Lincoln’s message to lawyers and litigators


 AbeLincoln  Abraham Lincoln will be quoted and discussed a lot today, the 198th anniversary of his birth.  I thought I’d share with you a few excerpts from his Notes for a Law Lecture (July 1, 1850).  Aimed at lawyers, the Lecture has good advice for pro se litigants, too. (emphases added)

  •  “The leading rule for the lawyer, as for the man of every other calling, is diligence.” . . . [Perform] “the labor out of court when you have leisure, rather than in court when you have not.”
  •  “[P]eople are slow to bring [a lawyer] 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.”
  • 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.”
  • pennyS “The matter of fees is important, far beyond the mere question of bread and butter involved. Properly attended to, fuller justice is done to both lawyer and client. An exorbitant fee should never be claimed. As a general rule never take your whole fee in advance, nor any more than a small retainer. When fully paid beforehand, you are more than a common mortal if you can feel the same interest in the case, as if something was still in prospect for you, as well as for your client. And when you lack interest in the case the job will very likely lack skill and diligence in the performance.”
  • There is a vague popular belief that lawyers are necessarily dishonest. I say vague, because when we consider to what extent confidence and honors are reposed in and conferred upon lawyers by the people, it appears improbable that their impression of dishonesty is very distinct and vivid. Yet the impression is common, almost universal. Let no young man choosing the law for a calling for a moment yield to the popular belief — resolve to be honest at all events; and if in your own judgment you cannot 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.”

pennyS You can learn more about Abraham Lincoln’s lawyering (including what kind of fees he charged) at f/k/a, in the posting A Lincolnesque Law Practice?  And see, Lawyer Lincoln Was a Bargain


  1. Overlawyered

    February 15, 2007 @ 11:16 pm


    What Lincoln said…

    Abraham Lincoln, as we’re sometimes reminded around this time of year, made a living as a practicing lawyer, much of it in trial practice. For some reason this website has never gotten around to citing……

  2. BabyBarista

    February 16, 2007 @ 3:23 pm


    You might like this ~entry on costs and small claims from across the pond: .

  3. david giacalone

    February 16, 2007 @ 3:51 pm


    Thanks, BabyB. I think you meant to comment to the previous post UK p/i lawyers oppose small claims limits, so I just placed a pointer to your piece there.

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