The ACBA is closed today in remembrance of President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. One of our nation’s most famous lawyers, President Lincoln held a strong reverence for the law. From humble beginnings as a self-taught “prairie lawyer” in Illinois, to arguing before Congress against slavery and for economic modernization as President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln is known for thoughtful consideration of the facts and circumstances around an argument.
In his memory, we offer a selection of quotes to inspire, advise, and amuse the modern lawyer.
Inspiration for the prospective lawyer:
“If you are resolutely determined to make a lawyer of yourself, the thing is more than half done already.” The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume II, “Letter to Isham Reavis” (November 5, 1855), p. 327.
On how to approach a case:
“In law it is good policy to never plead what you need not, lest you oblige yourself to prove what you can not.” The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume I, “Letter to Usher F. Linder” (February 20, 1848), p. 453.
On the importance of each word:
Lincoln once gave the following advice before his associate gave the opening statement to the jury:
“I want you to open the case, and when you are doing it, talk to the jury as though your client’s fate depends on every word you utter. Forget that you have any one to fall back upon, and you will do justice to yourself and your client.” Recollected Words of Abraham Lincoln compiled and edited by Don E. Fehrenbacher and Virginia Fehrenbacher (Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1996), p. 192.
On the Court:
“I dared not trust the case on the presumption that the court knows everything. In fact, I argued it on the presumption that the court didn’t know anything.” Recollected Words of Abraham Lincoln compiled and edited by Don E. Fehrenbacher and Virginia Fehrenbacher (Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1996), p. 243.