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 Lincoln’s Notes for a Law Lecture, possibly his best-known pronouncement on the ethics and practicalities of law practice. Some highlights:

“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.”

“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.”

“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.”

Among those calling attention to Lincoln’s comments on lawyering this week are David Giacalone (Feb. 12; see also here and here) and Daniel E. Cummins in Pennsylvania Law Weekly (“Lincoln Logs of Wisdom”, Feb. 12), both of whom offer additional quotations of interest.


  • How things degenerated so completely from Lincoln to Geoffrey Fieger and John Edwards is both evident and completely unreal. Truly sad.

  • “Never stir up litigation. A worse man can scarcely be found than one who does this.”

    Someone should tell that to Gloria Allredintheface

  • Here in England the debate is over whether we are importing the worst excesses from the US. You might like my entry on this at http://babybarista.blogspot.com/2007/02/day-96-week-20-harlow-county-court.html