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Lessons from Lincoln

Most Americans are keenly aware of the contributions of Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) the 16th President of the United States. They are aware that under his leadership the Civil War was fought, brought to an end, and the Union saved. They know that Abraham Lincoln was the architect of the Great Emancipation that freed the slaves. Most are aware and can quote some of the Gettysburg Address, arguably Lincoln's most famous speech and one that has stood the test of time. Many, however, do not realize that Abraham Lincoln was one of the most successful lawyers of his day.

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Some of the principles that Lincoln lived by are still relevant to lawyers and especially clients of lawyers: (A) Lawyers shouldn't overcharge and clients shouldn't be overcharged. In 1856 when a man in Quincy, Illinois sent him a check for $25.00 for legal work that Lincoln had completed, Lincoln wrote back " You must think I am a high priced man. You are too liberal with your money. Fifteen dollars is enough for the job." Abe Lincoln promptly returned the balance. (B) Lawyers should be honest and clients should demand honesty. In his long legal career, Abraham Lincoln handled hundreds of cases in circuit courts. He firmly established his representation as an honest lawyer and his representation rested on his absolute honesty . History remembers him as "Honest Abe" or often, "Honest Old Abe", a lawyer who was never known to lie. Abe Lincoln held himself to the highest standards of truthfulness. In one lecture given about 1850, he referred to the "vague popular belief that lawyers are necessarily dishonest" and warned, " let no young man, choosing the law for a calling , for a moment yield to this popular belief. Resolved to be honest at all events; and if, in your judgment you can not be a honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer. Choose some other occupation." This is a lesson for all - if your lawyer is not honest with you, can you trust him in any of your affairs? Find another lawyer! (C) Lawyers should work hard for their clients and clients should expect hard work from their lawyers. Lincoln practiced law in the days before computers and even before typewriters. He wrote out in his own hand all the legal papers necessary to represent a client, from informal to formal and elaborate pleadings. Some of this work involved enormous labor. In an 1855 case of Clark & Morrison v. Page & Bacon, which involved the claims of some St. Louis bankers, Lincoln for the defendants drafted a 43 page answer to the plaintiffs complaint. It is obvious that such a task would require immense concentration and some believe, in examining Lincoln's handwriting, that he wrote the entire document at one sitting! History notes that Lincoln's clients rarely lost a case because of carelessness or inattention on the part of their attorney. (D) Attorneys should be fair to their opponents and clients should want their attorneys to be fair. Often attorneys today hear from their clients, regardless of the nature of the case, "crush them!" Lincoln believed, as indicated herein, that hard work would win the day, but he also believed that everyone should have access to the courts and that being fundamentally fair would produce justice. He never believed in obstructing the legal system by unnecessary delay or frivolity of any kind. He believed that justice would prevail but also realize that sometimes his clients would not. His honesty, hard work, and fairness in all matters, would have to be enough. Lincoln's lessons can be boiled down to this: expect excellence in all things from your legal counsel and don't settle for less. Source of some material and quotes from PBI Seminar, Lincoln and His Leadership, by Professor Randy Lee and Daniel R. Schuckers, Esq.

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Davis & Davis Attorneys At Law

107 East Main St.
Uniontown, PA 15401

Phone: 724-320-2388
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Brownsville, PA 15417

Phone: 724-320-2388
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Davis & Davis Attorneys at Law

Davis & Davis Attorneys At Law