. . . how to be a good lawyer?
Sometime in the 1850s, historians say, Abraham Lincoln wrote "Notes for a Lecture on Law," addressed to young attorneys just starting in the profession. It's a fine read if you have the time. Otherwise . . .
. . . here's a set of notes on "Notes," prepared by Dallas attorney and writer Talmadge Boston and lightly edited here:
Diligence. Leave nothing for tomorrow that can be done today. Never let your correspondence fall behind. Whatever piece of business you have in hand, before stopping, do all the labor pertaining to it that can be done.
Extemporaneous speaking should be practiced and cultivated. It is the lawyer's avenue to the public. But don't become so enamored of speechmaking that you claim an exemption from the drudgery of the law.
Discourage litigation. Whenever you can, persuade neighbors to compromise. Point out that the nominal winner is often a lower, in fees, expenses, and waste of time. By being a peacemaker, the lawyer becomes a better man. There will still be business enough. Never stir up litigation. Don't create lawsuits where they don't now exist.
Charge fair fees. An exorbitant fee should never be claimed, and don't take your whole fee in advance, nor any more than a small retainer. If you do, you will lack interest in the case and, therefore, will lack skill and diligence in performance.
Be honest. This means intellectual honesty in presenting your case. Be forthright in all dealings. Do and say nothing that's misleading or deceptive. Your reputation is everything.
President Barack Hussein Obama fancies himself a modern-day Lincoln. If he truly were Lincolnesque, however, he would dial back on speechmaking and on attempts to rule a self-governing republic by executive action -- the grandest sort of claimed exemption from the drudgery of the law.
Mr. Boston says Mr. Lincoln avoided representations and overstatements, and "accurately stated opponents' argument, in court and in the Lincoln-Douglas debates." Mr. Obama, by contrast -- and this is me talking, not Mr. Boston -- will forever be remembered for base dishonesty: "If you like your doctor . . . ."
Mr. Boston also says President Lincoln made no personal attacks and was always empathetic of others' positions.
If you would like to hear more from Mr. Boston -- and you should -- here is a lecture on what lawyers and law students can learn from Abraham Lincoln. And here is another on lessons in ethics and excellence from the two most important lawyers of the last fifty years: Leon Jawarski and James Baker.
In February 2009 -- the two-hundredth anniversary of Lincoln's birth -- Mr. Boston published "The Ultimate Role Model" in Texas Bar Journal. It is not online, so far as I can tell. Here are the main points:
Brilliance. Lincoln had astounding powers of concentration, comprehension, open-mindedness, discernment, and communication.
Self-Control. Lincoln maintained clean living habits and high integrity.
Emotional Intelligence. Lincoln had an aptitude for dealing with peers effectively.
Sense of Purpose. Lincoln wanted to make a difference in the world.
Also in February 2009 he published this column in Dallas Business Journal: "What Abraham Lincoln can teach us." Among the lessons here: Do not delegate critical thinking and decision-making to subordinate. Never lose sight of the big picture. Be willing to fight to key principles. And never lose sight of political realities.