"A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for his client"

I have checked online and found this

I still hesitate and need to understand it better. What does "A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for his client" mean exactly?

  • 3
    Take it literally. Commented Aug 2, 2013 at 10:25
  • @MattЭллен I did before you mentioned that...that's why my question appears here :) Commented Aug 2, 2013 at 13:45
  • 1
    You didn't mention the Phrase Finder, you've mentioned something from Answers.com. The Phrase Finder is accurate. I have no idea about Answers.com, plus it doesn't tell you to take the phrase literally. Commented Aug 2, 2013 at 13:52
  • @MattЭллен My question is: What does "A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for his client" mean exactly? SO what is your own analysis please? Commented Aug 2, 2013 at 13:58

4 Answers 4


This adage has two distinct aspects. The first addresses a principle in American law that allows an individual to represent himself or herself in most judicial proceedings, such as criminal or civil trials. This is called acting pro se, whcih is Latin meaning for oneself.

While this is a right afforded a party (civil case) or defendant (criminal case), legal rules are complex and arcane, and the task can be challenging for one trained in the law, let alone one who has no formal legal education or experience. In this case, the phrase means

This is tough stuff. You would be foolish if you try to represent yourself.

Because of this, many judges, especially in criminal cases, will require that the person representing himself or herself have a shadow counsel available to assist. The shadow counsel does not lead in the arguments or examinations, but is on call as will try to guide the pro se defendant or party informally.

The second aspect of this saying covers the circumstance where someone who is a lawyer tries to represent himself or herself. Most lawyers and judges believe that the same rules apply as if the defendant or party were a lay person. In fact, some would argue that a lawyer representing his or her own interest is even more foolish than a lay person.

A lawyer may have the arrogant view that she or he knows the law and is an excellent advocate. Right or wrong in that analysis, as an involved party, the lawyer is unlikely to be as objective about the case as an independent counsel. That involvement, almost always emotionally charged, may distort the handling of the case, usually to the lawyer's detriment. Judges will often insist on shadow counsel even when the pro se defendant is a lawyer.

Many (especially lawyers) would say

A man (or woman) who is his (her) own lawyer has a fool for his client.

A lawyer who represents himself (herself) has a client who is an even bigger fool.


This site has a great explanation. But just think about it for a second, most people aren't trained as lawyers, so they won't know all the legal terms, procedures and loopholes to give themselves the best chance, especially when going up against a trained professional. Thus, their chances of winning their case will be slim to none and their attempt to do so, awkward at best.


Usually, a person involved in a court case as a plaintiff or defendant will have a lawyer to represent them. However, it is also possible for a person to represent themselves, i.e. to be their own lawyer (and therefore, their own client). The adage a man who is his own lawyer has a fool for his client means that representing yourself in court is foolish.

It comes from a perception that it is difficult for a person who does not have detailed knowledge of the law to present the evidence, arguments, and legal opinion that would convince a judge or jury to decide in his favour.


The two earlier answers focus on the person's lack of competence in the lawyer role.

The quoted expression turns this around, and highlights the foolishness of the person in the client role for choosing an incompetent lawyer.

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