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Simple Country Lawyer

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...but don't assume he's some kind of featherbrain.
"I'm just a humble country lawyer trying to do the best I can against this brilliant prosecutor from the big city of Lansing."
Paul Biegler, Anatomy of a Murder

The legal counsel who starts off his closing argument with some variation of "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 (may be a Fat, Sweaty Southerner in a White Suit).

Something of a Dead Horse Trope nowadays, although it still gets played straight occasionally. Deconstructions may have the lawyer display Obfuscating Stupidity or using a Chewbacca Defense. Parodies will usually be a Shout-Out to Matlock, but occasionally to Jimmy Stewart or Atticus Finch.

This can swerve in a number of directions when the persona hides a Southern-Fried Genius who proceeds to put the big city lawyer to shame with superior legal knowledge and skill.

The Trope Namer is Sam J. Ervin, a Democratic senator from North Carolina, who was fond of using this phrase when he was part of the team to investigate whether Republican senator Joseph McCarthy should be censured by the Senate, and later in his career when he served on the Senate Watergate Committee to investigate the break-in at the Washington D.C. Democratic National Headquarters, located in the Watergate Office Complex.


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  • A Little Caesars commercial has one of these lawyers declare that their bacon-wrapped deep-deep-dish pizza is perfectly legal.

    Comic Books 
  • In one issue of The Simpsons, 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.

    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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 Lansing lawyer could pull the same thing off if they were pitted against one from Detroit (and a Detroit lawyer could pull it off pitted against one from Chicago or New York).
  • 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.
  • Lincoln: Despite being the President, Lincoln still projects this vibe, and often tells stories from his lawyer days.
    Roger Ebert: I've rarely been more aware than during Steven Spielberg's Lincoln that Abraham Lincoln was a plain-spoken, practical, down-to-earth man from the farmlands of Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois.
  • Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: Jim Williams' lawyer Sonny Seiler presents himself as this, though he relies as much on actual solid courtroom arguments in his successful bid to get his client acquitted as he does on the emotions.
  • A journalistic equivalent occurs in Power of the Press. Ulysses Bradford describes himself as a "simple country newspaper publisher" when introducing himself to the senior staff of The New York Gazette, just before he lays down the law about what the new editorial policy of the paper is going to be.

  • In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch was a well-educated man who abhorred the opinions of his neighbors, 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, Mississippi.
  • Mark Twain wrote a sequel to Tom Sawyer, in which the title character has grown up to become one.
  • William Faulkner has a recurring character named Gavin Stevens, who works as the county attorney in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, a Mississippi backwater, where he is from. He's known to be an honest, intelligent, and observant, member of the community, who solves crime mysteries in court, through observation, questioning, and deduction (similar to Sherlock Holmes). His courtroom presentations are oblique, meandering, and feature Southern patois, characteristic of Faulkner's style.

    Live-Action TV 
  • This was the entire premise of the series Matlock, and the source of most parodies of the trope.
  • Inverted on Green Acres with Oliver Wendell Douglas, who was born into a rich family and grew up in New York City, attending and graduating from Harvard. He eventually follows his passion of owning and operating his own farm in Hooterville and still practices law every now and then in the greater Hooterville-Pixley region. Catastrophic results sometimes ensue whenever he tries to help the neighbors and his efforts backfire.
  • 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:
    • The SNL writers pushed the trope to its limits by introducing the simplest, countriest attorney possible: Cirroc, the Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer, who didn't let being a literal Neanderthal stop him and loved deploying this tactic during his legal arguments:
      I'm just a caveman. I fell on some ice and later got thawed out by some of your scientists. Your world frightens and confuses me! Sometimes the honking horns of your traffic make me want to get out of my BMW... and run off into the hills, or wherever... Sometimes when I get a message on my fax machine, I wonder: "Did little demons get inside and type it?" I don't know! My primitive mind can't grasp these concepts. But there is one thing I do know — when a man like my client slips and falls on a sidewalk in front of a public library, then he is entitled to no less than two million in compensatory damages, and two million in punitive damages. Thank you.
    • Their impersonation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions claims to be this trope too. Of course the gag being that given Sessions' very thick southern accent, Senator Allen Franken has a hard time figuring out if Sessions is claiming to be this or a "Simple Country Liar".
  • The Good Wife introduced a pretty blonde variant with recurring antagonist Nancy Crozier, a young attorney fresh from law school. In actuality, she was a ruthless bitch, but she loved claiming to juries and opposing attorneys that she was "just a simple girl from Michigan" who was inexperienced with city life and sophisticated business dealings, which annoyed Alicia every time they crossed swords. One time, Alicia beat her by getting her own fresh-from-law-school girl who was even cuter to sit second chair, to a Death Glare from Nancy.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000: The host segments of episode 815 (Agent for H.A.R.M.) have Mike being put on trial for inadvertently destroying several planets. His defense attorney is Professor Bobo, who manages to evoke the trope perfectly, down to the white suit and Southern drawl, despite being a gorilla. Bobo also directly references the "panties" spiel from Anatomy of a Murder.
  • In one episode of Dharma & 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.
  • Star Trek: In The Original Series Doctor McCoy would describe himself from time to time as a "country doctor." In the episode "The Deadly Years" it turns into an Insult Backfire when McCoy tried to describe himself as such to Spock.
    McCoy: I'm not a magician, Spock, just an old country doctor.
    Spock: Yes. As I always suspected.
  • Ed: Ed's first opponent in Stuckeyville tries this, white suit, comically broad accent and all. The judge laughs him out of the courtroom.

  • Inherit the Wind: In this fictionalized portrayal of the 1925 Scopes Trial, Matthew Harrison Brady - modeled on real-life politician William Jennings Bryan - is presented as very much this.

    Web Comics 
  • This Mordant Orange strip.
    Now, I'm no lawyer...
  • In a Fans! alternate future, Stu explains his role as half of the law firm of Smit & Jackson:
    Stu: Juries smile at me, cause I'm the old, dumb country lawyer who just talks plain sense.

    Web Original 

    Web Videos 
  • Bennett the Sage puts on a white shirt, suspenders, and accent of a simple country lawyer to point out a blatant contradiction in the anime he's reviewing.
  • A gag in one episode of Atop the Fourth Wall has Linkara as Galactus trying this in the court of the Living Tribunal.

    Western Animation 
  • Bob's Burgers: In "A Few 'Gurt Men", Gene adopts the persona of a country lawyer while serving as prosecutor in Wagstaff Middle School's mock trial club. The jury gets annoyed and confused by his bad accent and nonsensical "folksy" sayings and get him to stop.
  • Futurama:
    • A humanoid chicken who calls himself "just a simple hyperchicken from a backwoods asteroid". His name is generally treated as "The Hyper-Chicken", but according to a deleted scene from Into the Wild Green Yonder, said chicken's name is "Matcluck". Despite this trope, he holds an on-screen perfect record of two successful defenses and two successful prosecutions, having been representation for Planet Express staff, the planet Earth, and the Democratic Order of Planets. 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 simply 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.
    • "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.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Played for Laughs in "Viva Ned Flanders", complete with Homer grabbing his suspenders like a countryman:
      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.
    • The Evolution vs. Creationism episode "The Monkey Suit" has a fat, southern Simple Country Lawyer.
  • The Venture Bros.' has Tiny Attorney, a weird cross between Matlock and Cuato from Total Recall (1990). He has lines like "I may just be a growth on the stomach of an inbred simpleton, but...", and actually says "I'm just a simple country lawyer" at one point.
  • Jewel Crawford, Miss Liz's divorce attorney on King of the Hill. It's more natural than most other examples given the show is set in Texas, and Jewel's accent and mannerisms aren't that different from his client and her ex-husband.
    Jewel: 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.
  • Done by Knuckles in Sonic Boom. He oversteps by explicitly noting that he's doing it to relate to the stupid jury.
  • Disenchantment: When representing Princess Bean during her trial in the Season 1 finale, Luci the demon — who is often assumed to be a talking cat — begins his speech by saying "Now, I'm just a simple country cat..." while forming suspenders out of his body; and insults the intelligence of the judge and jury involved.

    Real Life 
  • 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. He did lose a 1986 mock trial of Lee Harvey Oswald to Vincent Bugliosi, however.
  • 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 homines novi, 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. Of course, Ervin was the rare "country lawyer" with a law degree from Harvard.
  • Tim Pawlenty, Presidential candidate and governor of Minnesota, was caught faking a Southern accent. Again, he's the governor of Minnesota, which borders Canada. The truly ridiculous thing is that Minnesota has a perfectly serviceable "folksy" accent with very nice implications; granted, at the time, the accent (or one similar to it, anyway) had gained an association with a certain former vice-presidential candidate and Governor of Alaska, but that's not too much of a hurdle...
  • Rep. Billy Long (R-MO) can give this impression with his folksy down-home manner and the fact that he's an auctioneer, something he's used in hearings a couple of times.
  • The late Texas lawyer Joe Jamail (1925-2015) of Texas Style Deposition infamy could also give this impression due to his folksy manner, even though prior to his death he was the wealthiest practicing lawyer in the United States.
  • 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 (an important market because, Springfield being the capital of Illinois, Lincoln could easily litigate cases in the Illinois Supreme Court and could help with lobbying the Illinois Legislature). 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 ($62000 in 2021 money), and, when they refused to pay, took them to court and won $5000 ($155000 in 2021). 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.
  • Clarence Darrow. Born in Farmdale, Ohio, he dropped out of law school after one year to read law as an apprentice lawyer, and later became a legendary defense attorney after fighting several high-profile cases. Humorously, this worked against him in his last great trial, the Massie casenote . He got a verdict of manslaughter rather than murder, but the jury said that "he talked to us like a bunch of farmers. That stuff may go over big in the Middle West, but not here."