History honors Abraham Lincoln as one of our greatest Presidents, and for good reason. He proved to be a wise, honorable, courageous man. Before serving as President, Lincoln was a lawyer. So I take to heart what he had to say to lawyers:
“Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker the lawyer has superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.”
More than 150 years after Lincoln said this, people continue to get into disputes involving their legal rights and obligations. With more people now, and a much more complicated society, there are many more legal disputes today than there were in Lincoln’s day. That makes Lincoln’s point even more important now than it was when he said it.
I’m sure Lincoln did not mean that there is no principle worth standing up for, and vindicating in court if necessary. He meant that when a dispute arises, a lawyer can best serve the client by helping them find a good and timely resolution. Sometimes the only way to do that is with the help of a judge or jury. But there are good resolutions that can be found outside the courtroom for many legal disputes if the parties and their lawyers devote themselves to finding them. And lawyers are in a unique position of trust and confidence with their clients to do that.
For a litigation lawyer, it can be very satisfying to stand up before a judge or jury in court and advocate on behalf of a client. But to me, one thing even more satisfying than that is to help a client achieve a good and timely resolution without the need for the courtroom drama.
So, thank you, Mr. Lincoln, for your wise advice.