Saturday, January 5, 2013


I received yet more proof the other day that I do not live in the current century. A friend drafted an amusing blog post that hinged on repetition of a certain catchphrase. I was struck by the phrase, but didn’t recognize it. Turns out, according to Wikipedia, the expression became part of the American popular vernacular, thanks to a successful SNL sketch involving Christopher Walken, Will Ferrell, and a metal band: “More cowbell!”
Maybe I am not conversant with catchphrases with which the rest of the culture is intimately acquainted. But as Will Rogers liked to say, “Everyone’s ignorant—just about different subjects.”
So, whenever one is tempted to think that Shakespeare has become irrelevant to our time, it is worth remembering the numerous “catchphrases” that he injected into the English language. Many of them could readily be employed to help lawyers describe all kinds of professional situations. Here are some examples:
  • “All that glitters is not gold” (Merchant of Venice, II.7): A good warning for clients considering suspiciously promising investment opportunities
  • “Hoist with his own petard” (Hamlet, III.4): An apt way to describe, without seeming too smug, what happened when a lawyer failed to pull off a dilatory maneuver using one of those lovely jurisdictional doctrines like standing, ripeness, or mootness
  •  “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” (R & J, II.2): A means to console a client after delivering the news that the name desired for a new product line or business has already been registered by some other entity
  • “It’s Greek to me” (Julius Caesar, I.2): A gentle technique to drive home to a junior colleague that the memo the lawyer has prepared is too laden with legalese to make sense to anyone outside of the academy
  • “Neither rhyme nor reason” (Comedy of Errors, II.2): A colorful way to describe a long-anticipated ruling from a judge that, contrary to expectation, leaves your side badly bruised and beaten
  • “Laugh yourself into stitches” (Twelfth Night, III.2): A worthy reaction to a particularly unpleasant opposing counsel whom you will never be tempted to refer any matter
  • “To thine ownself be true” (Hamlet, I.3): A useful reminder about the need to stay on the right side of the rules governing professional responsibility lest one’s law license be placed in jeopardy
The possibilities for more cowbell are infinite! But for now, I must get back to grading papers.

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