A twit by a young lawyer, who shall remain nameless as the point of this post isn’t to shame him and he seems to otherwise be a good guy, caught my eye. It was obviously twitted for its humor:
A thing that really happened today:
Attorney: “And how do you know that?”
Witness: “I don’t know, hearsay around the neighborhood.”
Me: “Objection, hearsay.”
Judge: “Overruled. I’ll allow it.”
His point in twitting this wasn’t lost on me. He was telling a funny story about some absurd thing happening in court. Law, so dumb, right? Being a curmudgeon, I replied:
You asked an open-ended question like that on cross? What did you expect would happen?
He responded, “Come on, Scott, we’re all just having fun here. Carry on.” So it was just for lulz, which somehow makes ignorance funny because a bunch of insipid people don’t know any better, and are now just a wee bit stupider for the cheap laugh?
Maybe you can explain to me why it’s funny. I don’t find it funny in itself. I find it even less funny because it reflected legal incompetence. Some jokes are incredibly witty if you have sufficient knowledge to get why they’re funny. Other jokes are funny only when you’re so ignorant that you don’t grasp that it’s not a joke at all.
It was a poorly framed question for cross. The answer was not just responsive, but totally not hearsay. The objection was wrong. The ruling was right. But even if none of these things was so, I don’t get the joke. Apparently, I’m alone at this, as the twit has well over 5,000 likes at the moment, many of whom are from twitterers I know to be young lawyers. Some I thought to have potential to mature into competent lawyers.
And that’s what worries me. There are many kid jokes I don’t get, often pop culture references that are a few decades after my time. I realize this. I try not to be a wet blanket even though I have no clue what the joke is.
But cross-examination? I know it. I teach it. This was a demonstration of flagrant incompetence at every level. So maybe, this being twitter and it clearly being offered for the lulz, I should have kept my nose out and not been a cross pedant. So what if the question sucked? So what if the objection was wrong? So what if what I suspect to be the funny part of the joke was correct and, at least to me, not funny? Just because I don’t like a joke doesn’t mean I have to ruin it for others?
And indeed, that was the reaction, with one caveat. Not only did many other, though not all, baby lawyers find the joke funny, even if I didn’t, but most had no clue, not even an inkling, that the funny joke reflected flagrant legal incompetence. The first baby lawyer to reply wrote:
Pretty sure OC asked the open-ended question and he objected to the answer.
Yes, he did. This was a lawyer.*
In the old days, baby lawyers tried to hang out with experienced lawyers and soak in some knowledge. We hung around with our own for fun, but we learned from lawyers who knew what they were doing. We knew damn well that we didn’t have a clue.
There’s a exceptionally different atmosphere in social media. Whether it’s the false bravado of poseurs or the unwarranted self-esteem of youth, I don’t know. What I know is that baby lawyers are all over social media pontificating about stuff they know nothing about. They passed the bar? They’re geniuses. But have they tried a case? Can they try a case? Not if they don’t know how to craft a question on cross-examination. Not if they don’t know what’s objectionable hearsay and what’s not.
They are out there pontificating about the law to non-lawyers, to each other, to their professors and, ahem, to their far more experienced colleagues. They’re brash. They’re brazen. They’re bold. And they’re clueless, which is far more kind than calling them dangerous morons. They neither know it nor care that they are incompetent to try a case if they cannot perform the basic functions.
I hesitate to call them stupid, as stupid can’t be fixed, but they demonstrate neither the knowledge of law and procedure to show basic competence, nor awareness of their ignorance such that they want to learn. They’re full of hubris, passion and unwarranted self-esteem. They’re a few quarts low on knowledge, experience and skills.
But I don’t get the joke, so what do I know?
*In fairness, there were a great many baby lawyers, and others, offering their views. There’s no reason to expect non-lawyers to grasp what’s wrong here, and it’s somewhat understandable that they would find this funny, not realizing the answer that included the word “hearsay” wasn’t hearsay, such that the ruling would appear silly. In other words, if you had no legal knowledge, this could be funny for all the wrong reasons. But this was twitted by a lawyer, and many other baby lawyers thought it was funny, which was shocking.