What do we call a lawyer? A look at attorney titles
What do we call a lawyer? No, this is not a lawyer joke. I am referring to titles. It has not been one of my regrets that lawyers in the English-speaking world are not addressed with formal titles, as doctors are.
I am not a vain or pretentious person. While in practice, I never minded being called Mr. Strigberger. But I sometimes wondered if physicians experienced a buzz being introduced and addressed as Doctor.
I got an inkling of this buzz after a recent event I experienced involving a lawyer, a doctor and a fish.
I also was never envious of the fact that, unlike attorneys in English-speaking Canada, lawyers in the province of Quebec are distinguished from the lay folks; they are referred to as Maître, meaning master. The practice in this French jurisdiction is similar to that in France; lawyers’ names are preceded by the abbreviation Me, being short for Maître. No problem for me at all. I’m fine with Mr.
I also hear that in some countries like Brazil lawyers are referred to as Doctor. Although this address sounds prestigious, I never considered becoming a lawyer for any honor the profession might attract. I pursued a legal career for the same reason we all (no doubt) did: to ensure justice prevails, of course.
Now for the fish story.
I recently went to lunch with my former colleague Barry. This was actually one of my first journeys to an indoor restaurant since the COVID-19 pandemic began almost three years ago, and I was hesitant. However, Barry convinced me to take the leap, urging me to finally get out and socialize once again. Noting this new seafood establishment near the courthouse is a favorite of lawyers, he said I would likely run into some former colleagues I hadn’t seen in ages.
As soon as we arrived at the restaurant, I had misgivings. First, the menu posted outside boasted luncheon specials that were rather pricey. They even charged for an order of bread and olives. Second, there was a long line of patrons waiting to be seated. Worst of all, the place smelled fishy. The scent knocked me off my feet.
“Why is this place so packed?” I asked Barry.
My learned friend suggested that it must be the ambiance. I wasn’t impressed. What ambiance was he talking about? What immediately caught my eye was a large tacky wall hanging of a wooden tuna. What’s so special about tuna?
I suggested to my former colleague that we leave. There was a Mediterranean restaurant next door, and I was ready to enjoy a humble falafel.
Barry contemplated my suggestion as the manager, dressed in a tux, cruised around the front of the line, busily endeavoring to seat the hungry crowd.
“And I also don’t like pretentious restaurant managers wearing tuxes,” I added.
The manager approached the front of the line and, in an Eastern European accent, he said to two lawyer colleagues of ours, “Follow me please, doctors.”
Barry mumbled to me something about having that falafel.
“Good idea,” I said, “But just a minute.”
The manager returned to the line and approached three more lawyers in front of us. One said, “Table for three, please, Stefan.”
“Certainly, Dr. Cooper,” Stefan replied. “This way, doctors.”
Barry turned to me. “It’s starting to get a bit late,” he said. “You have a good point. It only takes a couple of minutes to put together a falafel.”
“Hold on, Barry,” I insisted. “Stefan is coming right back.”
As Barry began buttoning up his coat, Stefan said to him, “Welcome back, doctor.”
I tapped Barry on the shoulder and cleared my throat loudly. Barry introduced me as his former colleague and an eminent litigation counsel.
Stefan greeted me with a broad smile, “Welcome, Dr. Marcel.”
I returned the smile, grinning like the Cheshire Cat.
“Dr. Marcel, we have an excellent selection of fish today,” he continued.
“I’m sure you do, Stefan,” I replied. “The magnificent maritime smell is simply enchanting.”
I finally began to look forward to a good fish lunch—after all, it had been a while since I savored a good, lightly seared tuna steak.
But there was one hitch. We were seated in a section off to the side of the main dining room and were the only patrons in this appendix area. This bothered me given the nearly three years of being isolated because of COVID. The last thing I wanted was to pay good money for the privilege of continuing to remain socially distanced. I craved human contact. I was at the end of my rope.
Barry summoned Stefan. He told him about our predicament.
“We are full today,” Stefan said apologetically. “There is nothing we can do, doctors.”
Barry stood up and mumbled in a low voice that we could still shoot for that falafel. I also stood up, shrugging my shoulders hesitatingly.
Stefan then smiled and said to me, “Wait a minute; I can perhaps set up another table for you near the kitchen entrance, doctor.”
I sat down again—after all, I am always ready to listen to reason. And Stefan did look very dignified and professional standing there in his well-fitting tux.
“We won’t like it in front of the kitchen,” Barry replied. “Too much waiter traffic next to the swinging doors.”
“Relax, Barry,” I retorted. “It’s part of the ambiance.”
He was ready to leave once again and go for the falafel when I riveted him to his seat. I was starting to like this place.
“Chill out, Barry. We have to be flexible. You can always get that lowly falafel. This place is great. Where else can you get a luscious piece of yellow fin tuna for $38?”
Stefan called out directions to the busboys. “Set up a table there immediately for the two busy doctors,” he said. “They have no time to lose.”
Throughout our lunch, Stefan’s attention to us was phenomenal. He returned to our table several times asking, “Is everything OK, doctors?”
The meal was most enjoyable. And the bread and olives were exceptional—a steal at $8 an order.
And as a thanks to my former colleague for introducing me to this exemplary dining establishment, I sprang for the tab. It set me back a few bucks but was worth every penny.
And what the heck, I could afford it. I am, after all, a doctor.
ABAJournal.com: “The curious case of why lawyers are not called ‘doctor’”
Marcel Strigberger, after 40-plus years of practicing civil litigation in the Toronto area, closed his law office and decided to continue to pursue his humor writing and speaking passions. His just-launched book is Boomers, Zoomers, and Other Oomers: A Boomer-biased Irreverent Perspective on Aging. For more information, visit MarcelsHumour.com and follow him at @MarcelsHumour on Twitter.
This column reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily the views of the ABA Journal—or the American Bar Association.