I'll admit that American History was not first on my list of favorite subjects in school; but there has always been something about Abraham Lincoln that interested me. When answering that hypothetical question of “What famous person, alive or dead, would you most like to meet?” Lincoln is always one of my top picks.
So why am I telling you this? Because today is the day we observe Abraham Lincoln's birthday. (His actual birthday is February 12, 1809.) Most students can tell you that they get an extra day off for Lincoln's birthday. Most adults can tell you that Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, he's on the $5 bill and he signed the Emancipation Proclamation. What most people may not know, however, is that in addition to his many accomplishments, Abraham Lincoln was also a lawyer.
I admire Lincoln for his studious and thoughtful nature. By all accounts he was regarded as an avid reader and writer, from a very young age. He was also self-taught for most of his life. This includes his legal education. He borrowed books from a lawyer in Springfield, IL, studied and was admitted into the Illinois State Bar in 1836.
Lincoln is described as a skilled trial lawyer and argued before the Illinois Supreme Court several times during his career. There are many success stories from his trial work. But what I enjoy hearing about most are the stories where Lincoln did the right thing for his client. He believed lawyers should be honest and do what is right for the client and their case. He applied this belief in his own work by encouraging resolution and not promoting litigation for the sake of making money.
That “Do The Right Thing” attitude that Lincoln exuded is one I greatly appreciate. He encouraged those wanting to be lawyers to “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.” He knew the general public held the notion that lawyers were dishonest and he implored lawyers to do their part in changing that perception.
The image of a calm, intelligent person that held firmly to his morals and beliefs is another one of the reasons that Lincoln interests me. I envision him working on cases with a strong sense of purpose and with the quiet confidence that comes when you know you are doing something for the right reasons. Lincoln's words of advice are as applicable today as they were when he first spoke them. Today, it is so easy to get lost in the endless stream of emails, phone calls and meetings that accompany every workday. It is gratifying to take a moment and remember why I became a lawyer in the first place.