The trouble with most "Top Ten Songs about the Law" lists is that they're unfocused. You'll find tales of legal woes ("I Fought the Law," by Bobby Fuller) mixed in with brushes with legal authority ("Alice's Restaurant," by Arlo Guthrie or "I Shot the Sheriff," by Bob Marley), along with true tales of legal injustice ("Hurricane," by Bob Dylan), litigation metaphors ("Sue Me," from the musical Guys & Dolls), tales of incarceration ("Jailhouse Rock," by Elvis or "Folsom Prison Blues," by Johnny Cash), and let's not forget old-fashioned heavy metal insanity ("Breaking the Law," by Judas Priest).
What we're looking for are songs that are just about lawyers. We understand that songwriters are generally not inclined to sing about their legal representation (although we did find one composition simply titled, "I've Got a Lawyer"). That's not to say composers have avoided the subject completely. A search of the repertoire at BMI and ASCAP--the two major song licensors--uncovered over 100 songs with the word "lawyer" or "attorney" in the title. These include songs with an agrarian angle ("The Lawyer and the Cow," "The Lawyer and the Farmer"), an anti-lawyer stance ("Lawyers Suck," "Lawyers Screw It Up," "Lawyers and Leeches," "Lawyer Liar Blues"), romance ("Lawyer's Love Song"), gratitude ("A Lawyer Saved My Life"), absurdity ("Lawyers Are Like Bananas," "Lawyers and White Paper," "Lawyers on Acid"), dancing ("Lawyer's Hoedown"), wishful thinking, ("I Would Have Made a Good Lawyer"), religion ("Lawyers Prayer"), antagonism ("Lawyer Up") and our personal favorite, "Lawyers on Parade."
We've sorted through them all. Below are our ten favorites. Sure, some of them may not be as well known as "Thriller," and the artists might not be as popular as Britney or Bruce, but don't let that stop you from appreciating the sharp legal analysis and deep appreciation for the legal profession that these tunes possess. In no particular order:
My Attorney Bernie -- A bebop pianist with a knack for humorous lyrics and jazzy melodies, composer/singer Dave Frishberg created the ultimate paean to the legal profession with this oft-covered composition. Bernie the attorney has got a lot going for him, including "Dodger season boxes and an office full of foxes." He may not be a perfect lawyer ("Sure we blew a couple ventures with a counterfeit debenture") but when it comes down to the important stuff, "Bernie tells me what to do, Bernie always lays it on the line. Bernie says we sue, we sue; Bernie says we sign, we sign."
Talk to My Lawyer -- Chuck Brodsky is known amongst folk literati for his barbed wit, his groove-oriented guitar style, and his songs about baseball players (eleven Brodsky songs are in the Baseball Hall of Fame). Brodsky's "Talk to My Lawyer" is accurate, businesslike, and a bit one-sided in its focus on personal injury ("I'm gonna talk to my lawyer. I think I've got a pretty good case. All I need are some crutches; maybe put on a neck brace. I've got a witness to put a hand on the Bible. Jury jury, hallelujah you might be liable.") Whether or not he gets it exactly right, Brodsky's tongue-in-cheek lyrics probably reflect the reality of contingency fee practice.
Lawyers In Love -- For sheer weirdness, Jackson Browne's 1983 composition, "Lawyers in Love" seems to baffle everyone who hears it. ("Among the human beings in their designer jeans, am I the only one who hears the screams, and the strangled cries of lawyers in love."). Browne convincingly belts out this folk-rock classic, complaining about eating from TV trays while watching Happy Days, and in the final verse, discourses on how the U.S.S.R. will soon be a "vacationland for lawyers in love." Hmm? Although Browne himself hints that the song is a critique of political complacency, we prefer to focus on its verification that attorneys are capable of amore.
The Philadelphia Lawyer (also known as Reno Blues) -- Speaking of lawyers in love, in 1949, folk musician Woody Guthrie wrote a ballad loosely based on a true story. A romantic Philly attorney attempts to talk his paramour (a Hollywood maid) into leaving her husband, a cowboy named Bill. Alas, Bill overhears the pair talking and the result is Murder One. Guthrie concludes his song, "Now tonight back in old Pennsylvania, among those beautiful pines, there's one less Philadelphia lawyer in old Philadelphia tonight."
Legal Man -- Belle & Sebastian, a Scottish band whose music was featured in the film, High Fidelity, released "Legal Man," in 2000. With its retro-sound reminiscent of sixties groups such as Love, "Legal Man" analogizes to contract law as a means of enforcing a romantic commitment ("Notwithstanding provisions of clauses 1,2,3, and 4; Extend contractual period, me and you for evermore.") The song ends with the repeating advice to Legal Man, "Get out of the office and into the springtime." All in all, that's solid advice--unless one has a summary judgment brief due in the springtime.
California Sex Lawyer - This one's a tale of wish fulfillment from Fountains of Wayne (a band that got its name from a New Jersey lawn ornaments store). The song portrays a young man named Doug who plans to become a California "sex lawyer," a specialty that's apparently not covered in most law school curriculums. According to Doug, he's got the makings of this particular discipline: "I've got big ideas. I've got back up plans. I've got the cha-cha-charisma. Got the sleight of hand. I'm gunna do some damage. Gunna bust some heads. I'm gunna go the distance. Then I'm going to bed." Sounds like a plan; we're just not sure how Doug's malpractice carrier will respond.
We Love Our Lawyers -- We may have misheard the lyrics but the only vaguely decipherable phrase in this bouncy Latin-flavored jazz song appears to be the repeating phrase "cosign." Inscrutability is nothing new for Cibo Matto, the creators, as the bulk of their songs are about food (the band's name is Italian for "crazy food"). Even though singing about lawyers is a bit far afield for this group (and the song lacks any serious legal content), the exuberance of "We Love Our Lawyers," combined with its devoted title, ultimately sends an upbeat message that wins this one top ten placement.
One Million Lawyers -- In 1985, folk singer Tom Paxton released "One Million Lawyers," based on the prediction that the United States would have that many lawyers within a decade. Apparently, Paxton viewed this as a bad thing (the title of the album was One Million Lawyers and Other Disasters) and wrote, "Lawyers around every bend in the road. Lawyers in every tree. Lawyers in restaurants. Lawyers in clubs. Lawyers behind every door. Behind windows and potted plants, shade trees and shrubs. Lawyers on pogo sticks. Lawyers in politics. In ten years we're gonna have one million lawyers. How much can a poor nation stand?" Paxton may have had some justification for his paranoia, but twenty years later we know one thing: He was wrong about the pogo sticks.
My Dad's a Lawyer -- Some might find this track a bit overbearing -- what with bad-boy folkie Geoff Berner's taunting tenor and the honking accordion he uses for accompaniment. But those elements actually add to the song's message as Berner goads listeners, "You don't like the way I sing. Go ahead take a swing cause my dad's a lawyer." This track has us conflicted; on the one hand we don't like the mocking encouragement to litigation; on the other hand, we're glad to see family pride in the legal profession.
Will Your Lawyer Talk to God For You? -- With its old-timey steel pedal guitar and Wells' classic country vocal, this track poses a cosmological dilemma for many in the legal business -- or as Kitty puts it when asked to sign the divorce papers, "Man-made laws set you free on earth but is God satisfied? Will your lawyer talk to God for you?" This simple country and Western tune is the only one on our list to make BillBoard's Top Ten (1962). By the way, Wells' attorney never had to discuss divorce with the Almighty. She may have had the longest celebrity marriage in history having been married to country singer Johnnie Wright for over seventy years.
For a compilation of fun legal facts, case histories, human interest tales and much more, see The Judge Who Hated Nail Polish & Other Crazy But True Stories of Law & Lawyers, by Ilona Bray, Richard Stim and the Editors of Nolo (Nolo).