Legal Commentary by Monte Vines

Category Archives: Lawyers and The Law

Lincoln on Honest Lawyers

Lincoln memorial sideviewAbraham Lincoln was a lawyer before getting into politics. His papers include notes he prepared for a law lecture. Here is part of what he prepared for the law students:

There is a vague popular belief that lawyers are necessarily dishonest. … Let no [one] 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.

Honesty is important in every occupation! But lawyers deal with people’s rights and obligations, and their disputes about those rights and obligations. And lawyers often deal with those disputes in court, where witnesses are sworn “to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” and where lawyers are considered to be officers of the court in the search for truth and justice. So in some ways honesty may be even more important for lawyers than for those in some other occupations.

More than 160 years after Lincoln prepared those notes, it seems there is still a vague belief among many people that lawyers are typically dishonest. And I know with some people it’s not so vague. But in my 33 years of practicing law, that has not been my experience. My experience with other lawyers, who would usually be representing my client’s adversary in a dispute, is that they are typically honest and trustworthy. Of course there can be mistakes as to the facts, and misunderstandings and disagreements about the parties’ rights and obligations. But the lawyers I have dealt with typically conduct their business with me honestly and care about the truth.

All of us, lawyers or not, should protect our commitment to deal with others honestly. It would serve us all well. And it would make Abe Lincoln proud.

Show Some Love to Your Lawyer?

Raymond Burr as Perry Mason in premiere episode 1957 public domain
Perry Mason — Public Domain

Years ago, at a community event, I happened to sit next to a doctor. He was a surgeon. When I introduced myself to him and told him I am a lawyer, he commented, “I always consider it a bad day when I have to go see my lawyer.” I thought about that for a moment and then joked in response “I consider it a bad day when I have to go see my surgeon!”

In the same way that going to see a surgeon usually means you have a serious health problem, going to see your lawyer often means that you are dealing with a burdensome legal problem. And legal problems can certainly make for a bad day. But the whole point of going to see your lawyer is to deal with that legal problem—and hopefully solve it—so you can get back to business or move on with your life. If the legal problem makes it a bad day, working on the solution could make it a good day—or at least a better day than if your legal problem is left to fester. So think of your visit to your lawyer as an opportunity to turn a bad day into better days.

But there’s another aspect to this. Lawyers, as a group, are not held in high esteem. A recent survey (here’s the link to it) by the Pew Research Center found that lawyers were at the bottom of the rankings of ten different occupational groups for how much they are seen as contributing to society. The very bottom. Continue Reading