Back in 2005, an American philosophy professor, Harry G. Frankfurt, published a tiny hard-cover book titled On Bullshit. The book spent an incredible 27 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list. 

When asked, during a CSPAN interview, why the book had such great success, the professor laughed a little and said that many people were attracted to the book simply because of its title.  They liked the idea of a university professor—someone well educated and in a prestigious position—using profane language.

The same juvenile mentality is often used when people hire attorneys.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a person speak favorably of his or her attorney simply because the attorney has a foul mouth. This is especially true in particular areas of the law. 

Possibly the most boorish vocabulary belongs to divorce attorneys.  Almost every divorce is adversarial and emotional.  And most litigants love to hear their lawyer trash talk the ex-spouse, the opposing counsel, or anyone else who gets in the way. 

Rough language is also right at home with criminal defense attorneys.  This also makes sense when you think about it.  Again, this is a contentious field where things get emotional (though not as emotional as with divorce).  Most alleged criminals are not known for their eloquence and composure.  When meeting with these clients, whether in the courthouse lock up or the county jail, it’s hard for any lawyer to refrain from adopting at least some of their vocabulary.

The penchant for swearing begins to diminish as the areas of legal practice become less adversarial and the stakes become less dire.  Probably the most mild-mannered of all lawyers are those who handle estate planning and elder law.  Again, the disposition of their clients (who tend to be quite old) has much to do with this.

Though I’m not above using the occasional expletive, I generally dislike when attorneys swear.  I find it unprofessional and I believe that it diminishes respect for all legal practitioners.  But I do recognize, much to my chagrin, that foul language is a hit with many clients and that many lawyers are able to recognize and exploit that fact.