Summertime is here. If you are a child, it means the carnival is coming to town, and it’s a wonderful thing. But, if you’re an adult, it just means the carnies are coming to a neighborhood near you, and it doesn’t seem so great.
Fortunately, there has been a huge increase in the past 10 years, with respect to the professionalism of the carnies. A carnie today might be an adventurous student from Eastern Europe, or a college graduate.
These days, carnies are even required to take drug tests as a condition of employment.
But it wasn’t always so.
Let me tell you a story.
About 10 years ago, the carnies who came to town were about the worst glue-sniffing goofballs you can imagine. And the greasiest glue-sniffing goofball of them all developed a crush on my friend Amy, who lived across the street from the park.
The carnie had a lot of missing teeth, and a dog collar, but most noteworthy for our purposes, he talked just like Pete Puma in the Bugs Bunny cartoons.
Amy was only about 17 at the time, and not particularly worldly either. One night, she related her first encounter with Pete Puma in the park to me, remarking that she and her parents now had every door and window in the house locked tight as a drum until such time as the carnies moved on to the next town.
She described him, as I did above, and I knew exactly which carnie she was talking about.
The next night, I was talking to Pete Puma, and he told me how there’s this girl who lives by the park. “Her name’s Aaaaaaaamy,” he said. “She’s beauuuuuuutiful.”
“You should go for that,” I encouraged him. Now I knew Pete Puma was a glue-sniffer, but he struck me as quite harmless.
On the third night, I was with Amy again, and I related to her my conversation with Pete Puma from the night before, much to her horror, but much to the delight of everyone else present.
Hanging out with some of the carnies who came to town this year, I was astonished at how, in a mere 10 years, the carnival industry had become so professional. And they did it without even spending mandatory carnie dues on a public image campaign.
It occurred to me that if the carnie profession can improve itself that much in a mere 10 years, imagine what we could do to improve the legal profession if we made that kind of commitment to excellence.
Step one, of course, would be to get rid of all the phony-baloney, substance-less courses in the law schools.
Obviously, we can’t control the law schools’ curricula, but we can get the word out that if students choose to take courses like Law & Society or Community Development Law instead of Corporations and Insurance we simply will not consider hiring them.
For step two, we could start actually imposing real sanctions on attorneys who steal from their clients and such. Currently, the only time a crooked lawyer licensed to practice in Wisconsin gets the discipline he deserves is if he doesn’t actually practice in Wisconsin, but gets disciplined in another state where they take theft from clients seriously.
In those cases, identical and reciprocal discipline is imposed here, even though the punishment far exceeds what it would be if a Wisconsin client had been victimized.
To this day, Amy can’t watch a Pete Puma cartoon without cringing; and I can still make her skin crawl just by calling her, “Aaaaaaaaaamy.”
But she’s not afraid of the carnies any more. And with some hard, but worthwhile, work, we can lessen folks’ fear of the legal profession, too.