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Plug the term “lawyer jokes” into the Yahoo! search engine, and it yields more than 300,000 entries. There are lawyer jokes for every occasion. Jokes about lawyers in heaven and in hell. Lawyers in the courtroom and bedroom. Lawyers’ fees and greed. Q: How many lawyers does it take to change a light bulb? A: How many can you afford? Q: What’s the difference between a good lawyer and a great lawyer? A: A good lawyer knows the law. A great lawyer knows the judge. Q: What do lawyers do after they die? A: They lie still. And don’t forget those jokes comparing lawyers to a variety of sub-human species, ranging from sharks, vultures, bulldogs, snakes and porcupines to myriad rodents. One of the newest lawyer jokes on the air is TNN’s “Gary the Rat,” a cartoon about a handsome, highly credentialed but spiritually bereft Wall Street lawyer in Manhattan who literally turns into a rat. Presumably, the change occurs because of his despicable personality as he engages in “winning” what is commonly called “the rat race.” The show’s executive producer is Kelsey Grammer, star of NBC’s “Frasier,” and he also supplies the voice of the rattorney. Sandwiched between “Ren & Stimpy” and “Stripperella,” “Gary the Rat” premiered on June 26, one of a trilogy of adult-oriented cartoons called “The Strip.” After a brief legal skirmish with filmmaker Spike Lee over its name, cable network TNN calls itself “Spike TV,” television’s first network for men. In “Gary the Rat,” poor Gary Andrews wakes up one morning after having turned into a large rodent. He calls in sick, but soon returns to work, determined to make the best of his situation. Gary’s boss, Mr. Harrison, an overbearing, cigar-smoking senior partner, warns that Gary’s rattitude may cost him his job. Worried, Gary seeks help from a psychiatrist, but to no avail. Luckily, Harrison discovers that clients don’t mind having a rat as a lawyer, especially when he prevails in court, which Gary does, defending unpopular clients such as tobacco companies. How do Texas lawyers rate “Gary the Rat”? Six attorneys who critiqued episode two say “Gary the Rat” is a one-joke show bogged down by stereotypes. “I’m a lover of comedy and anything irreverent,” says Susanne K. Sullivan, 31, an associate with the labor and employment section at Baker & Hostetler in Houston. “I was expecting to like it, even if part of me took offense at it as a lawyer. But it was uninspired. … All the characters were very pat, very boring. … They could have … made it interesting or funny, [but] … they played to the lowest common denominator.” John Davis Powell, 33, a civil litigation associate with Edwards & George in Houston, says he was “somewhat disappointed” by the show, particularly after having explored the show’s elaborate Web site, where he confesses to having played the “Gary the Rat” video golf game. “I guess I thought [the show] was going to be funny,” he says, but “I didn’t find it engaging. I found it extremely slow.” His negative response was good news for Sullivan, however, who is his wife. She says she had one major concern while watching the show with him: “I was afraid … we’d get to the end and … he would say, ‘Oh that was good.’ And I would be horrified and have to divorce him. But thankfully, he lived up to my view. … We really were shocked because there was nothing funny about it. It was … just … garbage.” “I just didn’t really find it interesting at all,” says Tom Cocke, 36, a staff attorney at Christus Health in Houston. “There were a couple of good lines. Some of the writing was pretty witty, but not enough to save the show by any means. It wasn’t funny. I didn’t see what the point of the show was.” His wife, Leslie Cocke, 36, an associate with the Houston office of Gordon Arata McCollam Duplantis and Eagan, concurs. “I’d say to Tom: ‘I don’t get it, did I miss something?’ And he’d say: ‘I don’t know what they’re going for — except that, obviously, Gary is a rat.’ “ “Some people may claim that we lawyers didn’t find it funny because we are lawyers and it makes fun of lawyers,” she says. “But that wasn’t the case at all. It wasn’t that I was being overly sensitive; it’s just that I didn’t think it was funny.” “There were parts where I found myself laughing, but I just didn’t think it was that good,” says Houston attorney Ellyn Haikin Josef, 28, of South Texas College of Law’s Legal Clinic, which, with the assistance of law students, provides legal services for the indigent. Although she found the show’s animation “awesome,” she doubts she’d watch it again. “It’s a clever show and a clever concept,” says Houston solo Michael Josephson, 28, who says he’d consider watching it again. “I definitely think they played into society’s perception of an attorney. This guy got his just desserts. He got what was coming to him. He was a victim of his own success.” Although he deems it a one-joke show, Josephson says it was hard to “connect the dots” and follow the plot, possibly because he missed the first episode. “It’s a very unusual show, between the exterminator who lives in the bug cave … who is in love with his cat, and a rat attorney who has issues with his mother and can’t find a date,” Josephson says. It’s just the type of oddball show that might get an audience, he adds, although the execution left something to be desired. “If there’s an audience for the show, it would be young single men,” Leslie Cocke says. “Maybe college guys — who are drinking.” “It’s not smart enough for the young lawyer crowd,” Sullivan says. TAKING OFFENSE Not only did the “Gary the Rat” raters fail to see much humor in the show, but they also found episode two offensive. Consider the evidence: Gary’s boss, Mr. Harrison, orders Gary to bring a date to a firm party at which they are wooing a potential client. Gary calls a few former dates, but no one accepts his invitation. He contacts a dating service, and engages in “speed dating,” a sort of game of musical chairs in which men and women sit in concentric circles, facing each other, and, prompted by a buzzer, converse. But the women are repulsed: “You’re a rat!” they cry. Desperate, Gary attends a Jewish singles group. Not that he’s Jewish, mind you. He finds a woman there, a single mother of eight, who willingly attends the party until she realizes that, although a lawyer and a rat, Gary is not Jewish. After the exterminator, who wears diapers, accidentally kills Gary’s date — a plot twist that baffles all six Texas lawyers — Gary calls the owner of the dating service. The owner, also a single woman, is about to hang herself — that is, until Gary invites her to join the party. She hits it off with the potential client’s wife, clinching the deal when it is discovered that she and the wife were former beauty queens and have something in common. Unfortunately, she, too, meets an untimely death when Gary whips around and his long rodent tail knocks her off the terrace. “I was watching this and saying to myself: ‘I just can’t believe this is on television,’ ” Josef says. “ I wasn’t really offended, [but] I think people who are easily offended could complain quite a bit.” Not only did Josef find the portrayal of desperate women in the context of dating potentially offensive, she found the “whole Jewish thing … very strange. … They took it too far.” Sullivan, who viewed the portrayal of the Jewish woman as “nasty” and “debasing,” notes that all the women were portrayed as “man-grabbing” and desperate. “Whose view of the world is this?” she asks. But Sullivan found the show insulting to men as well. “It seemed to play into every nasty stereotype of men, not just lawyers.” Obviously, the show insults lawyers, too: “I mean the guy turned into a rat,” Josef says. “I think, lawyer jokes aside, that’s pretty offensive. Everyone tells lawyer jokes, but to actually have one [a lawyer] turn into a rat on television is something else.” PAWS FOR THOUGHT Still, no one expresses surprise that a lawyer might be characterized as a rat — even though some of them are married to lawyers. Rather, they muse that most people harbor respect, even affection, for their own lawyers, yet remain suspicious of lawyers in general. But why? “You’re working with people at their worst moments, working with people involved in conflict,” Tom Cocke says. “There’s bound to be hostility.” Leslie Cocke blames bad press and the media’s obsession with sensationalism for lawyers’ bad rap, asserting that there is so much more to the legal profession than meets the press. It’s not just about ambulance-chasing, she says. Josef agrees: “The bad stuff attached to lawyers always makes the paper, whereas the good stuff doesn’t.” It’s not interesting to write about the pro bono hours lawyers put in, she says; it’s more interesting to write about greed. “It’s a power thing,” says Sullivan, noting that politicians and doctors are similarly ridiculed. Lawyers have the ability to affect people’s lives in a way that is very frightening to them, she says. Moreover, lawyers tend to be affluent, and are perceived as being “almost parasitic,” profiting from other people’s problems, she explains. “I really think [lawyers' bad reputation is] because people don’t understand what lawyers do,” Powell says. Josephson points to widespread anti-lawyer propaganda denouncing greedy lawyers and the media hype focused on tort reform. The public picks up on that, he says. It’s not until someone is involved in a medical-malpractice case that he realizes how tort reform can limit access to the courthouse and recovery, he says. But the “Gary the Rat” raters say they are resigned to the fact that as long as there are lawyers, there will be lawyer jokes. No doubt you’ve heard the one about why scientists use lawyers instead of laboratory rats for research? They’re more plentiful than rats, and the researchers don’t get attached to them. When Erica Lehrer Goldman practiced law in “Manrattan,” she thought attorneys were given a bad rap — all those lawyer jokes. Then she became a journalist, only to be told: “You can’t trust the media!” A graduate of Princeton University and New York University School of Law, Lehrer Goldman joined Texas Lawyer as a reporter in 2002, winning the six-state Press Club of Dallas Katie Award for Best Reporter Writing Portfolio in the Community/Neighborhood Newspaper category. Having taken and passed the Texas Bar Exam in February, she looks forward to “raturning” to the practice of law.

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