Today is the 150th anniversary of the Gettysberg Address, one of the most famous speeches in history. It was given by Abraham Lincoln, one of the most extraordinary people to ever walk the earth.
Before becoming President of the United States, Lincoln was a lawyer. From his notes, we see that his thoughts on law practice were simple but profound, much like his views on political matters like the abolition of slavery. Here is a good example:
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.
— The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler, vol. 2., “Notes for a Law Lecture” (July 1, 1850).
This passage is striking not only for its timeless quality and crystalline clarity, but that it raises the often-forgotten truth that lawyers are not simply their clients’ mouthpiece. By their training and experience, lawyers are uniquely positioned to recognize and impress upon others the futility of conflict. According to Lincoln, lawyers have an obligation to use those skills (as a peacemaker) to benefit their neighbours and, of course, their clients.
Now, more than ever, lawyers need to think more like Lincoln.