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, 2016 at 6:04
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    Perhaps the term legal eagle?
    – deadrat
    Feb 29, 2016 at 6:09
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    Top-notch lawyer is a broadly used term.
    – user140086
    Feb 29, 2016 at 6:52
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    A reliable attorney is one who makes you liable all over again. ;-)
    – WBT
    Feb 29, 2016 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". Mar 1, 2016 at 10:11

7 Answers 7


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


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


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."
    – user 66974
    Feb 29, 2016 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, 2016 at 15:20
  • @spratty See also my concern at english.stackexchange.com/questions/310564/…
    – user50720
    Feb 29, 2016 at 18:16

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.


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, 2016 at 14:09
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    There's also the AmEng silver-tongued attorney
    – Mari-Lou A
    Feb 29, 2016 at 21:40

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 )

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    – user140086
    Feb 29, 2016 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, 2016 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?
    – user50720
    Feb 29, 2016 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. Feb 29, 2016 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, 2016 at 0:15

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.


Wiktionary defines the informal term superlawyer as:

A very successful or powerful lawyer.


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


"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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