Having signed up to import Coca-Cola, fast foods and several other specialies of American culture, our Chinese friends-with scarcely a lawyer among the billion of them-are looking into the American legal system.

Now, if they want to impair their digestion, that's their concern, though, as they have probably heard, we can sell them some stuff for that problem, too. But, on so serious a matter as going from a lawyerless to a lawyered society, they ought to be encouraged to move cautiously. I offer this advice as one who is positioned to discuss the law with a combination of knowledge and aloofness, having had just enough legal training to experience its flavor, but not enough to be afflicted with what is referred to as a "legal mind." Furthermore, circumstances, fortunately not of a litigious nature, have put me much in the company of members of the legal profession.

For the record, as the expression goes, that aforementioned legal training was admittedly not of any great duration-a mere three months, long ago, with the conversion to ex-lawstudent voluntarily coming about because the only thing I understood in those halls of learning was the handwriting on the wall. My main juridical recollection from before hitting the street is that a gratuitous bailee incurs a duty of slight care, which principle was being illustrated, as I tiptoed away, by the case of B, who, having casually agreed to look after A's elephant, let it languish after A failed to return weeks later. The honer of minds at the lectern was vigorously focusing attention on who is responsible for what in such circumstances.But my thoughts were lagging behind, trying to sort out how it could happen that anyone who had gone to all the trouble of acquiring and keeping an elephant could be careless about having it attended to when he was away. Maybe he got sick? I wondered, as I troubled over the parable of the elephant.

It was in the course of this, or some similar expedition through the opacities of the Common Law, that I encountered two rhetorical standbys of the profession, much used, both at work and play. The first, offered in response to a statement, is: "I have no problem with that." To understand lawyers, one must understand the microtomic nuances inherent in that brief sentance. First of all, it overlaps a bit with aviation's "Roger," to the extent that it acknowledges receipt of the message. But it means much more than that, though it does not, as some assume, necessarily signal agreement. While not incompatible with agreement, the expression is meant to convey a subtle message, namely, "I read you, and I'm not going to make any hassle about what you say, but that does not mean that I agree with you: rather, it means that I'm not objecting, and from this, it is permissible to infer that I don't consider the statement to be ourtrageous-and perhaps I even agree with it-but I'm not prepared, at least as of this moment, to go that far."

The other expression, offered in reply to a question, is, "Yes and no." It would seem that in the ordinary couse of affairs, yes/no questions must yeild to "yes" or "no." Legal minds, however, possess a pliancy that easily accommodates simultaneous negative and positive answers to the same question.

When confined to the paneled lairs of the law, these peculiarities of language and thought are so common as to be unnoticed by members of the trade, and it's quite likely that their use has a soothing effect on anxiety-filled clients. The difficulty, however, is that once let loose, the law, its methods, and practitioners spread like that imported kudzu vine that's blanketing the south. As one lawyer said to the other, "Pizza for lunch?" Came the reply, "I have no problem with that." "Or would you prefer something else?" asked the first. "Yes and no," came the answer.

China, beware.