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How many lawyer jokes are there? Only three. The rest are true stories.

I used to think this was just another lawyer joke. But now we are watching the classics of this genre come to life in the spectacular meltdown of New York law firm Dewey & Leboeuf.  For this is a true story.

"Size, in and of itself, gives you greater flexibility in key markets," Dewey & LeBoeuf’s former chairman Steve Davis boasted in 2008. "You’re taken more seriously when you have 500, 600 attorneys in New York." Yes, and what do lawyers and bullfrogs have in common? Both have a big head that consists mainly of mouth.

Mr. Davis had just completed a merger, creating a financial mess of 1,300 overpaid attorneys in a dozen countries. He did this just before one of the worst financial downturns in history. What can you say about 1,300 lawyers buried up to their necks in cement? Not enough cement.

The deal made Mr. Davis a jet-setter with regular flights between the firm’s far-flung offices. He even opened offices in Abu Dhabi and Doha. What’s the difference between a vulture and a lawyer? The vulture doesn’t get frequent-flier miles.

Adding to his global folly, Mr. Davis started attracting star lawyers with promises of huge cash payouts. How does an attorney sleep? First he lies on one side. Then he lies on the other.

To support these payouts, everyone was supposed to charge ungodly hourly rates. How do you get a group of lawyers to smile for a picture? Just say "Fees!"

To make sure its star players got paid, the firm began pinching payouts to its other lawyers. Once its stars began to realize the firm couldn’t make good on its promises, they began defecting in droves to competing law firms, taking clients with them, and leaving the firm in even worse shape. What do you throw to a drowning lawyer? His partners.

The firm had promised interns $3,000 a week under the Wall Street myth that the more you pay someone, the more they must be worth. Now, the firm is telling interns it won’t need them this summer, sending them scrambling to cover law-school expenses. What’s the difference between a lawyer and a liar? Pronunciation.

That’s why this whole debacle has been so fun to watch: It’s lawyers putting the screws to lawyers. What does a lawyer get when you give him Viagra? Taller.

To fund its growth-at-any-cost strategy, Dewey & Leboeuf took on massive debts. It borrowed tens of millions from its $100 million bank line of credit. And in 2010 it took the unusual step of issuing bonds. It now owes about $150 million to bondholders. What’s the difference between a lawyer and a catfish? One is a bottom-feeding scum-sucker. The other is a fish.

Very few law firms in history have offered bonds. It’s not like lawyers produce much besides misery. So who would be dumb enough to buy law-firm bonds? Insurance companies. Hey, insurance companies: Did you hear about the new sushi bar that caters exclusively to lawyers? It’s called Sosumi.

Mr. Davis, who is reportedly under a criminal investigation as his firm collapses, has hired a criminal defense attorney. He’ll probably walk if he’s charged. What is the difference between baseball and law? In baseball, if you’re caught stealing, you’re out.

Too bad there aren’t any new lawyer jokes emerging from this fiasco. The old ones pretty much have it covered.

Do you know what’s wrong with lawyer jokes? Lawyers don’t think they’re funny, and everyone else thinks they’re not jokes.

-Al Lewis is a columnist for Dow Jones Newswires in Denver. He blogs at; his email address is [email protected]