Homer and Marge Simpson surely fall into the “average legal consumer” group that this weblog aims to protect. And their attorney Lionel Hutz most certainly fits the category of lawyers that we’d most like to influence (and slap upside the head). So, I did my duty and closely read the The Law of “The Simpsons” when I discovered the article last week, and I want to officially assign it as ethical CLE for counsellors at law everywhere.
Written by Minneapolis real estate attorney Larry M. Wertheim, the article first appeared in Bench & Bar of Minnesota (Feb. 2003), and has been reprinted in the current edition of The Docket [Denver Bar Assoc.], Vol. 25, No. 3, March 2004, with the unnecessarily-long new title, Legal Light Comes From ‘The Simpsons’: Life Imitates Simpsons Imitates Life. Given the proclivities of some of the best-known weblawggers, I was surprised to find no weblog links to the article, when I Googled it.
There is something here for everyone — from a compilation of the most significant legal problems faced by the Simpsons, and quotes from Lutz and Homer relevant to the status of lawyers in our society, to a discussion of hyper-irony as applied to lawyers. I won’t tempt you to skip this assignment by quoting excessively from the article in this space. However, I do want to point out, given my recent writings on lawyer marketing and branding, the author’s take on the subject (emphasis added):
Since the 1977 Supreme Court decision legalizing lawyer advertising, the commercialization of legal practices has continued apace. Besides being sleazy in the traditional sense, Hutz represents the ultimate “consumerization” of law. He offices under the name “I Can’t Believe It’s a Law Firm!” in the Springfield Shopping Mall, an indication that legal services are really no different from groceries.
Similarly, his marketing efforts are akin to those of the shopping mall. In seeking Bart’s personal injury case, he tells Homer, “You’ll be getting more than just a lawyer, Mr. Simpson. You’ll also be getting this exquisite faux pearl necklace, a $99 value, as our gift to you.”
Other highlights from the article, include discussion of:
- self-enforcing ethical rules, in the context of Rule 7.1(b) and creating unjustified expectations.
- “the real problem of applying guild-like ethics to a consumer culture. Although both practiced law in a town called Springfield, the modern-day Hutz is a far cry from “Honest” Abe Lincoln.”
- “our culture’s belief, based upon our TV lawyers, that the practice of law is really not all that complicated and that anyone could manage to maneuver the law.”
- the difficulties for laypersons of appearing before an unsympathetic judge, and of cross-examination (e.g., of the Devil).
- “the popular fear that in the legal process one’s future may be in the hands of lawyers like Hutz.”
The author concludes, “While there are not many Lionel Hutzes practicing, there is at least some of Lionel Hutz in too many lawyers. Moreover, with its ability both to attack targets like legal consumerism and incompetence and also to engage in Hyper-Irony, “The Simpsons” requires constant reexamination of all verities, including legal ones.”
I’m not sure lawyer Wertheim achieved his professed goal of eliciting the respect of his own children by writing this article. Maybe Joel and Ira Wertheim will leave a Comment at this weblog to let us know. Of course, thanks to the author’s explanation of hyper-irony, we can recommend the article without endorsing all or any of its contents.
Meanwhile, keep in mind the famous colloquy by Marge and Homer concerning Bart’s future:
Marge: Do you want your son to become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court or a sleazy male stripper?
Homer: Can’t he be both, like the late Earl Warren?
For comprehensive materials about lawyer Hutz, see The Lionel Hutz File at The Simpsons Archive, which includes personal information, academic history, business ads [e.g., "Don't wait, Litigate!"], and much more. Also, see The Best of Lionel Hutz from OirishTimes.com ; and the Hutz listing in Encyclopeida4U.
Update (03-25-04): Even the tasteful and culturally-astute Fool in the Forest is using Simpsons tie-ins to pump up his page hits. Hey, it works, even when we webloggers don’t. As an added bonus, Fool Wallace educates and elucidates while expounding.
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