Negative attitudes towards litigants in person (LiPs) are long-standing. But despite their persistence, no study has ever considered: how did we get here? This is what this article sets out to do, analysing when the term LiP first appears, and the context in which this occurs. I argue this moment is a by-product of broader changes taking place for the legal profession in the nineteenth century. Drawing on Larson's “professional project” I argue the new county courts become a battleground for attorneys to distinguish themselves, and it is the introduction of certain kinds of distinction that undermines the self-represented party. This article ultimately argues that the LiP role is not simply self-representation, but is rather self-representation that can only occur in the latter stages of the professional project. This means, perversely, that the creation of the term LiP does not indicate the facilitation of lay participation in legal forums; it marks instead the moment when they are displaced. As I conclude, this displacement has profound consequences for LiPs to this day.