In his papers, historians found fragments of a lecture that Abraham Lincoln had prepared that remains appropriate today for clients and lawyers. This lecture, dated July 1, 1850, provided some sage advice for attorneys that has stood the test of time. The lecture is published in the “Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln.”
Mr. Lincoln wrote, “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? A moral tone ought to be infused into the profession which should drive such men out of it.”
Then-attorney Mr. Lincoln went on to provide advice for attorneys that also applies today, noting that there is a “popular belief that lawyers are necessarily dishonest . . . the impression is common, almost universal. Let no young man [or young woman] 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.”
Mr. Lincoln would be pleased to know that Minnesota courts now almost universally require the parties to participate in mediation, or other form of alternative dispute resolution (like early neutral evaluation), in order to persuade neighbors to compromise. And for good reason. Studies consistently show that mediation results in resolution of over 80% of lawsuits. With a tip of the hat to Mr. Lincoln, this required mediation comes with the blessing of the bench and bar.
There continues to be business enough.