Joking about International Law

by Duncan Hollis

First of all, I’d like to thank Chris, Peggy, Julian, Rodger and Kevin for inviting me to join Opinio Juris. I’m looking forward to plenty of posts on the major international law issues of the day (which, today, as Julian pointed out, is the Supreme Court’s oral arguments in Hamdan). But, analogizing to the conventional-wisdom for public speakers, I wanted my inaugural post to offer some lighter fare – a joke perhaps. Now, there are, as we all know, hundreds if not thousands of lawyer jokes; indeed, at least one law professor has devoted a book to the phenomenon. But, what about the international lawyer? Where are the jokes about us?

In all my time studying and practicing international law, I’ve only heard one joke involving an international lawyer. It was told by the late Keith Highet to open a debate on the need for an international criminal court (he actually told it by offering sequential translation of both its French and English versions—a dying art among public international lawyers). If I recall it correctly, the joke went something like this:

A man is flying a hot air balloon and realizes he is lost. He reduces height and spots a man down below. He lowers the balloon and shouts, “Excuse me. Can you help me? I promised a friend I’d meet him an hour ago, but I don’t know where I am.”

The man below says, “Well, it looks to me like you’re in a hot air balloon floating over the countryside.”

“You must be an international lawyer,” says the balloonist.

“I am,” replies the man. “How did you know?”

“Well,” says the balloonist, “everything you have told me is absolutely true, but of no practical value since I’m still lost.”

The man below says, “You must be a diplomat.”

“I am,” replies the balloonist, “but how did you know?”

“Well,” says the man below, “you don’t know where you are, or where you are going, You have made a promise which you have no idea how to keep, and you expect me to solve your problem. The fact is you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but now it is somehow my fault.”

Now, obviously this joke can be varied to fit the profession (see here for its application to engineers and managers). It’s also directed more at the diplomat than the lawyer. So, what say you Opinio Juris readers; are there any truly original international lawyer jokes out there? If not, can we come up with a few to give us some semblance of respectability with our legal colleagues?

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