An American lawyer spends, on average, four years obtaining their Bachelor’s degree.They then study for the LSAT, a test designed to ensure candidates display the methodical, organized and inquisitive mindset required to prosper it in a courtroom environment. After that, they spend three years in law school, study for and pass the bar exam – and then they can practice. So, that’s a lot of knowledge sitting next to you if you ever have a lawyer. And you should, of course, feel entirely comfortable about needing to ask them to explain legal jargon or obscure concepts. What you might want to avoid is, well, a stupid question or request. Your lawyer will remember it – and they might just share your crazy story online. Take these 20 stories as a warning…
Paying back for pain and suffering… can’t cause pain and suffering
In some places, victims of crime can do more than press charges and send the person who hurt them to prison. As one lawyer explained via Reddit, their state allows for “payment of state funds” if a victim “suffer[s] some form of injury, e.g. psychological, physical, etc.” Eventually, the perpetrator will have to “pay the state back an amount relating to that victim’s compensation.”
It wasn’t this program that the lawyer found to be stupid, but their defendant’s own request regarding this system of retribution. They wrote, “I had a client who felt the process of being convicted for assaulting his relatives, and having to pay victims compensation back to the state, was arduous. And in return, he should be receiving victim’s compensation from the state.” The lawyer remarked – quite possibly with their tongue firmly lodged in their cheek – that it was “fun to explain” how the law actually worked.
That’s not how trademarks work
The concept of a trademark is a very useful one for both individuals and corporations the world over. That way, they can ensure they’re the only ones who can use the identifying logos, slogans and other characteristics of their brand. Of course, there are limits to who can trademark what – just ask this paralegal.
The paralegal in question took to Reddit to share how “a client once wanted to trademark the phrase ‘My God.’” That way, when “a [movie] character in awe says, ‘My God,’ […] they will owe him money.” Of course, the legal experts had to bring him down gently – as the paralegal put it, “Sir, that is not how trademarks work.”
You know your prison phone calls will always be recorded – and yet…
A criminal defendant always has the right to remain silent, a legal protection from self-incrimination – and yet, some can’t help but run their mouths. One Redditor told the story of their time as a legal intern, during which they had a client on remand in prison who was facing a murder charge. The trainee lawyer wrote, “We explained to the client that he should absolutely NOT make any phone calls saying anything incriminating because it would be recorded.”
The prison took steps to remind their residents of this, too. The Redditor wrote, “The area where prisoners use the phone has a GIANT SIGN that says, ‘PHONE CALLS WILL BE RECORDED.’” And yet, this intern’s client did not seem to understand that anything they said would be used against him. Instead, “the guy promptly made a call to his girlfriend asking her to hide his murder weapon.” Case closed.
How solid is video evidence?
In a criminal case, it’s up to the prosecution to prove their case against the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. Otherwise, the jury should come back with a not-guilty verdict for the crime(s) in question. Sometimes, though, there’s no doubt at all: just take this lawyer’s story about the dumbest-ever question they had to field from a client.
The lawyer wrote on Reddit, “I had a client once who was in trouble for stealing sample medications from a hospital. We got security footage from the [district attorney] as part of the evidence, and, when it came down, we watched it together. The camera was literally 10 feet away in a well-lit room, and we watched her shovel prescription samples into a garbage bag and walk off. After it was done she turned to me and asked if I thought she was going to be able to get off… I said no.”
You aren’t actually a millionaire – sorry
Some lawyers find themselves explaining obscure legal concepts to their clients; others have to have common-sense conversations with theirs. Take this lawyer, who had to let down someone who thought they had won the lottery. They wrote on Reddit about how the man had “never entered” a “20-million-euro European super lottery from Australia,” but he’d received a message that he had somehow scooped the massive prize.
The email said that the man had to wire $2,000 “to confirm his identity” before the lottery would send the prize money. His family, church and bank refused to help him do it, recognizing that he was being scammed. His priest then directed him to the local community law center, hoping trained legal minds could convince him that he hadn’t actually won anything. And then, the lawyer involved took to Reddit to share his client’s misplaced optimism with the world.
Catching you in the act does not equal entrapment
Unfortunately, not all law enforcement officers always have the public’s best interests at heart. Instead, they trick people into criminal activity in which they would not have otherwise partaken. This concept is called entrapment, and needless to say, officers are heavily discouraged from using such a method to procure an arrest. On the flip side, defendants have sometimes been known to successfully claim entrapment as a defense in court.
Of course, having a case overturned on this basis requires that the defendant wouldn’t have committed the crime if cops hadn’t set them up. One lawyer had to explain this to their client, who hadn’t been tricked at all. The legal expert recounted the story via Reddit and recalled saying, “Your boss sending you to a drug test after he walked in on you snorting cocaine off your desk does not qualify as entrapment. You cannot sue him.”
Your own will doesn’t supersede a written will
Most adults pen a will long before they die to ensure that their assets go to the people or causes they love most. That way, their heirs won’t have to jump through legal hoops to get what’s supposed to be theirs. It also protects the estate from outsiders who might try and claim what hasn’t been allocated to them.
A probate attorney took to Reddit to share the story of a client who somehow didn’t get the concept of wills at all. They said they had to “explain to people not to take property that was bequeathed to someone else” or else they could face huge fines. In one case, the lawyer said, a client wanted to take a vehicle willed to someone else. In an attempt to dissuade them, he told his client, “That $20,000 car you wanted turns into a $60,000 penalty.”
I plead the… third?
Whether you live in the U.S. or have binge-watched American crime dramas, you’ll have heard the phrase, “I plead the fifth.” The phrase ties back to the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, passed in 1791, which outlined the country’s criminal procedure. One stipulation of this addition protected the people from self-incrimination – they didn’t have to answer any questions that would implicate them in the crime at hand.
No matter how pervasive the phrase “I plead the fifth” has become, not everyone has heard it properly. Just ask the lawyer who said that their client instead pleaded the third as police officers put them in handcuffs. The legal pro clarified what that statement actually meant, writing, “I had to explain to him that the third amendment doesn’t deal with the right against self-incrimination – rather, it deals with housing soldiers in your home…”
Is that a fireable offense?
Companies in the U.S. need to have concrete reasons for firing their staff. You can’t let someone go because of their gender, sexual orientation, religion or immigration status, for example. If you do, you could face a wrongful termination lawsuit, and you’d more than likely lose your case in court.
Obviously, this means that most bosses are careful before they hand an employee a pink slip. Some are a bit too cautious, though. One lawyer recalled via Reddit, “I once had to explain to a client that he could, in fact, fire an employee for one, stealing significant sums of money from the safe, two, pulling a gun on a co-worker who questioned these activities, and three, waving said gun in a customer’s face moments later, all of which were on camera.” They sure sound like offenses worthy of dismissal to us.
Lawyers don’t usually work for free
Even if you’ve never hired a lawyer, you’ve probably heard of a legal retainer. Before an attorney will work on your case, you often have to pay them a fee to secure their services. This can sometimes serve as a down payment on the rest of their costs, such as representation fees, research hours and more.
One lawyer recalled via Reddit that their client – a student seeking school reinstatement and no monetary compensation – had no idea how legal payments worked. The attorney wrote, “He said, ‘No, I’ll pay you on contingency.’ I then told him that he wasn’t suing for money – he was suing for reinstatement. There was no monetary award for his action, so my ‘contingent’ fee would be one-third of zero.” Needless to say, the legal pro did not take on the case.
That’s not good form
While it generally costs a lot of money to hire a lawyer, it should at least entail that you get someone who understands the law and can fight for your best interests. Most clients would want to put such a brilliant mind to good use, say, researching and preparing for court. But sometimes, attorneys get people who have other requests that are arguably wastes of their time.
One lawyer said that a client had to fill out an intake questionnaire, which would record their name, address and date of birth, among other personal details. The client’s response? “Why do I have to do this!? What did I even hire you for! You’re useless! If I have to do all this work I might as well represent myself.” Yes, because your attorney should definitely spend their time filling out your forms and guessing your address and date of birth…
You can’t claim PTSD if you got it from committing the crime
Post-traumatic stress disorder typically stems from a singular scary event, which a person has either witnessed or experienced for themselves. The mental health condition brings about anxious feelings, as well as nightmares, flashbacks and pervasive thoughts about what happened. And sometimes, lawyers argue that their clients have committed particular acts because they have, sadly, experienced something deeply traumatizing themselves.
But that defense doesn’t work if, you know, the PTSD is self-inflicted. One Redditor said they watched as the Florida Supreme Court hear an appeal in a murder case. The defendant “wanted his sentence mitigated because he had PTSD.” But it wasn’t a condition that affected him beforehand. Instead, “He claimed he had PTSD from experiencing the murder he committed.” So it fell to the court to explain to him that a mental issue acquired while perpetrating a felony could not excuse or lessen that misdeed.
“‘Til death do us part” wasn’t an exaggeration
It’s not just lawyers who have to field stupid questions: their staffers speak to less-than-astute clients, too. Take one Redditor, who worked as a receptionist at their father’s firm. They wrote, “One day, the dumb son of a long-standing client called in a panic. Apparently, he had gotten wasted and married a woman […] in Las Vegas.”
The story goes that the groom then said, “But it’s fine, right? I mean… what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, so if I never go back, am I good?” This, understandably, left the receptionist – and the rest of the law office – in shock. They wrote, “I finally figured out that he took the saying literally and thought that he was ONLY married while in Clark County, Nevada. I had to explain that, no, he was married in all 50 states.” Clearly, this guy did not understand the concept of a contract.
The judge deserves at least… a shred of respect
A judge presides over every courtroom, whether a jury’s hearing the case or not. That’s why everyone – from the prosecution to the defense to those watching in the gallery – has to show respect to the judge. And, while that may seem like a common-sense statement, it isn’t for everyone who goes to trial.
As one lawyer recalled on a Reddit thread, their client interrupted proceedings by motioning to the presiding that, well, nature had called. The attorney jokingly advised, “Don’t signal to the judge you need to use the restroom during your trial by making eye contact and vigorously nodding while urgently pointing at your crotch.”
A small personal injury doesn’t entitle you to millions
One lawyer’s first-ever case was a personal injury suit, in which their client had walked into a standpipe in Manhattan and its protruding bolt had gashed her leg. The injury required stitches and left a barely indetectable scar, but city laws clearly stated that the bolt should have been covered. So, the insurance company agreed that the workers who forgot the plastic guard were negligent; as a result they awarded the woman monetary damages.
So, the lawyer called up their client to ask how much she expected to earn – and here’s where the are-you-kidding moment happens. The woman said “she wanted… $2 million, because ‘it wasn’t her fault.’” The attorney had to put it into perspective for her, pulling cases where people suffered horrific injuries and got millions. After that, the client “reluctantly accepted” an $18,000 payout instead.
A scar on your defense
An attorney’s job is to defend their clients, but they usually do so without explicitly knowing if the person is guilty or not. That’s best in criminal cases especially: an attorney is ethically bound to fight for the defendants they represent. It’s much harder to argue on behalf of someone they know to be guilty.
One woman didn’t get that memo before hiring legal counsel. Instead, her ex-lawyer recalled, “[She] casually admitted to me that she had been fabricating her injury by having her makeup-artist friend paint a scar on.” After that admission, the lawyer said, “She was surprised I couldn’t continue to represent her.”
Child support lasts… until the child’s no longer a child
Most people know the age at which a child becomes an adult – and then, there was this lawyer’s less-than-bright client. As the attorney recalled on Reddit, the man came in and said, “Someone has been robbing my checks for 15 years,” pointing to the name “Stu” on his pay stubs. But what he actually saw was “Deduction – SCU,” which stood for Support Collection Unit.
The lawyer remembered explaining, “That’s not Stu – it’s an abbreviation for Support Collection Unit. They take money for child support.” The man was incredulous at the revelation, saying he didn’t have a child. Then, he elaborated, saying, “I had a child, but that was a long time ago. Like, ten years.” And that was when the attorney had to explain that a ten-year-old was still very much a child who needed fiscal support.
You can’t call that a poke
Causing physical harm to someone can get a person in trouble with the police – that’s no secret. One lawyer tried to explain this to a client who got in an argument with a neighbor and retaliated with physical force. The defendant claimed he had simply poked the man after the discussion, but the truth was that he had stabbed his neighbor.
The man told his lawyer that his neighbor “wouldn’t shut up, so I poked him a little bit.” Obviously, this was not a strong defense in court, where the defendant was sentenced for the stabbing. And guess who gave him a ride afterward? The attorney revealed on Reddit, “He was picked up from the courthouse by… the victim. They proceeded to go to a pub and get hammered. Still best of friends.”
Trial by jury means… there will be a jury
When someone commits a crime, they have done so against society – at least, as far as the law is concerned. That’s why we have trial by jury, during which a selection of people from the public gets to decide whether or not a defendant is found guilty. You might think, why are you explaining this to me? Doesn’t everyone know this? Well…
One Redditor said that their client had no clue what was happening when it came time to choose a jury from a 60-person pool. As the candidates filed into the courtroom, the defendant asked, “All these people got trial, too?” The lawyer had to explain the jury and what was happening, to which he responded, “Should I take the afternoon off work?”
How the courtroom elevator works
As we’ve seen on this list, most lawyers face-palm when they have to explain things like trademarks and juries and child support. But even those inquiries are a step above this one, described by the lawyer involved as, “By far and away the strangest thing I have ever had to explain to a client.”
The attorney related on a Reddit post, “Our courtroom was on the fourth floor, and [the client] needed to take an elevator to get there. I had to describe how you get in, push the [number] ‘four’ [button] and then get out when the lights above show she’s on Floor Four. Yeah.” They just don’t pay lawyers enough.