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Abraham Lincoln’s Advice to Lawyers

posted by Nell Minow

Before he was the 16th President, Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer.  In honor of Steven Speilberg’s new “Lincoln” movie starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Miniver Press is proud to publish a Kindle version of Abraham Lincoln’s Law Notes, a little-known essay with advice to lawyers, with commentary by former judge Frank Ceresi and an introduction by Brian Dirck, the foremost scholar on Lincoln’s law career.

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Professor Dirck calls this “a rare window into the mind of Lincoln as he contemplates the ethical and social dimensions of practicing law” and “a vital document that we can all learn from today.”  Ceresi says, “my opinion is that the Notes should not only hang proudly in every lawyer’s law office, but they should be required reading during the third year of every law school curriculum across the land . . . it should be the foundation of a course, right alongside of ethics, and studied for the nuggets that it reveals.  For in that document, from Abe’s pen, we not only get a glimpse of how he practiced, from what he learned from his practice, but we can also take from it lessons and advice that we should all heed today.”

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“The leading rule for the lawyer, as for the man of every other calling, is diligence,“ Lincoln writes.  He also tells lawyers to do their best to stay out of court, to practice public speaking but warns that “there is not a more fatal error to young lawyers than relying too much on speech-making.”  Most important, he cautions that there is a “vague popular belief that lawyers are necessarily dishonest.” Lincoln makes it clear that more important than being a good lawyer is being a good person. “If in your own judgment you cannot be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer.”

If you would like a pdf of Lincoln’s handwritten essay, send an email to moviemom@moviemom.com with Lincoln in the subject line.

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