Friday, November 23, 2012

Lawyering Lincoln.....Way Back in the Day

Back in 1982, several of my lawyer suite-mates had been practicing since the 1930's. Here are a few observations about lawyering back in their day:

1. Most, if not all, of the Judges were white males. Come to think of it, this was also true of their lawyer colleagues and law school classmates.

2. Most lawyers in small firms (or solos) were general practitioners....they knew how to do many kinds of cases.

3. There were "recommended fees" for various services, set by the Bar Associations. This practice was eventually eliminated, for the benefit of "the public". Sadly, as the ranks of lawyers swelled, the relative fees for "bread and butter" legal services have plummeted. You can say it's competition, and fair market values, but the fact is when you try to do a real estate closing at market rates, you will lose money.....unless you cut corners. Whose interest is that in?

4. There was no advertising. You built your practice by word of mouth.

5. They did their research in libraries.

6. Networking and knowing people were part and parcel of the practice. I was always amazed that one of the first things the older lawyers wanted to know about a new matter was "Who is the other attorney" and "Who is the Judge". If they didn't know the players, they would delve into their pedigree and find out who they knew. After a few years, I realized I do exactly the same.

I wonder if those lawyers who were starting out in the 1930's ever thought about the lawyers in THEIR suites who had 50 years experience. The guys who started in the 1880's. The thing is, some things about lawyering have not, do not, and probably will not change. For great illustrations of this, I highly recommend two books about Abraham Lincoln's legal career. Not only are they instructive about this brilliant lawyer turned politician, they show us the origins of modern practice. The two books are Lawyer Lincoln by Albert Woldman and

William Herndon was Lincoln's law partner for many years. Guess what? They had business problems, they had to figure out how to best employ their respective abilities, they had to deal with Lincolns' growing fame and outside commitments and personal challenges. These books are worth reading.

Lincoln-Herndon Law offices are a historic site.   I haven't visited.....yet.

Here are some quotes from Abe Lincoln about law and life...

In law it is a good policy to never plead what you need not, lest you oblige yourself to prove what you can not.--February 20, 1848 Letter to Usher Linder

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

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.

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.

I used to wonder whether Abe Lincoln was "over-rated", or perhaps had the opportunity to govern during a huge crisis, and made his reputation by successfully navigating the Civil War. Studying his law career, his rise to prominence in the context of his times, is enlightening and inspiring. His top ranking is appropriate.

Gotta stop now.....a Judge Judy re-run is on.

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