Lincoln Idealist and Pragmatist - Appendix IV - Notes on the Practice of Law By Abraham Lincoln

Appendix IV - Notes on the Practice of Law By Abraham Lincoln

Notes on the Practice of Law
By Abraham Lincoln

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… 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 lit-igated — 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

Appendix IV - Notes on the Practice of Law By Abraham Lincoln

Appendix IV - Notes on the Practice of Law By Abraham Lincoln

lawyers than relying too much on speech-making. If any one, upon his rare powers of speaking, shall claim 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 and 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.

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. Settle the amount of fee and take a note in advance. Then you will feel that you are working for something, and you are sure to do your work faithfully and well. Never sell a fee note — at least not before the consideration service is per­formed. It leads to negligence and dishonesty — negligence by losing interest in the case, and dishonesty in refusing to refund when you have allowed the consideration to fail.

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

Appendix IV - Notes on the Practice of Law By Abraham Lincoln

Appendix IV - Notes on the Practice of Law By Abraham Lincoln

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 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.

— Lincoln, Speeches and Writings 1832-1858, page 245

Appendix IV - Notes on the Practice of Law By Abraham Lincoln

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