Lessons from Lincoln

As one of the most popular and revered presidents in our great nation’s history, much is known about Abraham Lincoln the President and what he was able to accomplish. Far less, however, is generally known about Abraham Lincoln the Lawyer. Recently, the Texas Bar Journal published several articles dealing with Lincoln in his role as a lawyer. After reading the articles, I thought& nbsp;some of Lincoln’s teachings would make an excellent blog topic.

As a lawyer, Lincoln and his law partners took more than 1,000 cases to verdict for their clients. Clearly, Lincoln had the trial experience. Lincoln was also an accomplished appellate lawyer who handled hundreds of cases before the Illinois Supreme Court. It is here that Lincoln is best known for his superior oratory skills. Lincoln the lawyer also represented a wide variety of clients on both sides of the “v.” Perhaps Lincoln is best known in his role as the peacekeeper while he was practicing law. Indeed, Lincoln wrote, “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.”

Abraham Lincoln’s rules regarding his law practice should also be helpful to everyone in their daily routines as well. For instance, according to Lincoln in a lecture he prepared for young lawyers just starting out in the practice, “The leading rule for the lawyer, as for the man of every other calling, is diligence. Leave nothing for tomorrow, which can be done today.” This is something we have all heard before, but employing it in our lives is far more difficult than memorizing the words or their meaning. For Lincoln, this was the rule. This is a lesson we should all seek to follow. A strong work ethic is essential to success in& nbsp;any occupation.

Lincoln also sought to imprint a moral tone on the practice of law. Lincoln advised young lawyers to “Never stir up litigation. A worse man can scarcely be found than one who does this. A moral tone ought to be infused into the profession, which should drive such men out of it.” This lesson is equally as important today as it was when it was initially given. As trial lawyers, we are trained to zealously fight for our clients, as was Lincoln. However, this lesson can and should be followed without sacrificing any of the zeal and passion with regards to representing clients.

Lincoln also fought against the notion that lawyers are necessarily dishonest. Lincoln said, “Let no young man, choosing the law for a calling, for a moment yield to this popular belief. Resolve to be honest at all events; and if, in your own judgment, you can not be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer. Choose some other occupation, rather than one in the choosing of which you do, in advance, consent to be a knave.” Clearly, honesty was at the height of what Lincoln considered to be necessary to the practice of law. This should come as no surprise from “Honest Abe.” However, it is a lesson that far too many lawyers have failed to learn. Honesty is always the best policy.

Hard work, honesty, and integrity are the core values of Abraham Lincoln the lawyer. The lessons of Lincoln are as relevant and true today as the day that he wrote them. Indeed, the lessons from Lincoln can be applied in all professions to their credit. The legal profession needs more Lincolns. I hope that all of my colleagues across Texas read the articles regarding our 16th President and his time doing the work that we are all so privileged to practice.