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Simple Country Lawyer
I'm just a humble country lawyer trying to do the best I can against this brilliant prosecutor from the big city of Lansing.
The legal counsel who starts off his closing argument with "now, I may not be a big-city lawyer...
" and then tries to win the jury over with an appeal to emotion and his folksy charm. He's almost always a Southern Gentleman
with a thick Foghorn Leghorn
drawl, dressed in a white suit
with a Waistcoat of Style
Something of a Dead Horse Trope
nowadays, although it still gets Played Straight
may have the lawyer display Obfuscating Stupidity
or using a Chewbacca Defense
. Parodic examples will usually be a Shout-Out
, but also occasionally Jimmy Stewart
or Atticus Finch
Not to be confused with The Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer
, although as noted below, there's a certain amount of overlap. This can take a Shocking Swerve
in an number of directions when this persona hides a Southern-Fried Genius
who proceeds to put the big city lawyer to shame with superior legal knowledge and skill.
open/close all folders
- The Ur Example is the film Anatomy of a Murder, in which Jimmy Stewart plays Paul Biegler, a lawyer from the fairly backwoods Upper Peninsula of Michigan, defending a man in a murder trial. Along with the local D.A., an Assistant Attorney General from the state capital of Lansing has been brought in to prosecute, and Biegler gets a fair amount of mileage out of displaying himself as David facing off against the massive Goliath of the state government, culminating in the page quote. Of course, since he's from the U.P., and so's the jury, while the prosecutor and even the judge aren't, he's really playing it up for them.
- This is doubly funny for actual Michiganders, in that Lansing isn't that big itself: a local lawyer pitted against one from Detroit could pull the same thing off in a court in Lansing.
- Keanu Reeves in The Devils Advocate.
- Jim Trotter III from My Cousin Vinny is something of an inversion, as the "Simple Country Lawyer" has more education and experience than the Big City Lawyer (Vinny).
- Dustin Hoffman plays the Simple Country Lawyer in Runaway Jury, going against the jury-rigger played by Gene Hackman.
- I Love You Phillip Morris has a court scene that plays into this trope to the hilt - when the real lawyer accuses the sham of treating the proceedings "like an episode of Matlock," he launches into the "plain-spoken man" speech. The judge's reaction? "Good point."
- Spencer Tracy plays with this trope as Chief Judge Dan Haywood in Judgment At Nuremberg. While he's the judge, not a lawyer, he makes it clear that he's a simple jurist from the woods of Maine, and needs help understanding the German cultural issues surrounding the trials. When it comes time for the tribunal to make their decision, he tells his fellow judges to stop with the legalese, and (plain-n-simply) decide if the defendants were responsible for their actions.
- In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch was a well-educated man who abhorred the opinions of his neighbours, but incompetent parodies or portrayals presume he is supposed to be this trope.
- John Grisham plays with this trope a lot, especially in stories set in Ford County.
Live Action TV
- This was the entire premise of the series Matlock, and the source of most parodies of the trope.
- Invoked in an episode of Workaholics Adam channels this while in small-claims court, speaking in an exaggerated southern accent so heavy the judge couldn't understand him while wearing a light pastel suit.
- Saturday Night Live pushed the trope to its limits by introducing the simplest, countriest attorney possible: Cirroc, The Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer, whose legal arguments were sterling examples of this tactic.
- Mystery Science Theater 3000 - The host segments of episode 815 (Agent for H.A.R.M.) have Mike being put on trial for inadvertantly destroying several planets. His defense attorney is Professor Bobo, who evokes the trope down to the white suit and Southern drawl.
- Bobo also directly references the "panties" spiel from Anatomy of a Murder.
- In one episode of Dharma and Greg, the titular couple amuse themselves by pretending to be Southerners. When the real Southerner they befriend turns out to be a judge, Greg (who actually is a big city lawyer who went to Harvard) finds himself acting out the simple country lawyer trope in the courtroom to maintain the charade.
- A humanoid chicken who calls himself "just a simple hyperchicken from a backwoods asteroid". According to a deleted scene from Into The Wild Green Yonder, said chicken's name is "Matcluck". Despite his trial for incompetence, he holds an on-screen perfect record of 2 successful defenses and 2 successful prosecutions. And he managed to negotiate a sweet deal for Bender while under arrest himself, "awaitin' trial for that there incompetence." in "The Birdbot of Ice-Catraz". One of those insanity defenses was just saying "well for starters, they hired me as their lawyer".
- One-shot character Oldman Waterfall (of the recurring Waterfall family) makes the above chicken look like a regular city slicker in comparison. Despite this, he was very socially liberal (and in a way that was positively portrayed, unlike the rest of his Strawman Political family). He also argued for the validity of bisexual polygamist marriage. ...and Satanic funerals.
- The episode "A Clockwork Origin" has Bender attempt to invoke this trope while defending the Professor on charges of claiming Creationism to the species of robots who he caused to evolve (It Makes Sense in Context). The prosecution objects to Bender wearing redundant suspenders when he has no pants.
- From The Simpsons:
- Lionel Hutz occasionally slipped into this. He, too, was played by Phil Hartman.
- The Evolution vs. Creationism episode in The Simpsons had a fat, southern Simple Country Lawyer.
- Lampshaded in yet another episode of The Simpsons:
Homer: Did you, or did you not use a senior citizens' discount card at said car wash?
Ned Well, I did, but...
Homer: Now I'm not a fancy big city lawyer... [Congregation gasps] ...but it seems to me that a senior citizen has to be over 55. Isn't that so?
Ned: Well, yes...
Homer: And you are how old?
Ned: [sighs] I suppose if you must know, I'm... well, I... I'm 60.
- Homer does this while representing himself in one comic. His whole opening statement is "I'm not a fancy big city lawyer." He explains that that's all he learned from watching Matlock with his father.
- The Venture Bros.' Tiny Attorney has lines like "I may just be a growth on the stomach of an inbred simpleton, but...". Not to mention he actually says "I'm just a simple country lawyer" at one point.
- Jewel Crawford, Miss Liz's divorce attorney on King of the Hill.
"Judge Iapereau sends his best regards, and this. (hands Buck Strickland a court order) It tells you when you gotta leave, which is now, and where you gotta go, which is out. There. You all caught up."
- In real life, megalawyer Gerry Spence made a career out of playing to this trope. His autobiography was even titled The Making of a Country Lawyer. And he was damn good at it, too: at the time of his retirement in 2008, he had not lost a jury trial in 39 years, and had never lost a criminal trial, period.
- Surprisingly, the great Roman orator, lawyer and politician Cicero fills this trope quite well. Whereas most of the senators, magistrates and lawyers in Ancient Rome were more or less patrician (not necessarily with money though), Cicero was an eques (well-off, but hardly rich) and from Arpinium—a town in southern Latium which had been conquered, assimilated, and granted (plebeian) citizenship by the Romans over the course of the 200 years before Cicero's birth. He played on this fact both implicitly and explicitly in many of his major speeches appealing to the Nouveau Riche, such as in the In Verrem speeches. This makes this trope Older Than Feudalism.
- This Real Life lawyer tries to invoke the trope but ultimately loses his case.
- Sam Ervin, a U.S. Senator from North Carolina who became nationally famous as head of the Senate Watergate Committee in 1973, was fond of referring to himself as one of these.
- Tim Pawlenty, Presidential candidate and governor of Minnesota, was caught faking a Southern accent. Again, he's the governor of Minnesota, which borders Canada.
- A mythology has built up around Abraham Lincoln which seeks to paint him as this trope. Whilst he might have started that way, he built his firm into a ruthless business-law juggernaut which cornered the market in Springfield. Abe Lincoln was more akin to a modern corporate lawyer; he was placed on retainer by Illinois Central Railroad in 1853, he later demanded $2000 ($54,380 in 2012 money), and, when they refused to pay, took them to court and won $5000 ($135,950 today). He also once offered to desert them and represent their opponents if they could match his fee. He was basically the Franziska von Karma of the antebellum legal world.