A Man Who Is His Own Lawyer Has a Fool for a Client

Abraham Lincoln? William De Britaine? Roger L’Estrange? Italian Proverb? Benjamin Franklin? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Evaluating complex legal issues requires expertise. Abraham Lincoln reportedly employed the following adage. Here are two versions:

  • If you are your own lawyer you have a fool for a client.
  • He who represents himself has a fool for a client.

Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest partial match known to QI appeared in the 1682 book “Humane Prudence, or, The Art by which a Man May Raise Himself and Fortune to Grandeur” by William De Britaine. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

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.

This adage is ambiguous because the term “counselor” has more than one pertinent meaning. A counselor is a person who gives counsel, i.e., an adviser. Alternatively, a counsellor is an attorney, especially one who pleads cases in court. The context suggests to QI that the first interpretation is the most likely.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Man Who Is His Own Lawyer Has a Fool for a Client

Notes:

  1. Year: 1682 (MDCLXXXII), Author: William De Britaine, Title: Humane Prudence, or, The Art by which a Man May Raise Himself and Fortune to Grandeur by A.B., Section 18, Quote Page 57, Publication: Printed for John Lawrence, London. (Early English Books Online) link

He Who Acts as His Own Doctor Has a Fool for a Patient

Roger L’Estrange? William Grant? John Bristed? William J. Flagg? William Osler? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A person with a serious malady should be very cautious about treating himself or herself. This holds true even if the person is a physician. Here are some versions of a pertinent adage:

  • He who treats himself has a fool for a patient.
  • A physician who treats himself has a fool for a patient.
  • The person who is his own doctor has a simpleton for a patient.

Would you please explore the provenance of this saying?

Quote Investigator: A precursor appeared in a 1692 collection of fables translated into English by Sir Roger L’Estrange. In one fable a wealthy Dutchman rejects the advice of his physicians. The section containing the moral of the fable presents an adage about teachers which is generalized to apply to doctors. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The MORAL
He that Consults his Physician, and will not Follow his Advice, must be his Own Doctor: But let him take the Old Adage along with him. He that Teaches Himself has a Fool to his Master.

In 1781 a medical book written for doctors by William Grant included a discussion of gout. Grant presented a version of the adage: 2

The last common cause of irregularity in the gout, is a complication with other diseases; of which I have given some examples in the first Chapter of this Essay. These always require the assistance of a skilful person; in such cases no man ought to be his own physician, for fear of having a fool for his patient.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading He Who Acts as His Own Doctor Has a Fool for a Patient

Notes:

  1. 1692, Fables of Aesop and Other Eminent Mythologists with Morals and Reflecions by Sir Roger L’Estrange, Abstemius’s Fables, Fable CCCXIII, Quote Page 274 and 275, Printed for R. Sare, T. Sawbridge, B. Took, M. Gillyflower, A. & J. Churchil, and J. Hindmarsh, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1781, Some Observations on the Origin and Progress of the Atrabilious Constitution and Gout, Chapter V: Containing the irregular and complicated gout by William Grant M.D., Quote Page 6, Printed for T. Cadell, London. (Google Books Full View) link