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Lawyer's 'Parroted' Twitter Joke Leads to Accusations of Plagiarism

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. | Last updated on

Twitter users tend to run in groups. There's political Twitter, black Twitter, legal Twitter, and even #appellatetwitter. And over the past few days, the legal twittersphere has had its feathers ruffled a little bit.

As you would expect, the controversy is over an (allegedly stolen) joke involving a parrot.

Polly Want a Divorce Lawyer?

On Monday morning, Michael E. Adler, a business lawyer in Philadelphia, blew up legal Twitter and regular Twitter when he posted this:

It's funny, self depreciating, light hearted -- just the sort of comic relief we need in these trying times.

Adler's tweet was retweeted more than 40,000 times and liked 80,000 times. To give you a comparison, Texas Supreme Court Justice and potential Trump pick for the U.S. Supreme Court Don Willett is an avid Twitter user who usually gets a dozen to a few hundred retweets for his legal jokes. Many tweets by President Barack Obama, from the official @POTUS account, top out at 11,000 retweets. So, 40K is a lot.

Adler's tweet was so successful that it was picked up on Reddit, where it earned 7,000 internet points, featured in Above the Law, and even covered by the BBC.

Except the joke might not have been his.

I Mean, It Was a Joke About a Parrot...

As several Twitter users noted, a very similar joke was made in September by another divorce lawyer:

Straight Out of the Bird Cage

On the BBC's Newsday, Adler seemed to maintain that he did, in fact, work on a parrot-related divorce case.

"This is a couple, it's an all-male couple here in Philadelphia," he told the BBC. "They own condos and apartment buildings and antiques, but they also owned a pet."

"I said to the other lawyer, well, my guys don't trust your guy. There's the bird involved," Alder explained. The solution was to share custody and that "your guy won't say anything bad about my guy in front of the bird," he said.

Adler also offered some advice for lawyers. "I would never have a parrot in my law office," he opined, "because I rely upon confidentiality" and "a parrot might not know that."

But other Twitter users noted that this wasn't the first time Adler had apparently "parroted" similar, if not exact, copies of others' jokes without attribution.

Did Adler cross a line, stealing another's humor for his own gain? Or is this all a lot of meaningless noise over a simple joke? And did anyone actually handle a parrot custody battle?

Let us know your (own) thoughts on Twitter (@FindLawLP) or Facebook (FindLaw for Legal Professionals).

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