Trash Talk in the Legal Profession

Trash Talk in the Legal Profession

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Trash Talk in the Legal Profession

The legal profession is one of the most competitive crafts out there. So competitive it can be toxic at times. That being, lawyers are no stranger to trash talk just like in competitive sports.

Banter and trash talk in the legal profession starts as early as law school. I can still remember my freshman orientation in the college of law where we were told that there are only two law schools in the country: our law school and the others. Trash talk at this stage is rooted in competition. Bar exams competition to be exact. Law schools want to have the best rating during the bar exams and so they instill in the minds of their students that law school is a competition. You waver from that and you are out – go find another law school. It is heartless, ruthless, or even misplaced, but that is how it is.

In class, you will get belittled a lot by your professors. “You expect to become a lawyer with that demeanor mister whatchaname?” “I do not want to hear your beliefs.” “Are you sure you finished college?” “You looked like you spent more time in front of the mirror than with your law books.” It is nerve-wracking, frustrating, but you have to go through that if you want to be a lawyer.

And then you become a lawyer where you will realize that despite all its perceived glamour, lawyering does not always mean that you will only hear praises from the public. In fact, often lawyers find themselves to be the butt of jokes. Honestly, how many lawyer jokes are out there? Just google “lawyer jokes” and you will be given an endless array of lawyer jokes from the benign ones to the truly offensive ones which makes you think, man, lawyers have haters.

Probably one of the most common lawyer jokes that gets thrown around was about the new lawyer who was able to expedite the conclusion of a case being handled by his lawyer father. When he told that to his father, his father told him he was a fool and was promptly advised that he just killed the goose that was laying the golden eggs. This joke is actually a dig about how lawyers tend to drag cases for years. It is actually insulting but I am sure you had a laugh the first time you heard it.

The insults do not just come from the general public. They come from your clients as well. I am a Public Attorney and one of the unfortunate blurt-outs we hear from our clients is “Wala kaming pera kaya magpa-PAO lang kami.” (We have no money so we will just take the PAO’s legal service). I understand that clients unwittingly say this with no offense meant but it still hurts being treated like a second choice (Hugot, anyone?). Of course at the end of the day we make our clients realize, through dedication, brilliance (ehem), and hardwork, that the service of the PAO is at par, or even better, than our colleagues in the private practice.

Clients would also relay harsh words being said against you by the opposing party: “Sige maniwala ka diyan sa pulpul mong abogado.” (Alright, have faith in your stupid lawyer.) “Sino ba iyang pipityugin mong abogado?” (Who is that small time lawyer of yours?)

You would also hear trash talk from your fellow lawyers. Who would forget the trash talk between Atty. Gonzales and Atty. Aquino in G.R. No. L-23908 where the latter called the former a “blockhead” and a “mental pachyderm”. Or the recent case (A.C. No. 11810) of the very controversial Atty. Gadon who implied that the opposing lawyer was “an ambulance chaser full of bravado and grandstanding”. There are also generic insults like how litigation lawyers sneer at non-litigation lawyers who they like to call as glorified desk lawyers. And of course the so-called glorified desk lawyers would also hit back by saying, they do not need to practice because they have already perfected lawyering.

My professor in Negotiable Instruments Law told us that he was once called by an opposing counsel as a two-faced lawyer. He replied by saying “Well if I have two faces I will not be wearing this one.”

There are also some stories and actual cases about how judges insult lawyers appearing in their sala. In the case of Atty. Fernandez vs. Judge Belo (107 Phil. 1140), Judge Belo told the lawyer that he does not deserve his attorney’s fee because Atty. Fernandez was a “below average standard of a lawyer“.

In recent news, you might have heard about COMELEC Commissioner Guanzon implying that only the arguments of lawyers from UP and Ateneo are worth her time. That is trash talk right there but that is just college of law level trash talk. Let us be honest though, at one point, we were a Commissioner Guanzon. We also collectively regarded other lawyers or law students not from our respective law schools as the lowly “others”.

Trash talk in the legal profession is here to stay. I do not want to say it is normal but it is not unusual. For the legal purists out there who regard the legal profession as the noblest profession, trash talk is a no-no as it tends to degrade the profession.

Personally, a friendly banter is okay. There is also an art to it especially on how to have a good comeback. However, we do have to bear in mind that there is a thin red line between competitive banter and unethical trash talk. After all, we owe it to the profession, the court, our colleagues, and our clients, to have a character beyond reproach.

For the new lawyers, you will encounter trash talk whether you like it or not. Be offended if you may but do not get stressed out on every banter or trash talk directed at you. Otherwise, it will make lawyering unbearable for you. Learn to take them in stride but also be vigilant enough to make sure that those banters or trash talk do not put the legal profession in disrepute. For if it comes to that point, a lawyer does have the duty to uphold and defend the legal profession.

Lastly, contextualize trash talk. Even Shakespeare’s “kill all the lawyers” line in 2 Henry VI can be interpreted either as an insult to lawyers or an affirmation that if you want a dysfunctional society, get rid of one of its pillars.

Lawyer Jokes

Author: Howard Chan

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