by John Denvir
I once feared that my greatest
contribution to human knowledge would be the coining of the term
"webitor." But now I think I am on to something much
larger, the term 'lawyerpity" (the "l" is always
in the lower case and the accent is on the second syllable).
It denotes a feeling of relief that no matter how much a mess
you have made of your life, at least no one can ever accuse you
of being a lawyer.
In the old days, popular culture
often admired lawyers and sometimes feared them. Once in a while,
they were even objects of affection like good old Atticus Finch.
But after a short transitory stage where lawyers were objects
of contempt and ridicule, now we are seen as objects worthy of
pity, and, worse yet, projects for redemption.
I think that future cultural
historians will mark Liar, Liar as the first entry in
the lawyerpity genre; Boston Legal and Courting Alex
are two current examples. I myself was introduced to lawyerpity
by the movie The Shaggy Dog, a story in which a lawyer
has the good fortune to become a dog. Before his metamorphosis
he was the perfect lawyerpity icon, the fool who thinks he's
Shaggy Dog begins with
Assistant District Attorney Dave Douglas (Tim Allen of the sitcom
Home Improvement) trying a big case he hopes will catapult
him into the DA's job. The defendant is a high school teacher
animal rights advocate who is accused of torching a drug company
that uses animals for research purposes. The defendant is innocent,
but neither that fact nor that the defendant is his teenage daughter's
favorite teacher discourages Douglas from using the case to advance
Lawyer Douglas is not a very
sympathetic character. He ignores his wife and two kids and doesn't
even like dogs. Then Douglas gets lucky. He is bitten by a dog
and the canine DNA particles morph him into a shaggy sheepdog.
It's in the canine state that he finds wisdom, realizing that
his son should act in the school musical rather than attempt
to play football like Dad did in high school and that his daughter
is a courageous animal rights advocate, not a potential sex addict.
He also realizes that he loves his wife. Who says you can't teach
an old dog new tricks? After clearing the innocent defendant
of the crime and capturing the real villain (charmingly played
by Robert Downey, Jr.), Douglas puts his career on hold and takes
his family for a vacation in Hawaii. I warned you about the redemption
The current The Shaggy Dog
is a remake of a 1959 film of the same name In the earlier film,
the father was a dog-hating mailman; now he's a lawyer. In Boston
Legal, Denny Crane (William Shatner) is a Neanderthal trial
lawyer who sexually propositions almost every woman he meets.
In Courting Alex, Alex (Jenna Elfman) is a workaholic
attorney who works in her Dad's firm where she is kept safe from
personal happiness. The important fact to remember about lawyerpity
products is that the lawyer is not merely the object of ridicule.
He or she is also an opportunity for the audience to experience
pity and compassion. Therefore, poor Denny is dying of Mad Cow
Disease and manages to male bond with his law partner Alan Shore
(James Spader); and we all hope that someday (maybe in season
five) Alex will get it together to have a normal love life. But
these warm feelings experienced by the audience carry a high
price for members of the legal profession-lawyerpity.
It's not happenstance that
these pitiful characters are lawyers. It's how popular culture
now pictures the profession. Lawyers are focused on financial
success and prestige in their professional life, but this apparent
success is undercut by the fact that they are clueless in the
realm of personal relationships where popular culture tells us
true happiness resides. Yet redemption is possible, even for
While redemption is tempting,
I think the profession should reject it and fight back. What's
so great about personal relationships anyhow? A Beemer will outlast
your average relationship by a large margin. And there's no resale
value in an old relationship anyway. Besides a lot of happy people
are overweight; most of the other ones don't dress well. Who
wants happiness when you can have success? Let's face it. Happiness
is for losers. Lawyers rule! lawyerpity is libel. I say "Let's
sue the bastards."
Posted April 12, 2006
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