of Yale Law School who spent less time practicing law than studying it, I take great pleasure in offering unrequested advice to people contemplating a career in law. Here are five myths about legal education and practice.

Myth #1: A legal education is a great means to embark on any of a variety of non-legal careers.

Absolutely true. If studying law doesn't get you to embark on a non-legal career, then nothing will.

Myth #2: Legal thought is intellectually rigorous.

Also true. Law students have been known to spend days debating whether an italicized comma differs in appearance from a normal comma, and which comma should be employed when citing sections of the United Hairstylists Personal Hygiene Code. As a lawyer might say, "that's not just rigor, that's rigor mortis." (i.e., "that's some deadly serious Latin rigor.")

Myth # 3: Life as a high-powered attorney at a big New York firm is exciting and glamorous.

This is entirely true, if:

1) You laugh uncontrollably when your great uncle Larry does his impersonation of Dwight Eisenhower eating potato salad;

2) Your adrenalin flows when you spot a typographical error in the want ads of the Guilford Post-Gazette; or

3) Your bedroom wall features a large framed photograph of you shaking hands with Home Depot's Vice President in Charge of Shower Curtain Inventory because it's a moment you wish to cherish forever.

Myth #4: Most national leaders went to law school, so if you go to law school, you will probably become a national leader.

If you subscribe to this myth, there are a few things you should know. First, you will bomb the LSAT so completely that your driver's license will be revoked. Second, there are other ways to become a national leader. You could make a billion dollars playing Internet poker, for example. Or you could get married to Renee Zellweger and three days later have the vows annulled. Or you could write a self-help book entitled "Reorganizing the FEMA Within." Remember that this is America and ergo ("ergo" is Latin for "out of the pale, pale blue") leadership is as close as the next episode of "The Apprentice."

Myth #5: Being a lawyer brings with it vast wealth.

The accessibility of big money is undeniable. Let's say you are a first-year associate in New York. Your parents tell all their friends, who experience such acute boredom that they drift away from the conversation to watch their cuticles age. But that is beside the point. The point is that you make about $125K a year. You work the standard 120 hours a week (and bill clients for at least twice that), so your job is equivalent to three jobs of 40 hours a week that each pay you $41,667 per year. Given your high tax bracket and the vodka martinis you feel compelled to buy for friends who are "artists" living off trust funds they never mention, you probably come away dead even with someone working normal hours at $29,000 per year. Namely the guy who conducts Jell-O salad taste tests for a nursing-home chain.

Ah, you say, but here's the rub: Whereas the Jell-O taster may never make anything of himself, you will one day become partner. Yes, partner! When that big ship docks at your port, you will have permission to use the partner-only bathroom, first pick of the firm's Shea Stadium seats right behind the visitors' dugout, and oodles and oodles of cash. You will stuff your mattress so full with Krugerrands that you will sleep with your face squished against the ceiling. Even after making payment on your two alimonies, three mortgages, and endless pharmacy bills for anti-depressants, you will have enough left over each month to buy two decaf triple grande mocha eggnog lattes.

But the question is: Will you be happy? And the answer is simple: Not if they're decaf.

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