The Daily

Why I’m A Trial Lawyer (No. 3)


Lincoln Memorial
Lincoln Memorial

Early in his career, lawyer Abraham Lincoln was a voracious reader of everything from poetry to newspapers. In 1837, his attention was fixed on a wave of violence and economic turmoil sweeping the country. He was convinced that America’s Founding principles demanded a  renewed focus on respect for laws and a conscious turning away from what he saw as ‘mob rule’. He believed that the Founders’ genius lay in providing a foundation upon which men could rule themselves free of the “jealousy, envy, and avarice, incident to our nature.”[1]

Among Lincoln’s papers found after his death, were notes for a law lecture that his secretaries dated July 1, 1850. Historians are not sure if he gave this lecture.

“I am not an accomplished lawyer. I find quite as much material for a lecture in those points wherein I I have failed, as 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 tomorrow which can be done today.

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.

If in your own judgment you cannot be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer.”

In my first post in this series about Lincoln, I related the often told story about how Lincoln helped two neighbors resolve a boundary dispute. Lincoln earnestly believed that discouraging litigation where it could be avoided was the best practice. This saved clients and the Court time and money. It builds the reputation of the profession. And, it saves the lawyer time better spent on more important disputes.

Honesty, ethics and fair dealing – not volume – are the keys to strength in a trial practice. That is why my practice does not advertise and why we reject the vast majority of cases I spend time reviewing. My clients understand and appreciate this approach. The clients whose cases we accept know and understand that the value of their case will not be diluted by a flood of other less meaningful work – make sure the lawyer you hire is in contact with you and your case and not flooded with hundreds or thousands of other cases that drown out his or her ability to achieve success for you.

[1] With Malice Toward None, Stephen B. Oates, p. 47-49