Legal types: is a reference to "Jarndyce and Jarndyce" too obscure?

I have to give a talk at a seminar in a few weeks’ time. The audience will consist mostly of solicitors. I’ll be giving a brief introduction into various actuarial aspects of long tail insurance classes such as workers’ compensation and public liability.

In one section of the talk I am intending to discuss the delayed long term claims development pattern that these insurance classes typically exhibit. One factor that contributes to this delayed development pattern is the propensity for long, drawn-out legal battles. I had intended to make a humorous reference to lawsuits like Jarndyce v Jarndyce from Bleak House, thinking that most of the audience would recognise it as a byword for lengthy, costly litigation. However a lawyer colleage has suggested that I take the reference out because it would be too confusing.

It’s not really vital and I’m happy to drop it. But I was interested to know whether others thought the *Jarndyce v Jarndyce * reference too obscure, particularly for a mainly legal audience.

Too obscure for a legal audience. They read law, not Dickens.

I think you would be pushing the Cafe Society crowd pretty hard for that one. Definitely too obscure.

Maybe have a trivia question box that asks a question about it at the door as a prize. I will offer even money that nobody wins.

It would be too obscure for me. I think the only Dickens I’ve read is A Christmas Carol.

Having said that, you could still include the reference as long as you explain it. In other words, instead of a throwaway reference, include some context: some of you may recall that in Bleak House, Charles Dickens told the tale of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, a case that blah blah blah.

Yes, it loses much of its punch that way, but if it makes you happy to include the reference, go for it.

Tough call.
Personally, I would think it a shame that a reasonably literate person could have a career in law and not catch the reference. Hell, you don’t even have to read, as it was just a 6 part miniseries on the local public TV here. I always bristle about supposedly educated folks maintaining that they ought not to be expected to know something my kids knew while in grade school (while watching the recent mini-series, the kids recalled a previous showing maybe 10 years earlier.)

However, I am regularly impressed with the abject ignorance my fellow attorneys exhibit on various subjects.

I tend to expect some familiarity with Dickens from most reasonably educated people - and I would expect most lawyers to at least have a fleeting familiarity with BH. I hesitate to dumb down my language or references in anticipation of my audience’s ignorance. But presenting at a seminar is somewhat akin to sales - you don’t want to engender an unfavorable impression.

So it it were me, it would come down to how I felt about the audience, and what I had riding on the relationship. If I respected the audience and didn’t have to cater to them overmuch, I’d use the reference unadorned (presuming, of course, that it is apt to your discussion and the reference is not tortured). If the “kiss ass” factor were higher, I might casually attribute it to the author or book. But if I needed to be too explicit, I’d trash the reference altogether.

It wouldn’t be too obscure for me. But then, that may be because I’ve been looking for an opportunity to work it into one of my judge’s opinions. :slight_smile:

You might want to compromise and refer to it as something like, “Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, the famously convoluted and drawn-out case from Charles Dickens’s Bleak House.”

I’m a current first-year law student and I have seen that reference numerous times, in court opinions, law review articles, and various things directly from my law school.

I don’t think it’s too obscure, but if you’re feeling iffy about it, just mention briefly where it’s from and what it means: I’m sure that would jog alot of memories.

I think an audience of lawyers would typically know that Bleak House describes a long and unreasonably drawn-out case. But not the name Jarndyce and Jarndyce.


“Dickens’ infamous Jarndyce case from Bleak House.”

Thanks for the opinions everyone.

Yes, that was my feeling too. I’m a fifth year law student and I’ve lost count of the number of references that have been made to *Jarndyce v Jarndyce * since I’ve been at uni. And not just in lectures. It appears in texts, newspaper articles, journals etc.

I think I’ll keep the reference in my talk, but in a more generalised way.

Just to note that the proper way of referring to a case like that in England is “Jarndyce and Jarndyce” - we never say “versus”.

jsut another vote for “Jarndyce and Jarndyce” not being too obscure for law types. personally, it was one of the first references i heard in my first year civ pro class, as a fictional example of the worst excesses of common law procedure prior to the Victorian reforms.

Campion, it might be a Commonwealth thing, since those Victorian reforms tended to get duplicated in the colonies, and therefore the Dickens reference related to our legal histories as well - Y(American)MMV.

I’m a lawyer who was an articles editor on the law review, and did two years of hardcore academic trivia competition in undergrad (although admittedly I wasn’t that good at it). I would not catch the reference. I’m aware of the never-ending court case in Bleak House, but did not know it by name. I’d say 99% of your audience will miss this. Way too obscure.

I once made a reference to Dotheboys Hall at a conference on school discipline. Nobody got it.

atty here with undergrad degree in English–vague recollection of it, but would not get the reference with just the case name–then again also would not hold it against you for using a refernce that I didn’t get

I’m not a legal type, but I’m reasonably literate, and have read a lot of Dickens. But not “Bleak House”. I certainly wouldn’t get the reference.
I once made up a sweatshirt for Halloween with The Witch of Agnesi Project on it, done in deliberate imitation of the logo of The Blair Witch Project. I even made the diagram for constructing the Witch look like the “Hanged Man” rune they used as a symbol in TBWP. Not one person understood. Nobody got the joke. I made a point of wearing the shirt to science fiction cons, at MIT, at parties run by people who make that kind of joke. No reaction. Nada. Zip.
So don’t count on people getting obscure references.

Just in case you wuz wonderin’ :

Thanks for reminding me of my high school analytic geometry. It’s probably the only thing I remember. And thanks for the link; I finally know why it’s called a “witch.”

Similar here - I’m in law school, and did English Lit in undergrad, and I have zero recollection of Jarndyce v Jarndyce .

And unlike Flipshod , I would hold an eternal grudge against you for pulling a ‘Dennis Miller’ on me. :wink:


Follow up:

I just gave the talk. I merely made a reference to “endless litigation in the manner of nineteenth century novels”. About five of the solicitors in the group of fifteen immediately raised Jarndyce v Jarndyce. So they certainly would have got the reference. Some of the others vaguely recalled that they’d heard about it too once the name was raised. The rest didn’t though. So a direct reference certainly wouldn’t have been 100% successful. However it did give us a pleasant break from the actuarial stuff while we discussed Jarndyce v Jarndyce.