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I am looking for a term or an idiomatic expression to refer to a good, experienced lawyer who, in terms of competence and results, is well above average.

The term or the expression can be formal or informal. I've been asked to supply a phrase where to use it. It could be:

Mr. Smith is a very competent lawyer, he is a [...].

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    A capable cook would not necessarily be referred to as a chef. A chef is the chief cook in restaurant kitchen. He or she creates recipes, designs menus, and directs the other cooks. It is expected that a chef would have formal training and have completed apprenticeships. None of this is parallel to legal work, so it's difficult to see what you're looking for. Is a practicing lawyer better than law school professor? – deadrat Feb 29 '16 at 6:04
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    Perhaps the term legal eagle? – deadrat Feb 29 '16 at 6:09
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    Top-notch lawyer is a broadly used term. – user140086 Feb 29 '16 at 6:52
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    A reliable attorney is one who makes you liable all over again. ;-) – WBT Feb 29 '16 at 20:56
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    "Ace" is the word that came to mind for me, but not specific to lawyers. Although acquiring an amount of alliteration articulated as "ace attorney". – Matthew Read Mar 1 '16 at 10:11
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Philadelphia lawyer

A lawyer knowledgeable in the most minute aspects of the law. M-W

legal beagle

(idiomatic) A skillful and adroit attorney. Wiktionary

virtuoso of the bar

virtuoso

A person who has special knowledge or skill in a field. Random House

On TV, he is primped and sexy, appealing to men and women, worshipped by all; an object of jealousy, perhaps, but also of respect; a virtuoso of the bar, fearless and shameless, smashing the prosecution's argument to pieces with the jackhammer of his wit... The Age of Reinvention

barrister

In the United States a fancy name for a lawyer or attorney. In Great Britain, there is a two-tier bar made up of solicitors who perform all legal tasks except appearance in court and barristers, who try cases. Some solicitors will "take the silk" (quaint expression) and become barristers. (See: solicitor) Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill

  • Thanks, it is curious that there are two similar expressions "legal eagle" and "legal beagle." – user067531 Feb 29 '16 at 11:36
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    As a general note, "taking silk" does not mean becoming a barrister; taking silk describes becoming a Queen's Counsel, a very senior legal post. It is possible, but certainly not common, for a solicitor to take silk without ever having been a barrister but taking silk is never the name for a solicitor (or anyone else) becoming a barrister. Wikipedia article. It's a fine distinction but an important one. – Spratty Feb 29 '16 at 15:20
  • @spratty See also my concern at english.stackexchange.com/questions/310564/… – Greek - Area 51 Proposal Feb 29 '16 at 18:16
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An informal expression which is close to what you are looking for is legal eagle:

  • (slang) a lawyer, esp. one regarded as highly skilled or ambitious

    • He made his reputation as a legal eagle as a prosecutor before entering private practice.

(yourdictionary.com)

The expression silver-tongued is also used to refer to a lawyer with persuasive speech:

Silver-tongued lawyer.

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    Although I don't see this clearly expressed in any online definition, "silver-tongued" has a negative connotation. For example, in following the ngram search with a Google Books search, I quickly found the quote "that same silver-tongued lawyer whose family was more famous for eloquence than honesty", and there are others in a similar vein. – mattdm Feb 29 '16 at 14:09
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    There's also the AmEng silver-tongued attorney – Mari-Lou A Feb 29 '16 at 21:40
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The term that is used in my neck of the woods is "Silk".

Example: That family court dunderhead is a waste of space you need to get a Silk .

  • UK (specialized law) : a ​lawyer of high ​rank in some ​countries

(Cambridge Dictionary )

  • Welcome to English Language & Usage. This answer was flagged as low-quality because of its length and content. Can you try to include reference or link (that can support your answer) and its essential part? Please take the tour and visit our help center for additional guidance. – user140086 Feb 29 '16 at 10:11
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    @autistic Need to explain about QCs e.g. quotes from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen's_Counsel – k1eran Feb 29 '16 at 10:16
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    I think that this answer applies only to Commonwealth countries with appointed QCs? For example, would ordinary North Americans or Continental Europeans understand this? – Greek - Area 51 Proposal Feb 29 '16 at 18:16
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    I've never heard "silk" used regarding the practice of law in any way in the USA, but that doesn't mean this answer is not edifying. – Todd Wilcox Feb 29 '16 at 18:54
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    This is an interesting answer, but one has to be careful since it has a very narrow technical meaning. (Even in the UK, "silk" refers to barristers and not solicitors. While it's true that every silk is (we have good reason to believe) an excellent lawyer, not every excellent lawyer has taken silk, and to describe one who hasn't (yet) as "silk" is factually incorrect. – Silverfish Mar 1 '16 at 0:15
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In the US, the term high-powered is used to describe lawyers that are called upon when the defendant wants the best lawyer money can buy. For example:

Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert has hired a high-powered Washington attorney who is a veteran of political scandals to represent him against federal charges that he lied to the FBI about bank withdrawals — money he allegedly used as payoffs to keep sexual misconduct accusations under wraps.
MSNBC.com

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Wiktionary defines the informal term superlawyer as:

A very successful or powerful lawyer.

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The term 'jurist' is often used to suggest that a lawyer is particularly erudite or illustrious.

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"Jurist" was mentioned. The Online Law Dictionary defines it as "[o]ne who is versed or skilled in the law..." I have heard it mostly in connection with judges, but it can also refer to writers and academics.

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