In the 1990 movie Kindergarten Cop, Arnold Schwarzenegger introduced the world to the wonderful game called “Who is your daddy and what does he do?” 1 The admissibility of the resulting answers aside, most
kids can easily understand the professions of teacher, police
officer, or doctor. But explaining to children that mommy is
negotiating a collective bargaining agreement requires a bit
It’s difficult to explain to children what lawyers do, partly
because there are so many different kinds of lawyers. But
it’s also hard for kids to understand the circumstances that
cause a person to need the help of an attorney. The concepts of life and death, bankruptcy, and divorce are more
difficult to understand than “the good guys” and “the bad
guys,” and there is good reason that we shield kids from the
uglier of these grown up problems. This is why my twins,
2 years old at the time, chose to play in the fountain outside the courthouse instead of watching their mother take
the oath of attorney. They and their sister had a bit more
of an understanding five years later when they watched me
getting sworn in to practice in Idaho. What they remember
most about their trip to Boise was visiting the Harley Davidson dealership.
While the weight we shoulder on behalf of our clients
can be too intense for a child to understand, some aspects of lawyering are not completely foreign to children.
They can understand the essence of lawyerly tactics — a
child who is offered one cookie makes a counteroffer for
three and settles for two has doubled his expected return
I have found myself cross-examining my children more
MS. ARNESON: Whose dirty socks are in the living room
DEAREST CHILD: I don’t know.
MS. ARNESON: Were you or were you not wearing socks
when you came into this room?
DEAREST CHILD: I was.
MS. ARNESON: And are these my Phineas and Ferb socks?
DEAREST CHILD: No.
MS. ARNESON: You are the only child who has been in
this room today, correct?
DEAREST CHILD: Yes.
MS. ARNESON: And are your feet bare right now?
DEAREST CHILD: …
Mouths of Babes
Lawyer jokes are part of the job for those in our esteemed
profession. We all have that canned response and fake
laugh to change the subject (e.g., “Good one, Frank. Just as
funny the third time you told it. Hey, how about those Sea-hawks?”). It seems that those who need our help are often
those who laugh the loudest at these tired jokes. But not
kids — while honest to a fault, they have not yet been conditioned by society to have a disdain for lawyers. So what do
kids say about attorneys?
Not surprisingly, how kids describe attorneys is colored by
whether they have a parent or family member who is a lawyer. I
smile every time I recall when one of my three daughters asked
me if boys were allowed to be lawyers, and upon my affirmative
answer, the hysterical laughter that ensued. Then there is the
young man who had yet to master the subtleties of lawyerly
vocabulary, assuming that his mother’s bar card was something she used to buy beer. Or the daughter of a prosecutor
who proudly proclaimed to her teacher, “My mom is a prostitutor!” Not unlike the son in Liar Liar who proudly proclaimed
that his dad was a liar:
MAX REEDE: My dad? He’s… a liar.
TEACHER: A liar? I’m sure you don’t mean a liar.
MAX REEDE: Well, he wears a suit and goes to court and
talks to the judge.
TEACHER: Oh, you mean he’s a lawyer. 2
Be a role model.
We all have bad days occasionally, and in this profession a
bad day can easily be a very bad day. But on those days it
helps to remember to strive to be fair and helpful and to do
good work. Each one of us is a representative of the legal profession, and we should strive to exemplify the best qualities
of our chosen profession, especially in front of children. If all
else fails, talk more than the other guy. After all, the kids are
counting on us. NWL
EMILY K. ARNESON practices labor and employment law at Witherspoon Kelley in Spokane. She
can be reached at email@example.com.
1. Kindergarten Cop. Dir. Ivan Reitman. Universal Pictures, 1990. Film.
2. Liar Liar. Dir. Tom Shadyac. Universal Pictures, 1997. Film.
by Emily K. Arneson
What Kids Think of Lawyers