Notes for a Lecture on Law1

Lincoln's Notes for a Lecture on Law Prepared ca. 1850s

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 calling, is diligence. Leave nothing for tomorrow, which can be done to-day--Never let your correspondence fall behind-- Whatever piece of business you have in hand, before stopping, do all the labor pertaining to it which can then be done--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 defences and pleas. In business not likely to be litigated --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 tripple advantage; it avoids omissions and neglect, saves your labor, whenever done; performs the labor out of court when you have leisure, rather than in court, when you have not.

--Extemporaneous speaking should be practiced 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 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.

Never encourage 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 peace-maker, the lawyer has a superior opertunity [sic] of being a good man-- There will still be business enough--

Never [stir?] stir up litigation-- A worse man can scarcely be conceived offound 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 before hand, 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 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 can not 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--



1 from Lincoln, Speeches and Writings 1832-1858, Fehrenbacher, ed., (Library of America). See also Texas Bar Journal, Vol. 72, No. 2 (February 2009)

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