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A shrewd, astute, and very skilled attorney. I don't mind paying taxes every year, but I wish it didn't take a Philadelphia lawyer just to understand how to fill in your return!
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2022 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.
A shrewd attorney, adept at dealing with legal technicalities, as in It would take a Philadelphia lawyer to get him off. This expression dates from the late 1700s and, as lexicographer Richard H. Thornton observed: "Why members of the Philadelphia bar should be credited with superhuman sagacity has never been satisfactorily explained."
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
An extremely shrewd attorney. This term dates from the eighteenth century. In 1734 John Peter Zenger, a printer, was charged with libel for printing an exposure of a corrupt New York governor, William Cosby. Zenger did not write the article, but his print shop could be attached for damages, whereas the writer was poor. Andrew Hamilton of Philadelphia came out of retirement to defend the action, and to everyone’s surprise, his eloquent argument for freedom of the press not only won Zenger acquittal but established a precedent in American law, that a true statement was not libel. As the story proliferated, however, Hamilton was made out to be a legal trickster who collected a large fee (even though he had argued honestly and charged no fee at all), whence the current definition of a Philadelphia lawyer. The Salem Observer of March 13, 1824, stated, “The New England folks have a saying, that three Philadelphia lawyers are a match for the very devil himself.”
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer
An adept attorney. The most probable reason why the City of Brotherly Love became an adjective for astute and skillful lawyers was Andrew Hamilton, whose 1735 defense of printer John Peter Zenger was a milestone of freedom of the press in America. (Lawyer Andrew should not be confused with Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton.) Although the Zenger trial was held in New York City, Hamilton was from Philadelphia. Curiously, it took some fifty years for the phrase to appear in print.
Endangered Phrases by Steven D. Price Copyright © 2011 by Steven D. Price