By necessity, all lawyers must have a giant brain, a point that is best illustrated by the story of a lawyer I'll call Dan. An overweight but nimble man of 350 pounds, Dan was a lawyer without a giant brain. Sure, he was bright enough—he passed the bar exam, for example. But even so, Dan’s brain was just too small for him to excel in the legal profession. How did I know? I knew because of something he told me just after he became a licensed lawyer: namely, that after twenty-six years of being teased about his weight, he was looking forward to the way everyone would now be able to look past his rolls of fat and admire and respect him simply because he’d become a lawyer.
How ironic, I remember thinking, that such a gigantic body could be home to such a tiny brain. Admire and respect him because he was a lawyer? When Dan uttered those words, I had to chew on my knuckles to keep from laughing. Then my knuckles gave way and I really did laugh. But my hand was still in my mouth and Dan thought I was trying to retrieve a bit of a chicken wing that had become lodged in my throat. If I hadn’t have come to my senses and stopped him before he tightened the grasp he had assumed around my chest, Dan would have killed me with the Heimlich maneuver. But I broke free, and it only made me laugh some more. Dan, on the other hand, didn’t laugh at all. For such a jolly-looking fellow, he never really did have much of a sense of humor.
As I look back on that moment, I know it was wrong of me to laugh. Why? Because in a single innocent comment, Dan had made the entire trajectory of his legal career plain to see: as a lawyer, he simply didn’t stand a chance. In that single comment about lawyers being “respected,” he’d betrayed the peanut-sized nature of his mind. Admittedly, things looked good for awhile. Dan got a job in a large defense firm, figured out how to review documents, and even seemed to understand how to work the phones. But that’s when the trouble started. Now that Dan was a real-life lawyer, he decided he should start reading the newspaper. He thought it would help him keep up on current events. Why Dan had never looked at a newspaper before that moment is a question that’s beyond the scope of this essay. The important thing is that Dan did start reading the newspaper, and it was only then he learned about the public's hatred for lawyers. The public, of course, hates lawyers even more than it hates fat people. All of it was so shocking to Dan—who, after all, was already very sensitive as a result of being picked on since the age of five—that he became despondent and wouldn’t get out of bed. Within two weeks, he’d lost his job.
It was an unfortunate turn of events, but it wasn’t necessarily the end. Looking back, I wonder why Dan didn’t simply pick up the phone and give me a call. I would have reminded him of the chicken wing episode and we would have had a good laugh. But Dan didn’t pick up the phone. Instead, he drove himself to a bridge spanning the Mississippi River and leaped to his death. Those of us who knew Dan didn’t learn about the tragedy until four weeks later when his body washed up in Memphis, more bloated than ever and very chewed up by the catfish.
Though a gruesome tale, it's a fitting example of what can happen to a lawyer whose brain is too small for the profession. Although examples abound, the important thing to remember is this: a lawyer’s brain must be pretty damn big. In lay terms, it must fit firmly inside the lawyer’s skull and weigh about as much as a regulation-size football. How should the lawyer’s brain compare to those found in other professions? Generally speaking, the lawyer’s brain should be several sizes larger than a stockbroker’s but not quite as large as a otolaryngologist's. It should be larger than a bouncer's at a strip club but not quite as large as a theoretical physicist's. It should be bigger than a coffee mug but not quite as large as a breadbox.
In rare instances, the lawyer’s brain might exceed these requirements, which will enable the fortunate lawyer to moonlight as a weblogger or tell a law professor why he’s wrong about the law. Anything smaller than this, however, is completely unacceptable, and will lead to misfortune, heartbreak, and even—as in Dan’s case—death by suicide. Although this sounds unusually harsh, it’s simply the nature of the beast, a beast whose defining characteristic can be best summed up in a single line that is also the perfect way to bring this essay to a close, to wit: Unless the beast possesses a giant brain, he’s just no beast at all.
In the future, it might become easier to state the exact dimensions of a lawyer’s brain. If the rumors are true, a team of researchers from the Manhattan Institute is engaged at this moment in a project that might answer this very question. It works like this. After the lawyer is sacrificed for the greater good of science, his brain is removed, pickled, and carefully dissected. Reportedly, researchers have already made a breakthrough: last month, they located the part of the brain responsible for making some lawyers such bores at parties. It was right next to the part of the brain that makes most bores want to appear on cable TV. Not only does this explain why lawyers on cable TV are so boring, but it also means that researchers might one day be able to engineer a lawyer who will both turn down a chance to appear on Geraldo and know how to tell a story that makes someone laugh.
Even lawyers with giant brains can appreciate the import of this news.[Like this post? It's one of many included in my book How to Feed a Lawyer (And Other Irreverent Oberservations from the Legal Underground). Details here.]
1. The Circle of Advisors, One in An Ongoing Series of Essays on "Things Important to Every Lawyer"
2. The Lawyer's Briefcase, Another in An Ongoing Series of Essays on "Things Important to Every Lawyer."