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a man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client
A man who tries to defend himself, rather than hiring a trained lawyer, is a fool. A: "What do you mean, a lawyer? I'm going to represent myself!" B: "Well, just keep in mind that a man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client."
One who acts knowledgeable about something one actually knows little about. Stop being a guardhouse lawyer and giving me advice on how to get a job when you've been unemployed for months too!
Someone who has not formally studied law but knows enough about it to be able to help others with legal issues (as a prison inmate experienced in dealing with the law might). Despite the name, this phrase can be used in settings other than jail or prison. Talk to Sal before your court appearance—he's a real jailhouse lawyer.
informal To hire legal representation, especially to protect oneself in matters with potential legal ramifications or when being faced with police questioning. We tried to get the suspect to give us some information about the crime, but he lawyered up before he'd answer anything. You really ought to lawyer up whenever you enter into such complex business negotiations.
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!
wear (one's particular profession's) hat
To act as one would in one's particular profession while in a different setting. Bobby, I know you're off duty, but can you please wear your doctor's hat for five minutes and tell me what's wrong with my arm? I don't want to have to go to the hospital. My wife was still wearing her judge's hat when she tried to intervene with our neighbor's arguing kids.
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 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
A non-attorney who dispenses legal advice. Properly speaking, a jailhouse lawyer is a prison inmate who, although not a law school graduate (much less a member of the bar), has the requisite skill to assist other prisoners with such legal matters as preparing and filing appeals, writs, and pardon requests. Much of such knowledge came from personal experience. The phrase also applies to any layman, behind bars or not, who offers legal advice, solicited or not.
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