Lincoln’s Advice to Lawyers

Thursday, July 14, AD 2011

 

Abraham Lincoln on July 1, 1850 was writing down some notes for a lecture to lawyers.  I have always found this advice helpful to me in my legal practice, and I think non-lawyers can benefit from it also:

I am not an accomplished lawyer. I find quite as much material for a lecture in those points wherein I have failed, as in those wherein I have been moderately successful. The leading rule for the lawyer, as for the man of every other calling, is diligence. Leave nothing for to-morrow which can be done to-day. Never let your correspondence fall behind. Whatever piece of business you have in hand, before stopping, do all the labor pertaining to it which can then be done. When you bring a common-law suit, if you have the facts for doing so, write the declaration at once. If a law point be involved, examine the books, and note the authority you rely on upon the declaration itself, where you are sure to find it when wanted. The same of defenses and pleas. In business not likely to be litigated, — ordinary collection cases, foreclosures, partitions, and the like, — make all examinations of titles, and note them, and even draft orders and decrees in advance. This course has a triple advantage; it avoids omissions and neglect, saves your labor when once done, performs the labor out of court when you have leisure, rather than in court when you have not. Extemporaneous speaking should be practised and cultivated. It is the lawyer’s avenue to the public. However able and faithful he may be in other respects, people are slow to bring him business if he cannot make a speech. And yet there is not a more fatal error to young lawyers than relying too much on speech-making. If any one, upon his rare powers of speaking, shall claim an exemption from the drudgery of the law, his case is a failure in advance.

Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser — in fees, expenses, and waste of time. As a peacemaker the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.

Never stir up litigation. A worse man can scarcely be found than one who does this. Who can be more nearly a fiend than he who habitually overhauls the register of deeds in search of defects in titles, whereon to stir up strife, and put money in his pocket? A moral tone ought to be infused into the profession which should drive such men out of it.

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3 Responses to Lincoln’s Advice to Lawyers

  • ‘Discourage litigation.’

    That’s like a doctor hoping all his patients are healthy. 😎

  • Joh Hay, one of Lincoln’s secretaries during the War, and Teddy Roosevelt’s Secretary of State, said that when he was practicing the law half his time was spent telling clients that they were being damn fools and to stop. For every piece of litigation I have underaken in my 29 years at the bar, I would say that there is at least one piece of litigation that I have not undertaken and counseled a client not to undertake. Most people who have no experience with the courts can comprehend how expensive litigation is and how unpredictable.

  • What’s the old joke? A jury is there to decide who has the best lawyer.

    By the way, the economy is so bad the Mafia had to lay off 3 judges.

    bada bing