Ask a Philadelphia lawyer
Posted: 27 June 2007 08:04 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Watching a rerun of Quincy (my pastime often in the afternoon, so to speak, especially when I’m under the weather, as now) and the following exchange took place. (Quincy is talking to a cop about an incident of death by hazing, which appears to have been accidental).

“Well, aren’t you going to charge them with anything?”
“Quincy, what am I supposed to charge them with?”
“Ask a Philadelphia lawyer! I don’t know.”

The series is set in LA and Philadelphia has nothing at all to do with the story so the question arises, is this a proverbial expression in the US?

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Posted: 27 June 2007 08:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Philadelphia is a slow town. A Philadelphian lawyer would have time to consider the question.

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Posted: 27 June 2007 08:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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aldiboronti - 27 June 2007 08:04 AM

The series is set in LA and Philadelphia has nothing at all to do with the story so the question arises, is this a proverbial expression in the US?

In my acquaintance with this, it means a fancy lawyer and I would guess that it comes from our old western days where a more sophisticated (in both a positive and negative sense—both well-educated and a scoundrel) would always be from “back east.” But I could be wrong.

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Posted: 27 June 2007 08:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I have heard the phrase all my life. Wikipedia say, for what it is worth:

Philadelphia lawyer refers to an attorney adept at manipulating technicalities

and

The origin of ‘Philadelphia lawyer’ refers to Andrew Hamilton’s successful defense in 1735 of John Peter Zenger against sedition and libel charges for his publications about Governor William Cosby, Governor of the New York Colony.

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Posted: 27 June 2007 08:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Although “ask a Philadelphia lawyer” gets only a few Googlehits, which all seem to be literal, the AHD has an entry for Philadelphia lawyer, giving the definition, “a shrewd attorney adept at the discovery and manipulation of legal technicalities.” The OED gives “a very able and intelligent lawyer, esp. one expert in the exploitation of legal technicalities; a shrewd or unscrupulous lawyer,” with citations back to 1788, and notes “The compound Philadelphia lawyer is often said to have alluded originally to Andrew Hamilton of Philadelphia, who successfully defended John Zenger (1735), an American journalist and publisher, from libel charges; however, it is uncertain what early documentary evidence there is to support this assertion.”

In the late 1700s, Philadelphia was the most populous city in the US as well as its capital (at first de facto, then officially).  I put no credence in Thews’ suggestion that the phrase derives from a slow, reflective pace of life in Philly.

(I was interrupted repeatedly while writing the above, so the apparent mantling is merely due to being pipped.)

[ Edited: 27 June 2007 09:06 AM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 27 June 2007 11:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Note that while Hamilton was from Philadelphia, the trial of Zenger was in New York. The out-of-town connection would have served to emphasize the “Philadelphia” as being something different.

And the Zenger case is an extremely important one in American jurisprudence, one of the first to establish freedom of the press and the limits of libel laws.

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Posted: 29 June 2007 06:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Reminds me of “The Young Philadelphians”.  The story of how Paul Newman, a tax lawyer at a white shoe Philadelphia law firm, successfully takes on the murder defense of his friend Robert Vaughn.  A classic of Hollywood law drama.

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