I understand why a criminal defense lawyer would not represent himself in a personal injury case, or a patent attorney would not defend herself against criminal charges. But why wouldn't a criminal defense lawyer defend himself in a criminal case, or a personal injury lawyer represent herself in a personal injury case?

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    Who says they don't?
    – user35069
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 18:47
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    @Rick I read somewhere that it's not considered a good idea for them to, and most don't. I'm sure some do, just like some non-lawyers represent themselves.
    – Someone
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 18:48
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    What is bringing people to this question all of a sudden? It's gotten two upvotes in the last couple hours, after nearly a year with no interaction.
    – Someone
    Commented Aug 22, 2023 at 17:37
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    It was linked in comments from this one law.stackexchange.com/q/94887/35069
    – user35069
    Commented Aug 22, 2023 at 17:39

3 Answers 3


Before you act, it’s Prudence soberly to consider; for after Action you cannot recede without dishonour: Take the Advice of some Prudent Friend; for he who will be his own Counsellour, shall be sure to have a Fool for his Client.

Conventional wisdom has strongly disfavored this since at least 1682 when William De Britaine made the statement above in his book “Humane Prudence, or, The Art by which a Man May Raise Himself and Fortune to Grandeur”. Other notable figures have reiterated that advice since then.

The modern language of the saying that "A man who represents himself, has a fool for a client," is often attributed to Abraham Lincoln, although the attribution is probably false.

Practically speaking, one reason is that it doesn't work very well to elicit testimony from yourself as opposed to a third-party at trial. Another is that a lawyer is stronger when the lawyer's personal credibility isn't subject to being questioned in the case. A third is that it is hard to exercise independent judgment in an accurate fashion when you own case is involved. A fourth is that negotiations are often easier when made through third-parties.

This said, lawyers do routinely represent themselves in areas where they have expertise anyway. It is arguably unwise, but it is rarely, if ever, legally prohibited or improper. Indeed, generally speaking, everyone has a legal right to represent themselves without a separate lawyer. Sometimes the cost or the concern about trusting someone else with their own case will prevail over conventional wisdom.

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    “A fool for a client” is not the problem, lawyers have that all the time. The problem is they have a fool for a lawyer.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Aug 22, 2023 at 20:18
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    The attribution of the quote to Lincoln is actually correct; I remember reading it on his blog.
    – Someone
    Commented Nov 9, 2023 at 5:53
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    @Someone Ha ha ha!
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Nov 9, 2023 at 19:07

As a lawyer and as a client you will have different expectations from a court case. The clients expectations might be more based on wishful thinking, while the lawyer should have an objective and realistic view of the case. And you wouldn’t want a lawyer who handles a case based on wishful thinking.

A good lawyer will know this and realise that being both lawyer and client will keep them from doing the best possible job, and any equally qualified lawyer will do a better job. For example, the client may have evidence of their innocence, but because the lawyer being the same person knows the evidence, he misses asking about it, writing it down, and telling the court. A beginner’s mistake that no other lawyer would make.


Here's a famous counter example. Jonathan Sumption QC (as he then was) represented himself in R (Sumption) v Greenwich LBC [2007] EWHC 2776 (Admin), [2008] P & CR 20 (25 March 2015)".

See also https://redd.it/w90miy.

Lord Sumption was justice on the UK Supreme Court, and non permanent judge on the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal.

Before joining the supreme court, Sumption was one of the most successful and highly paid barristers in London, becoming the first justice ever to be appointed to the court directly from the Bar. Sometimes described as "the cleverest man in Britain", his high-profile cases included representing Roman Abramovich against fellow Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky.

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    As the Reddit link points out, they're arguing about a wall, that's very low stakes. Lawyers regularly represent themselves in traffic court, they may be required to in small claims courts (often dealing with client billing issues), zoning and similar issues.
    – user71659
    Commented Jun 20 at 16:24
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    please link to authorities and cases for your last sentence?
    – user66518
    Commented Jun 20 at 16:31

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