I’ll admit that, when snorkeling in the Galapagos Islands a few years back, that old saw about sharks granting a lawyer a reprieve due to professional courtesy did cross my mind. The shark I saw was a distance away and clearly—thankfully!—wasn’t looking to take on some wet-suited tourists that particular day. I’ve heard that old lawyer-shark joke so many times I can do little more than snigger. My favorite comeback? “Nobody likes lawyers until they need one.”
Truly, though, lawyers do need a sense of humor. After all, they’re going to have to laugh off the world’s efforts to get free legal advice at cocktail parties, at lunch, or pretty much any time they see another human being above the age of 18. If it’s not about someone’s divorce, it will be about a will, or a desire to sue the kitchen contractor, or would you mind just sending a threatening missive—on letterhead, of course—to my company’s HR team? Just to show them that I mean business and all.
I have to laugh at the efforts of friends as well as distant acquaintances to get a little legal aid at the family rate. If I didn’t chuckle, I’d be annoyed. Do I go up to baker friends and ask, “Can I get that cupcake for free?” Do I suggest to my pharmacist a quick prescription on the house? At this point, I can’t really think of anyone I don’t have to pay upfront for their products or services.
So it’s laughable to me that so many people both value and devalue the service that lawyers provide. They want it, they need it, but they’d rather not pay for it. When a conversation begins with, “Would you mind . . .?,” I know I’m going to have to laugh, tell a bad joke of my own (“Do you know the problem with free legal advice? You get what you pay for.”), and make a referral to someone who handles that sort of thing. Because no matter how many times I tell people that I’ve never done a divorce, sued the kitchen contractor, or engaged in employment litigation, they still want to know what I think of their case. I think they need a lawyer who will take their case, there are folks who will, and I can find them for you.