Indiana Judges Association: Judges need to take control of cultural standing

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

ija-dreyerInternet meme (pron.: / ’mi:m/MEEM): a concept that spreads from person to person via the Internet. Meme was coined by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book “The Selfish Gene,” as an attempt to explain the way cultural information spreads; Internet memes are a subset of this, specific to the culture and environment of the Internet.

Have you ever Googled “lawyer dog”? If you do, be prepared to see a limitless line of websites all featuring identical photos of the same canine seated behind his desk, along with various one-liners related to the law, dogs and just silliness. (“The judge is a man? We’re golden. I’m man’s best friend.”) Such phenomena are presumably what people mean when they mention the word “meme.” Although it was originally invented as a pseudo-academic name for social symbols, words or ideas that emerge and represent part of a culture (like the peace sign), it has apparently been appropriated by humans’ computer habits. Some thinkers now believe the Internet is the only way that memes, or any cultural activity, are invented, perceived or have any impact on people. On the other hand, many avid Internet activists today use “meme” to merely describe anything that is currently popular on the Web. Some consider memes as just updated versions of stereotypes, only spreading much quicker. But here’s the problem: What if the meme becomes the message, that is, becomes so ubiquitous that it gets stuck in everybody’s mind – whether we like it or not – or whether it deserves to be?

Sometimes meme activity just happens in speech and practice, like using “Google” as a verb. Commentators sometimes use “meme” to characterize broad popular images, like a quarterback dating a cheerleader or a judge who is male with gray hair. More commonly, running Internet jokes, forwarded photos, satirical YouTube videos, open-ended questions and posted answers, etc., all creep into some part of our public observation and thinking. Hence, “lawyer dog” and the like. When this happens, no one yet knows the result. The Economist, a leading international journal, recently featured studies implying memes not only affect individual behavior, they shape entire societies.

Lawyers and judges are prominent meme creators. In fact, the language of law itself is perhaps the ultimate meme:

“All men are created equal.” But not all memes are created equal.

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Couldn’t they have added “regular vacations” as well?

“Right to remain silent.” If only more lawyers would take advantage of this.

“I cannot recall at this point in time.” 1970s Watergate lawyers developed this perjury-avoidant answer for clients testifying to Congress. It is still heard by judges every day.

“I know it when I see it.” Yogi Berra could not have said it any better.

The non-lawyer world unfortunately has found its own legal memes, and they are not as entertaining as “lawyer dog” sites. In fact, they should serve to alarm us, especially considering the instant power of memes. is a fairly typical example. It routinely ridicules lawyers with a different joke each day. The website is not necessarily popular, but its method is pervasive. The basic lawyer meme is anything that shows lawyers as rude, greedy, arrogant or just plain dishonest. This means that lawyers and judges are culturally misperceived. For lawyers, this may not be such a serious issue because clients and fees will come as long as there are people with problems. But the world depends upon public confidence in judges – and judges can do little to control the meme effect of the Internet.

The good and bad news is that Internet memes can be created and spread by anyone. So why shouldn’t we judges create memes to control our cultural standing? For example, why not post a succinct video of a judge talking about his or her job? It should promote a meme-like slogan, like “We’re judges, but we’re not judgmental.” Maybe we can spread the stories of judges who have given their lives in Mexico and Eastern Europe, in the name of justice, by finding an image of one grieving relative and asking for public comment? Perhaps we try to start a popular legal blog and forum where real judges answer questions about the system, what it’s like to be a judge, etc. As far-fetched as it can appear to those of us who were trained by actual books, the world today learns as much from Internet memes as anything else. Whether we like it or not, we judges risk peril if we avoid these realities.

All in all, law will not be decided by the Internet – at least not yet. So judges and lawyers will still have to think, write and argue just as before. Memes are part of our cultural experience and can form the basis of contemporary thinking. But law is more than contemporary culture. Judges may have to proactively market an accurate image to the public, but memes will never take the place of a fact well-proven or a judgment well-reasoned.•


Judge David J. Dreyer has been a judge for the Marion Superior Court since 1997. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Notre Dame Law School. He is a former board member of the Indiana Judges Association. The opinions expressed are those of the author.


  • Point Smith
    I concede, point to JS this round!
  • Less marketing more truth
    No lawyers are not the source of political correctness movement. Who is? I don't know for sure, but here is what William Lind says As for who is the source of greed, the hallmark vice of lawyers, is it not our fallen nature? And the lawyers & politicians that founded this republic and disseminated such memes as "all men created equal" etc. down the decades right on up today, were not so much lawyers as plutocrats, marketing strategic wars for dominion in order to enlist the gullible colonials as cannon fodder. Maybe we need less memes and marketing and clever stuff like that and more plain simple Truth & Justice. As for who first told me there was no such thing as truth I recall that was a professor. Back to Bill Lind...
    • Caution, your honor, assumptions can make ...
      "The basic lawyer meme is anything that shows lawyers as rude, greedy, arrogant or just plain dishonest. This means that lawyers and judges are culturally misperceived." ASSUMPTION: That most lawyers and judges are just as reported. It that justified? What has the rise of the legal class since WWII done good for America? Has not our profession brought much of the modernist ills in governance, and is not most government corruption, financial or ideological (i.e. PC movement) not the fault of attorneys, by and large? Here is what Old Slewfoot has to say about that, and he is quite the expert witness:

      Post a comment to this story

      We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
      You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
      Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
      No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
      We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

      Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

      Sponsored by
      Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
      1. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

      2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

      3. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

      4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

      5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues