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"The man who defends himself in court has a fool for a lawyer, and a jackass for a client."

—Fredd Wayne as Benjamin Franklin, Bewitched (TV Series) | Samantha for the Defense (1966)
Fredd Wayne as Benjamin Franklin

The quote, or many variations thereof, “The man who represents himself has a fool for a client.” is often attributed to various sources, but its exact origin is unclear. The saying is widely used to emphasize the potential risks and disadvantages of individuals choosing to represent themselves in legal proceedings, especially in complex or serious cases.

One of the notable figures to whom this quote has been attributed is Abraham Lincoln, who was a lawyer before becoming the 16th President of the United States. However, there is substantial evidence that this quote predates Lincoln by at least 200 years.

Due to its humorous yet cautionary nature, the quote has become a common piece of legal advice, emphasizing the importance of seeking professional legal representation when facing legal matters.

"If you wish to be a lawyer, attach no consequence to the place you are in, or the person you are with; but get books, sit down anywhere, and go to reading for yourself. That will make a lawyer of you quicker than any other way."

—Abraham Lincoln, August 3, 1858
Fredd Wayne as Benjamin Franklin

Preparing for court without an attorney can be challenging, but it's possible to take steps to improve your chances of presenting your case effectively. Keep in mind that legal matters can be complex, and having a professional legal representative is often recommended. However, if you're unable to afford an attorney, here are some suggestions to help you prepare for court:

  • Research the Law: Familiarize yourself with the relevant laws, regulations, and procedures that pertain to your case. Use online legal resources, libraries, and self-help legal guides specific to your jurisdiction.
  • Understand Court Procedures: Research the court's rules and procedures. Learn about filing deadlines, required documents, and any specific forms you need to submit.
  • Gather Evidence: Collect all relevant documents, records, emails, contracts, and any other evidence that supports your case. Organize them logically for easy reference.
  • Know Your Case: Understand the key points of your case and be able to articulate them clearly. Practice summarizing your case in a concise and persuasive manner.
  • Observe Court Proceedings: Attend court hearings or trials similar to your case to get a sense of how proceedings unfold. This can help you become more familiar with courtroom etiquette and procedures.
  • Seek Legal Aid and Pro Bono Services: Research if there are legal aid clinics or pro bono services in your area that offer free or low-cost legal assistance to those in need. These services may be able to provide guidance or limited representation.
  • Use Online Resources: There are various online resources and legal self-help websites that provide templates for legal documents, guides on court procedures, and general legal information.
  • Consult Legal Assistance Organizations: Reach out to legal aid organizations, bar associations, or local community centers that might provide guidance on your legal matter.
  • Stay Organized: Keep all your documents and correspondence organized in a structured manner. This will help you present your case coherently and efficiently in court.
  • Practice Communication: Practice how you will present your case, both in written submissions and oral arguments. Being clear and concise is essential.
  • Be Respectful: Follow courtroom decorum and be respectful to the judge, court staff, and opposing parties. This will positively impact how your case is perceived.
  • Consider Mediation: In some cases, alternative dispute resolution methods like mediation can be effective in reaching a resolution without going to trial.

Remember, while these suggestions can help you prepare for court, legal matters can be intricate and challenging. If possible, consult with a legal aid organization, pro bono attorney, or explore options to secure professional legal representation to ensure that your rights are protected and you present the strongest possible case.


Maryland Legal Aid
Maryland Courts (Legal Resources Page)
University of Maryland (University Libraries)
Harvard Law School Library
George Mason University (Free Legal Resources)

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