While it’s important for lawyers to be professional, it’s also important to have a sense of humor. In this episode of the State Bar of Texas Podcast from the State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting, host Rocky Dhir talks to lawyer and bon vivant Pamela Buchmeyer about the role of humor in the legal profession. They discuss her late father, Jerry Buchmeyer, and his column that has turned into her column featuring funny stories sent to her by lawyers.
Pamela Buchmeyer is a disaster reservist for the US Small Business Administration where she administers funds to victims of natural disasters.
State Bar of Texas Podcast
State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting 2018: Cultivating Humor in the Legal Profession
Intro: Welcome to the State Bar of Texas Podcast, your monthly source for conversations and curated content to improve your law practice, with your host Rocky Dhir.
Rocky Dhir: Hello and welcome to the State Bar of Texas podcast, brought to you in partnership with the Legal Talk Network.
This is your host Rocky Dhir. Do you hear that noise in the background? Do you hear that energy?
That is the 2018 State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting in Houston, Texas, it is underway and in full swing. These annual meetings bring with them a lot of wonderful energy and there’s a lot of funny stuff that happens at these conferences, and if you are not here, you miss out on it, but you won’t have to miss out much longer, I have got a very special guest with me today, Pamela Buchmeyer.
Pamela Buchmeyer: Thank You Rocky. It’s good to be here.
Rocky Dhir: Pam and I just got off of doing a panel together. We just finished up a talk a few minutes ago on legal humor.
Pamela Buchmeyer: Legal humor.
Rocky Dhir: That’s right, the uses of humor in the legal profession. So I think we can now dub Pam to be an official legal humorist.
Pamela Buchmeyer: I think my friends who are not lawyers think it’s impossible. When I tell them I have a collection of books I inherited from my father that is all legal humor —
Rocky Dhir: They just think it’s books.
Pamela Buchmeyer: Yeah, they think that’s not possible. I have one book that’s 1860 and it is funny legal stories from the time and they are still kind of amusing even today.
Rocky Dhir: I find that — I can’t always understand the way they wrote in the 1860s, like they used this complex vocabulary that’s kind of escaping me. I am not as articulate I think as people were in the 1860s.
Pamela Buchmeyer: This material is refined and it’s funny. I am going to use it for one of my next columns coming up, because I love that book and it looks like it must be worth thousands of dollars and it’s got some funny stories.
Rocky Dhir: Well, we can do that. Now, the name Buchmeyer is pretty familiar to a lot of Texas lawyers, most Texas lawyers. It’s a famous name.
Pamela Buchmeyer: It is in certain circles and I love to go around any courthouse in the state and I will meet someone who remembers my father, remembers him fondly, has got a great story to tell me.
My dad was an active lawyer in Dallas and President of the Dallas Bar Association and active in the State Bar Association and then he was appointed to the Federal Bench by Jimmy Carter.
Rocky Dhir: That’s right. So let’s talk a little bit about your dad, Jerry Buchmeyer; he is a man near and dear to my heart as well. I actually clerked for your dad.
Pamela Buchmeyer: Yes, you did. You were an outstanding clerk.
Rocky Dhir: You obviously didn’t talk to him much about me because that would probably not be the description that would best have fit me, but I think I kept him laughing, which is good.
Pamela Buchmeyer: You made an outstanding impression.
Rocky Dhir: Here we go.
Pamela Buchmeyer: And you definitely kept him laughing.
Rocky Dhir: Yes, yes, we had a lot of fun.
Pamela Buchmeyer: And you could impersonate him and when you impersonate him, it sounds so much like his voice. And of course my father is late, he passed away.
Rocky Dhir: He passed away in 2009.
Pamela Buchmeyer: So to hear his voice, it’s just a delight when you do that.
Rocky Dhir: Hey Pam. How are you? Good to see you. Oh, this is great. Wow, this is a podcast, it’s going out on the air. This is fantastic.
Pamela Buchmeyer: He did some radio spots on behalf of the Texas Bar and he was trying to improve the image of lawyers in the State of Texas and he tried to tell jokes and some people loved it and responded very favorably to it and some people felt like it sullied the reputation of the legal profession. Dad would respond and I know you would agree with me Rocky, is that possible? Is it possible to sully the reputation?
Rocky Dhir: We can’t get any worse. I mean I think they are giving themselves a little too much credit if they think that we are not already sullied. So let’s talk a bit about your dad’s legal column, his humor column.
Pamela Buchmeyer: For 28 years he wrote a column for the Texas Bar Journal, which he will call Bloopers and Blunders.
Rocky Dhir: Right, right.
Pamela Buchmeyer: Funny things that lawyers say, a witness might say, or a judge might write or say, funny typos even that appeared in the practice of law and practitioners loved to send him material.
Rocky Dhir: From all over the country, right?
Pamela Buchmeyer: Really, yes, they did.
Rocky Dhir: I remember when that used to come in.
Pamela Buchmeyer: It was not limited just to Texas by any means and they would send copies of transcripts and copies of depositions. He ran a competition, did funnier things happen at depositions or did they happen in the courtroom. He ran a competition for many years on that.
Rocky Dhir: I never knew this. So which forum one?
Pamela Buchmeyer: He was always diplomatic and said it was a dry heat. I don’t think as many things go to trial today as they used to.
Rocky Dhir: That’s true, that’s true. There’s not quite the plethora of material that you would for depositions.
Pamela Buchmeyer: And attorneys would often say I can’t believe you just said that, you pulled a Buchmeyer. They would use Judge Buchmeyer’s last name almost as a verb and say what a Buchmeyer, and it was a condensed way of saying, you just pulled something funny enough to be in Buchmeyer’s column.
Rocky Dhir: It’s almost to the level of Google, like Google has become a verb and so you could Buchmeyer something and make it funny.
Pamela Buchmeyer: In the State of Texas that was a common usage or in the legal circles.
Rocky Dhir: True, absolutely. So now you have carried on the tradition.
Pamela Buchmeyer: Well, he passed away and of course I was digging out, it was such a loss, it was such a loss.
Rocky Dhir: Right to everybody, all of us.
Pamela Buchmeyer: It took me a year or two to get around to going through all of his papers that I had saved and I realized that I had several boxes of material that had been submitted for his column and never published and some of the files said not published yet. And as I went through them, like I could see that some stories, they maybe revealed the identity of the parties too much and for diplomatic reasons.
Rocky Dhir: To protect the guilty.
Pamela Buchmeyer: Yes, he hadn’t used them. He had one file, a very thick file marked xxx and it was all risqué materials, really some out there stuff, because witnesses will — they will say some things, they will, and if it’s a lawsuit over loss of marital participation, they will say some things that you wouldn’t quite believe.
Rocky Dhir: You should Instagram that.
Pamela Buchmeyer: Also, sometimes if a prostitute or a pimp were on trial, they would come up with some things too, all terribly risqué, but very funny; sorry, I can’t tell you any of that stuff.
Rocky Dhir: Maybe you can tell us off-camera or off mike.
Pamela Buchmeyer: Yes, off mike.
Rocky Dhir: Off mike, we can do it off mike and then we can — and then people can reach out to us offline and then we can call them and tell them the story, but it can never be in writing.
Pamela Buchmeyer: Perhaps, perhaps.
Rocky Dhir: Yeah, maybe, maybe.
Pamela Buchmeyer: But I began to write his column and they did change the title; it was Et Cetera when dad wrote it and now it’s the Judge’s Daughter.
Rocky Dhir: Right, that’s you.
Pamela Buchmeyer: That’s me. And I just love it. I hear from attorneys. I hear from dozens of attorneys every month, sometimes they just say thank you for making my day a little bit brighter, and often though they share with me stories of things that happened in their practice. Things from the early days or things that happened yesterday and I have a large number of contributions that keep the column going.
Rocky Dhir: Has anybody accused you of sullying type behavior?
Pamela Buchmeyer: No. I will say that everyone thinks they have a sense of humor; they are not always correct and they tend to think they —
Rocky Dhir: You are looking straight at me when you say this Pam, I mean come on.
Pamela Buchmeyer: And they think they all have the exact same sense of humor. So sometimes something will be terrifically funny to one group of people and not so much to another. But I think that all the lawyers, they always said this about dad, they go I read his column first and then the obits. I love to read the funny stuff from Judge Buchmeyer and then I read the obits and they —
Rocky Dhir: Or the disciplinary column, that was the other one they would look at.
Pamela Buchmeyer: Hundreds and hundreds of letters all said the same thing. And I am so honored to keep it up for him. I love talking to all the lawyers who call me or I call them to verify and they will have another story or two once I get them on the phone.
Rocky Dhir: Oh, here’s another one for you, right.
Pamela Buchmeyer: I am surprised, but my calls go through in a snap and one phone call I reach lawyers, because I think they don’t do as many phone calls as they used to; it’s more emails and things like that and I say hey, this is Pam Buchmeyer calling. I write a humor column for the Texas Bar Journal. Oh, he is in, she is here, no problem. It takes me no time at all to reach lawyers.
Rocky Dhir: So that actually reminds me, when I was clerking for your dad, there was one time, the company and the individual shall remain nameless, but I had to call this lawyer on a case that they had, he was the general counsel of his company and he had a case being litigated in our court, and so I had to call him for something.
And so I call up and his secretary answers the phone and she says; we will just call him Mr. Smith; I said I am calling for Mr. Smith and she said he is not in. Immediate reaction is he is not in. And I said well okay, I will be happy to leave a message. This is Rocky Dhir with Judge Buchmeyer’s chambers and she said just a moment and then Smith came on the line right away.
And I remember I told your dad about the story and he said well, don’t get too used to that, that’s going to end after the clerkship is over.
Pamela Buchmeyer: I heard many clerks complain that once they left the judicial chambers they could never get a call answered.
Rocky Dhir: I thought I was a lot handsomer.
Pamela Buchmeyer: Quite the comedown.
Rocky Dhir: Yeah, I thought I was so handsome when I was clerking his chamber because everybody wanted to meet me and everybody wanted to talk to me and then I realized it was just — it was the black robe behind me. It was a lot of fun.
When we were doing our panel a second ago on humor, we were talking a bit. Now, one of the things I noticed was in your bio, your title for yourself and I don’t know if this is something your dad would have made you do or what, but you wrote writer, lawyer and bon vivant.
Pamela Buchmeyer: I thought that was so funny when they send me the little form to fill out and I didn’t quite picture that it was going to be in the program for the two day Texas Bar Conventions.
Rocky Dhir: I think it’s epic. I think it’s great.
Pamela Buchmeyer: Along with a 100 other speakers and I was the only one who put something a little silly there; of course, I was — you and I were the only two speaking on humor too, so maybe it was called for.
Rocky Dhir: Well true, true. Okay, you are going to have to help me out here, what in the world is a bon vivant?
Pamela Buchmeyer: A bon vivant is someone who loves living, who loves life.
Rocky Dhir: As opposed to the opposite, loving the opposite is not.
Pamela Buchmeyer: Well, it’s a glass half-full person, who enjoys — vivant from the Latin to live and bon, good.
Rocky Dhir: You completely killed the SATs, didn’t you, from the Latin, the derivation, did you win the spelling bee too?
Pamela Buchmeyer: I did take some Latin in college.
Rocky Dhir: Well, I guess if Julius Caesar ever rolls his tongue.
Pamela Buchmeyer: And now it has helped me tell a joke, so that was the only use for Latin.
Rocky Dhir: Who would have thought? It was a great career move to learn Latin apparently.
Pamela Buchmeyer: But I am living in Florida right now for my spouse’s work and I went down to the courthouse around Miami; I am not practicing law in Florida. You have to take the Bar Exam to practice there, but I am an affiliate member of the Palm Beach County Bar Association and I love to go to CLE and just different activity. So I was down at the courthouse and I see a big sign that said and this is one of the moments where I really miss my dad so much so I could take a picture and show it to him, no bikinis allowed in courtroom.
Rocky Dhir: Would your dad have agreed with that sentiment?
Pamela Buchmeyer: I just — I could not imagine that they needed to tell people that, but that was important in the State of Florida, because it’s a lovely courthouse and it has some decorum, it has some gravitas and you go in and I think this is so important that they have got to post this sign everywhere, no bikinis allowed in the courtroom.
Rocky Dhir: I think I need to visit that courthouse one day. I want to go check out and see exactly what’s going on down there. This sounds like my kind of courthouse.
Now, when it comes to legal humor, I know your dad was — he took the law very seriously, but he didn’t take himself very seriously, would you agree with that?
Pamela Buchmeyer: I think that’s very well said. I mean he was a brilliant man and he worked extremely hard as a practitioner and as a judge, but he also enjoyed life. I could say he was a bon vivant and he enjoyed the practice of law. He loved lawyers. He loved the profession. He loved the courthouse. And I think part of that made him enjoy the little missteps that just happened as part of the practice of law. I mean we are all going to accidentally say something that comes across.
One of the most famous strokes is the lawyer who asks the expert witness, doctor, how many autopsies have you performed on dead people and the doctor says hopefully all of them.
Rocky Dhir: Exactly. Exactly.
Pamela Buchmeyer: We just can’t help making a few mistakes. I saw a document recently where there was a typo coming out of the judge’s office and it said all the hearings for the middle of the night instead of the middle of the morning, 2 o’clock a.m. instead of 2 o’clock p.m. And you are like oh, am I supposed to be there, was there a government shutdown, is there some special reason?
Rocky Dhir: And I guess at that time what your dad always said is just roll with it and have fun.
Pamela Buchmeyer: He was like that’s one hardworking judge.
Rocky Dhir: Yeah, there you go.
Pamela Buchmeyer: That’s a hardworking judge.
Rocky Dhir: That’s burning the midnight oil, for sure. Now, for folks out there, what kind of material are you looking for? What should people be sending you?
Pamela Buchmeyer: Well, I think people have the idea that they need a transcript or a deposition hard copy document to send me and that’s really not. I am happy to take stories that are your recollection, that you can write in an email. I call and verify all the stories and so I can pull out some details.
Rocky Dhir: But it still hearsay.
Pamela Buchmeyer: I don’t care. I don’t think anybody does, because like we, in our panel, just a few minutes ago, a gentleman, who is 93, stood up and told us a very funny story.
Rocky Dhir: Gentleman named Fred.
Pamela Buchmeyer: He told it well, it was clever. Do you want to repeat it for this audience?
Rocky Dhir: Well yeah, so he was the county attorney at the time, if I recall, and he had gone to his supervisor — no, he had gone to the judge.
Pamela Buchmeyer: He had gone to the judge and they were going to perhaps confine someone for mental illness.
Rocky Dhir: Right. And this guy had a book with him and he had come out looking exactly like Jesus Christ; he had the long beard and the white robe and really he looked like the image of Jesus Christ.
Pamela Buchmeyer: The image that is popular.
Rocky Dhir: The popularized image of Jesus Christ. And so he goes to the judge and he says we need to get this guy committed because he says he is Jesus and he is really not Jesus. And the judge said well, for both of our sakes, I hope you got this right.
And now, granted, Fred from the story has lived to be 93. So I don’t think Jesus was particularly upset with him that day. So I think he got it right but boy. But I mean that just goes to show how — that interaction, sometimes a little bit of humor can defuse a situation.
Pamela Buchmeyer: I ran into a judge, and I am not going to say his name, because I always ask permission, because a lot of people prefer to remain anonymous. So this was a judge in Austin area and he had a pro se client and the pro se client towards the end of — it was like a five day trial, just really went on way too long, the pro se client said judge, I can’t believe you have treated me so badly. I have treated you with nothing but respect. And the judge said well sir, I disagree. I don’t think that you have treated me with respect at all.
And the pro se client said, and for people who are listening, that means he represented himself, he is not an attorney, he said no, I have treated you with nothing but respect. And the judge said I have taken notes. I have a whole legal pad full of notes I have taken during the five-day trial and I am going flip back to page 1, the very top of the first page where you walked into the court and said I don’t want to be here you SOB, and there was a long string of curse words that I am not going to say on the air.
Rocky Dhir: And he said that to the judge?
Pamela Buchmeyer: He said that to the judge. That was his first moment in the courtroom and that poor judge had to go through five days of that. And I thought he was so restrained to say, no, you have not been polite to me and I took notes and here it is. It was a great story and I hope to work it into the column.
Rocky Dhir: It will have a lot of bleeps and edits I am sure, but we will figure out a way to work that in.
So where can people send their stories, so it doesn’t have to be transcripts, if they have it, it’s great?
Pamela Buchmeyer: Yeah, just a story. It’s [email protected].
Rocky Dhir: All one word?
Pamela Buchmeyer: One word, [email protected]. The column is open to the public at texasbar.com, under Publications.
Rocky Dhir: Sure. But that’s if you want to appear in the Texas Bar Journal or have a chance at it, send it to [email protected].
Pamela Buchmeyer: Please do, all stories are welcome. And if we can’t print it because it’s a little risqué, we will both have a good laugh and enjoy a moment on the phone.
Rocky Dhir: And maybe they will show up as an anonymous post on one of these talks. We can have you back on the podcast and we can do the anonymous version.
Pamela Buchmeyer: A lot of people prefer to remain anonymous.
Rocky Dhir: And we can do that too, and then we can edit them out and we can change the story to protect the guilty.
Well Pam, thank you. Thank you for being here.
Pamela Buchmeyer: It’s a pleasure Rocky. I enjoyed being at the convention. I loved it so much. I saw a lot of good friends. I have heard a lot of great lecturers, really been impressed.
Rocky Dhir: There’s great content here.
Pamela Buchmeyer: It’s a quality operation. Hotel is lovely.
Rocky Dhir: It’s a great conference. The Annual Meeting is always fun and it’s a thrill to be able to do this podcast.
Pamela Buchmeyer: Wide range of topics.
Rocky Dhir: Oh, absolutely. It’s a thrill to be able to do this podcast right here at the Annual Meeting. So again, you have added to the energy here.
Guys, this has been another fantastic edition of the State Bar of Texas Podcast in partnership with Legal Talk Network.
Pam Buchmeyer, you have been a fantastic guest.
Pamela Buchmeyer: My pleasure Rocky. Glad to spend some time with you today.
Rocky Dhir: So thank you for being here.
If you liked what you heard just now, please find us and rate us in Apple Podcasts, or you can find us on Google Play or on your favorite podcast app, or if you want to learn more about us, go to legaltalknetwork.com and you can learn a bit more about our production.
Now guys, sometimes the ride of life is serious and sometimes it’s funny. Today we got a little bit of the funny, but thank you for joining us, because after all, life is a journey folks. Thanks for tuning in.
Outro: If you would like more information about today’s show, please visit legaltalknetwork.com. Go to texasbar.com/podcast. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts and RSS. Find both the State Bar of Texas and Legal Talk Network on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn or download the free app from Legal Talk Network in Google Play and iTunes.
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