Recently a teacher, a garbage collector and a lawyer wound up together at the Pearly Gates. St. Peter informed them that in order to get into heaven, they would each have to answer one question.
St. Peter addressed the teacher and asked, “What was the name of the ship that crashed into the iceberg? They made several movies about it.” The teacher answered quickly, “That would be the Titanic.” St. Peter let her through the gate.
St. Peter turned to the garbage man and, figuring Heaven didn’t really need all the odors this guy would bring with him, decided to make the question a little harder. “How many people died on the ship?” But the man had just seen the latest movie, and he answered, “About 1,500.”
“That’s right! You may enter,” said Peter.
Then St. Peter turned to the lawyer and said, “Name them.”
Having tried hundreds of divorce cases, I’ve come to believe that Dr. Samuel Johnson was right. Many divorcing couples are like two people ducking their heads in a bucket and daring each other to remain longest under water.
Boundary line cases are dangerous, more so than criminal cases, child custody cases or dog kicking cases. Many fist fights in this area have occurred due to boundary disputes. A friend of mine, a lawyer in McMinnville, was murdered because he angered one of the parties in a boundary line case. Some men value their land more than their wives. I have seen many and been involved in some in which the contending landowners spent more on fees of lawyers, surveyors and other items than the land in contention was worth. I always explored the possibilities of settling out of court, but quite often, emotions prevented a reasonable compromise.
Abraham Lincoln advised lawyers to discourage litigation, “As a peacemaker, the lawyer has a superior opportunity of becoming a good man. There will always be enough business. Never stir up litigation. A worse man can scarcely be found than one who does this. Who can be more nearly a fiend than he who habitually overhauls the register of deeds in search of defects in titles, whereupon to stir up strife and put money in his pocket. A moral tone ought to be infused into the profession which should drive such men out of it.”
Lincoln practiced what he preached. A farmer who got into a boundary dispute with a neighbor once went to Lincoln to secure his services. But Lincoln told him, “Now if you go on with this, it will cost both of your farms and will entail an enmity that will last for generations and perhaps lead to murder. The other man has just been here to engage me. Now, I want you two to sit down in my office while I am gone to dinner and talk it over and try to settle it. And, to secure you from any interruptions, I will lock the door.”
As the farmer told it, Lincoln did not return for the rest of the afternoon, and “we two men, finding ourselves shut up together, began to laugh. This put us in good humor, and by the time Mr. Lincoln returned, the matter was settled.”
I have written before about my dislike of advertising by lawyers, especially those tasteless commercials on television. But as our Tennessee Supreme Court recently opined, “We cannot adjudicate good taste.”
Until about 50 years ago, there was a great debate about whether lawyers should be allowed to advertise their services, and in many countries today, the practice is still forbidden or frowned upon.
In a book published more than a century ago, we find the following notice:
“To be sold, on the 8th of July, 151 suits in law, the property eminent attorney, about to retire from business. Nota bene: the clients are rich and obstinate.”
I am indebted to The Book of Legal Anecdotes by Peter Hays, published by Barnes & Noble in 1993, for some of the stories told in this month’s column. Many more are found in this delightful book. I will probably refer to them more than once in future columns.
This column discusses legal issues of general interest and does not give legal advice on any reader’s personal situation. The law is not a one-size-fits-all hat. Consult a lawyer of your choice.