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Lowering the Bar
Lawyer Jokes and Legal Culture
Marc Galanter

“Hilarious and philosophical at the same time, a nifty probe of the genre, regularly guilty of wise humor.”—Carlin Romano, Philadelphia Inquirer

What do you call 600 lawyers at the bottom of the sea? Marc Galanter calls it an opportunity to investigate the meanings of a rich and time-honored genre of American humor. Lowering the Bar analyzes hundreds of jokes from Mark Twain classics to contemporary anecdotes about Dan Quayle, Johnnie Cochran, and Kenneth Starr. Drawing on representations of law and lawyers in the mass media, political discourse, and public opinion surveys, Galanter finds that the increasing reliance on law coexists uneasily with anxiety about the “legalization” of society. Always entertaining, his book explores the tensions between Americans’ deep-seated belief in the law and their ambivalence about lawyers.

“I never realized how funny and serious lawyer jokes could be. Galanter does to lawyer jokes what Freud did to Jewish jokes in his classic Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, but sometimes a good joke is just a good joke.”
—Alan Dershowitz, author of Rights from Wrongs


Two lawyers are sitting at a bar drinking when a stunning blonde in a skin-tight, low-cut dress slinks by. One of them stares for a minute, then turns to his buddy and says, ‘Boy, would I like to screw her!’ The other lawyer asks, ‘Out of what?’”

“An ancient, nearly blind old woman retained the local lawyer to draft her last will and testament, for which he charged her two hundred dollars. As she rose to leave, she took the money out of her purse and handed it to him, enclosing a third hundred dollar bill by mistake. Immediately the attorney realised he was faced with a crushing ethical question: Should he tell his partner?”

“Q: How many lawyers does it take to change a light bulb? A: How many can you afford?”

—excerpts from Lowering the Bar

Photo of author Marc Galanter. Photo is copyrighted © by Bob Rashid, the photographer, and should not be used for anything but publicity for this book.Marc Galanter is the John and Rylla Bosshard Professor Emeritus of Law at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and Centennial Professor in the Department of Law at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Media & bookseller inquiries regarding review copies, events, and interviews can be directed to the publicity department at or (608) 263-0734. (If you want to examine a book for possible course use, please see our Course Books page. If you want to examine a book for possible rights licensing, please see Rights & Permissions.)

There is a press kit available for this book with additional publicity materials, see Galanter.

Of Related Interest:
Habeas Codfish
Reflections on Food and the Law
Barry M. Levenson

Folk Law
Essays in the Theory and Practice of Lex Non Scripta
Edited by Alison Dundes Renteln and Alan Dundes
2 volume set

cover of Lowering the Bar is black, with an illustration of a blue man with a briefcase crushed by a white anvil, inscribed with a lawyer joke

October 2006

LC: 2005005443 K
448 pp.   7 x 10    57 b/w illus.

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Paper $32.95 s
ISBN: 978-0-299-21354-1
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This is the logo of Terrace Books. To the left of the text is a red book with the UW Student Union Terrace chair reversed out in white.

A trade imprint of the University of Wisconsin Press

The cloth edition, ISBN 978-0-299-21350-3 is out of print.

“This book should be on every folklorist’s and lawyer’s shelf, although the latter may want to put it in a plain brown wrapper.”
—Jan Harold Brunvand, author of Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid: The Book of Scary Urban Legends

“Anyone who finds lawyer jokes humorous (including most lawyers) or has always wondered about how and why they became so popular will very much enjoy this ‘lowering of the bar.’”
—Alan J. Couture, ForeWord Magazine

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