Quotes by Will Rogers

Will Rogers on Lawyers

Daily Telegram 2789 WILL ROGERS REMARKS

SANTA MONICA, Cal., July 14, 1935. – California has been lucky, we escaped the winds, the floods, the droughts, and the heat, but pestilence finally caught us, the boll weevil descended on us in trainloads, 3500 lawyers of the American Bar Association are here eating us out of house and home.

They are here, they say, “to save the Constitution, to preserve State rights.” What they ought to be here for, that would make this convention immortal, is to kick the crooks out of their profession. They should recommend a law that every case that went on trial, the lawyer defending should be tried first, then if he come clear, he was eligible to defend. As it is now they are trying the wrong man.


BEVERLY HILLS, Cal., July 16, 1935. – Say, wait a minute. This heat out here is just about as tough as it is anywhere. Went down and spoke at some lawyers’ meeting last night. They didn’t think much of my little squib yesterday about driving the shysters out of their profession. They seemed to kinder doubt just who would have to leave.

Pretty serious, some of `em. But the big percentage are regular guys. Had three ex-Cabinet members there from three different Presidents, Hurley, Secretary of War under Mr. Hoover; Wilbur, Secretary of Navy under Mr. Coolidge; and Will Hays, who served under Mr. Harding.


SANTA MONICA, Cal., July 19, 1935. – Well the lawyers of the. American Bar Association convention are leaving us. Think they had a good time. Like all conventions, they didn’t do a thing. No convention ever did anything. If this country ever becomes civilized the first thing eliminated would be people gadding around to get to a convention. And the humorous thing about `em is they always wait and hold `em in the hottest weather. Convention slogans should be, “Let’s meet and perspire together.”

It seemed to be the unanimous opinion of the convention that the management of the United States should be entirely in the hands of lawyers and judges, and that elected representatives of the people didn’t know what they was doing.

Weekly Article 657 (July 28, 1935) THE LAWYERS TALKING

Well all I know is just what I read in the papers or what I run into prowling around. A couple of weeks ago out here in the City of Angels we had quite a distinguished gathering. They called themselves the American Bar Association, and they was quite an array. I went down one night just as the thing was getting started and did some rough and tumbled blathering for ’em. What I mean is I made a speech.

Run onto more old friends down there that I hadent seen for years. The gathering was about as much political as it was legal, if not more so. It looked like a reunion of the Republican Old Guard.

All the speeches during the convention had nothing whatever to do with law. They were all preludes to the next presidential election. They were opening overtures in the Follies. And you can’t blame ’em. Pretty near everybody that does something has got a reason, and lots of times it’s a pretty good one. ….

But to get back to the lawyers and their convention. They just have a thousand committees to fix everything. They got one, too, to drive the shyster lawyer out of their ranks, but it’s sorter like a skeleton in the closet, some of the more old conservative ones don’t want it dragged out. But they are doing a lot to eliminate him. Not all they could do if they entered into it whole heartedly (they could kick ’em right out of the courts) but they are doing something.

You see, all these laws that they are having so much trouble wondering if they are constitutional, they were all drawn up by lawyers. For almost two-thirds of the membership of the House and Senate are lawyers.

The minute you read something and you can’t understand it you can almost be sure that it was drawn up by a lawyer. Then if you give it to another lawyer to read and he don’t know just what it means, why then you can be sure it was drawn up by a lawyer. If it’s in a few words and is plain and understandable only one way, it was written by a non-lawyer.

Every time a lawyer writes something, he is not writing for posterity, he is writing so that endless others of his craft can make a living out of trying to figure out what he said, course perhaps he hadent really said anything, that’s what makes it hard to explain.

Anyhow they are like a lot more of the crafts that many of us live by: great, but useless. One level-headed smart man could interpret every law there is. If you commit a crime you either did or you dident, without habus corpus, change of venue, or any other legal shindig.

But, Lord, if we go into the things that are useless why two thirds of the world would have to turn to manual labor. That’s really the only essential thing there is. Anyhow they was a good bunch and they had a good convention and it was good to meet ’em.

Weekly Article 659 (August 11, 1935) NOW ABOUT THESE LAWYERS

Well, all I know is just what I read in the papers. And say I had to read plenty in the paper the other day. There is a paper got out in Detroit, Michigan. It’s called the “Legal Record.”

It says it’s a paper dedicated to the interests of the legal profession. That dedication that’s printed on its front page in big type shows that it’s a paper that has nothing to do with news or facts, and I like the honesty of it. It tells you right off we take nothing but the lawyer’s side. (For there ain’t any other side.)

Well the headline as follows to wit, habus corpus, nolle prose, change of venue as follows: “The legal profession as a humorist sees it.” Written by a man who signs his name as O.Z. Ide.

Now I am not a sort of a lawyer detecting things, but that name sounds a little phoney. When one man writes all that’s in a paper, and this only had three pages outside of legal notices, why naturally he has got to make it look like he had quite a staff, so he does like these big holding companies did when they was sending wires to help them keep on holding, why they signed any name they could think of.

Now there ain’t no man named 0. Z. Ide. He is as synthetic as the article. Here is what Ozie said: “While the American Bar Association was in session in L. A. recently some of our opinion molding dailies carried a syndicated article by Will Rogers.”

Yes, some of ’em did, 650 of ’em did.

But let’s get on: “Before the criminal is tried the defense consul should stand trial to see if there was anything against him. Mr. Rogers indicated further that this was the big question before the convention and that everything else paled into insignificance before this tremendous issue.”

Well now let’s take up the issues one by one. In the first place if there had been no truth at all in the statement I made there would never have been any yell about it. Now as to it being the dominant question, Mr. Rogers dident say that it was the dominant question, he said that it should be the dominant question. In other words the lawyers would give their eye to have the thing cleaned up, and they will admit that it would be of more benefit to their profession to have the crooks driven out than to have done any other thing.

Now here is a thing. I am in the movies. When there was so much talk of cleaning up the movies, there wasent a lawyer, or any other profession but what said, “Why don’t they clean those things up? My wife and children can’t go to see ’em.”

Now you offered an opinion in my business, but the minute a comedian offers an opinion in your business, I am out of place. Your business is sacred and no one should mention it only in the highest terms.

The movies cleaned up and they dident write editorials against the lawyers for saying they should. If all lawyers are not honest how are clients to tell when they might go to a bad one any more than a movie fan might go to a bad movie? There is no reason of knowing till you go and see. Lawyers is everybody’s business the same as the movies are.

Get this: “We have always appreciated Mr. Rogers but because of his droll ill-advised remarks we find our enthusiasm beginning to jell.” In other words, I was funny when the joke was on the other fellow, but any about me is ill-advised, and don’t jell at all.

Get this one: “There was a time a few years back when a dig at the lawyers at the Bijou Theater was a sure fire laugh, but now the so-called humorists have sensed the distastes in the mouths of the public for such efforts of humor.”

Well I wish he could have read a “so-called humorist’s” mail. Never did I have so much approving mail on one article, and not a half dozen dissenting ones, and they were from lawyers. Every layman approved. It batted about 98 per cent.

I wish I could think of something else as true and as good. Some of my very best friends are lawyers, and are yet, but they don’t think their fraternity is some almighty deity. The biggest part of the lawyers are regular guys the same as most of them are honest and high type in their profession, but they know there is undesirable among them, and they are not going to faint when it’s mentioned.

My little movies have been fairly clean, but when the well-chosen roar against pictures come, I dident get sore, and rise on my hind legs and write any editorials. I knew it was coming to us and took it in good faith for I knew in the long run it would do good, and if this old boy don’t think that the audience will still laugh at the lawyers at the Bijou Theatre just let him book me for a lecture on lawyers at the Bijou, and come and sit and listen to ’em roar.

The banker, the lawyer, and the politician are still our best bets for a laugh. Audiences havent changed at all, and neither has the three above professions.

And incidentally, comedians havent improved. Nothing has improved but taxes.

Now let this end this lawyers thing or I will hire me a shyster lawyer and sue the legal record for deformation of character and if he is a good shyster lawyer, (of which there are many) I will get the damages. But that would be fighting you with your own fire and I don’t want to take that advantage.

Anyhow good luck to all my lawyer friends, and to you, too, Mr. Whatever-your-real-name is. You have to fill your column, and me mine, so we are even.

And I bet you are a good guy at that, and good luck to you.

(A party at the William Randolph Hearst ranch…) But there was lots of lawyers among the guests, and I knew cows better than I did lawyers. There is a way of studying a cow and learning all about her, but a lawyer? There has never been any course at college devised where you can take in “What Makes A Lawyer Like He Is?” This young Bill Hearst, Jr. is a mighty promising young fellow, and looks like he is going to pick up W. R.’s [William Randolph Hearst’s] trail and keep the ink smearing over half the pulp wood of Canada. WA #482, March 20, 1932 

“Law is complications and complications are law. If everything was just plain there wouldn’t be any lawyers.” DT #2652, Feb. 4, 1935

“If it wasn’t for Wills, lawyers would have to go to work at an essential employment. There is only one way you can beat a Lawyer in a death case. That is to die with nothing. Then you can’t get a Lawyer within 10 miles of your house.” DT #129, May 31, 1925 


June 15, 1931. – Did you read how many thousands (not hundreds) but thousands of students just graduated all over the country in law? Going to take an awful lot of crime to support that bunch.

A man naturally pulls for the business that brings him in his living. That’s just human nature. So look what a new gang we got assisting devilment, all trained to get a guilty man out on a technicality and an innocent one in on their opposing lawyer’s mistake. This is the heyday of the shyster lawyer, and they defend each other for half rates.

DT #198, March 15, 1927

Just addressed the California State Legislature and helped them pass a bill to form a lawyers’ association to regulate their conduct. Personally I don’t think you can make a lawyer honest by an act of the Legislature. You’ve got to work on his conscience. And his lack of conscience is what makes him a lawyer.

Return to the Quotes Index

    Contact Randall Reeder