Abraham Lincoln is regarded by most historians as our nation’s greatest and most eloquent president. He was also a lawyer whose strong convictions about doing what was right instead of what was expedient governed his actions.
Self educated, he had barely twelve months of formal schooling and no law school. To learn it, he read the law at night by candlelight. Tall, gangly, homely by most accounts and photos, he was a humble man. He told an Ohio crowd, “I have stepped out upon this platform that I may see you and that you may see me, and in the arrangement, I have the best of the bargain.”
Pretty or not, lawyers today can and should be guided by his view of litigation. He said, “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.”
That was not to say he was a weakling. He was anything but that. He did what it took to obtain his client’s due in negotiations as peacemaker or in trial as a warrior. Like most lawyers, who swear to uphold the law and the constitution, he sometimes represented unpopular people and defended unpopular ideas, because it was right to do so. In his words, “If I were to try to read, much less answer, all the attacks made on me, this shop might as well be closed for any other business.
I do the very best I know how - the very best I can; and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what’s said against me won’t amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference.” Those who practice law today would do well to follow Lincoln’s lead for the benefit of clients and the public as a whole. His ideas cannot be surpassed.