"Sharking" the Good Name of Lawyers: Rethinking a Negative Nickname

Posted on 07-14-2017 by
Tags: lawyer , nicknames , shark

shark swimming

"Shark": Webster defines it as "sometimes dangerous to humans." Lawyers aren't dangerous. The truth is, they're critical to good law.  


It’s almost Shark Week 2017 (Discovery Channel/July 23-30). And you love it! The gnashing teeth, the blood in the water, the dorsal fin slicing through the ocean’s surface—it gets you thinking about great whites and hammerheads, right?

Or maybe it gets you thinking about lawyers?

As in, “All lawyers are sharks!”

Bad Names Lawyers Get

The word “shark” has an unflattering meaning in the legal world. According to a survey titled Joking or Uncomplimentary Names for Lawyers done by the Dictionary of American Regional English, “shark” ranks 28th out of 132 on the list uncomplimentary lawyer names. While this survey is a little dated (1965–70), it illustrates the “shark-isms” that plague the legal world. Further down, we also see “Legal Shark” and “Sharkster.”

Sure, there are other unflattering or insulting references on the list that don’t relate to sharks (my personal favorite is “Desk Dragon”), but “Shark” is one of the first of these nicknames that springs to mind, and this comparison appears all over pop culture.

But take heart lawyers! We know you’re not cartilaginous fish with multiple rows of razor sharp teeth and soulless eyes.

You’re actually the engine for law and justice in America. Without you, our whole legal system grinds to a halt.

So where did this negative nickname come from?

The Shark Insult: Its Beastly Origin

Surprisingly enough, it looks like the word “shark” could have come from a German word in the late 1500’s that means “scoundrel” or “villain.” There’s still research to be done to confirm this, but if it’s true, then the word started out describing people first, then a giant carnivorous fish, and now back to insulting people.

But does the shark insult have to be an insult? Are lawyers everywhere doomed to bear this unsavory nickname comparing them to mindless monsters of the sea?

The answer: Trying to look at it from another angle, instead.

Being a Shark ... Not So Bad

When you think about the ocean, sharks are right up at the top of the list of efficient, successful hunters. They are apex predators who have been at the top of the food chain for hundreds of millions of years. When they catch the scent of prey, they quickly and efficiently hunt it down. Their eyes can see almost a full 360 degrees, so it’s hard to catch them off guard. They are, arguably, the best hunters in the sea.

Being the best at what you do doesn’t sound so bad, does it? So, next time you hear someone call lawyers “sharks,” just remember how amazing sharks (and lawyers) can be. Sure, it might be an insult, but you’re free to take it as a compliment. 

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