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New Jersey’s system for injury compensation is structured under tort law, which attempts to rectify a “civil wrong” that caused losses or suffering to another individual. Although a criminal act can fall within tort law, personal injury torts usually are focused on the harm done due to the negligence of a person, corporation or any other entity. Read More >

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The US Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that there are 200 to 300 product recalls each year. A large percentage of these recalls involve children’s products and toys. Read More >

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If you are injured in a car accident and only have the minimum coverage under a standard insurance policy for underinsured or uninsured motorist coverage, regardless of how seriously you were injured, you will be limited to a $15,000 recovery. Read More >
    Abraham Lincoln as a Lawyer
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        Two hundred years after the birth of Abraham Lincoln, he remains one of the mythical figures in American history. Lincoln remains the most famous lawyer who ever practiced in the country, someone for all lawyers to emulate. What are the truths about the legend of Lincoln the lawyer?

Part of the myth of Lincoln as president are the humble origins in a log cabin. The legend of Lincoln the lawyer is fueled by the self taught, rough hewn man, who honed his skills to a high level through diligence and hard work to become one of the best lawyers in the young nation.

Abraham Lincoln came to the law after failed careers as a surveyor, and store keeper. As a young man working on his father’s farm, Lincoln came to despise hard labor. His father hired him out to work on surrounding farms and despite his dislike of hard labor, he became proficient with an ax, becoming in fact what he is known for, a rail splitter.

As soon as he became of age, Lincoln fled the manual labor of farming to make his way in New Salem, Illinois. There, he worked in a store, eventually becoming a part owner. The store failed and he became liable for not only his debts, but his partner’s debts, which followed him for many years to come. He began a career as a surveyor, working surveying the new lands of the West, hoping to avoid conflicting claims on those lands. That career came to an end when creditors seized and sold at auction his surveying equipment. He also served a political appointment as postmaster for a time while working as a surveyor.

Lincoln was unusual for the time, and perhaps for present times as well, in that he was elected to the State Legislature after one failed bid and became a politician who later became a lawyer rather than the reverse. After achieving some fame as a legislator in Illinois, he was urged to study the law by one of the leading lawyers of the day, Steven Logan. Lincoln was a self-taught lawyer, reading from Blackstone’s Commentaries before being examined by the Illinois Supreme Court and given his license to practice in 1836 at age 25.

Lincoln as a lawyer has been referred to in reverential ways throughout history. Just what was Lincoln like as a practicing attorney and what kind of career did he have. Hollywood has portrayed him as a champion of the poor and downtrodden, taking on unpopular causes for little or no compensation. Was this in fact the way Lincoln practiced on the Prairie? What did Lincoln himself feel about the law? This article will examine Lincoln as a lawyer and the skill that he brought to his craft.

Lincoln left notes for a lecture on the practice of law that were discovered in his private papers by his secretary John Hay after his death. Hay dated these notes as having been written around 1850, although they appear to have been written later in his legal career. Lincoln described his own approach to the practice of law for the lecture. He described himself as “not an accomplished lawyer.” Lincoln found more material for his lecture on the practice of law from his failures than his successes. “The leading rule for the lawyer, as for the man of every other calling, is diligence. Leave nothing for to-morrow which can be done to-day. Never let your correspondence fall behind. Whatever piece of business you have in hand, before stopping, do all the labor pertaining to it which can then be done.”

Interestingly, his last law partner William Herndon, described him as less than diligent in his preparation of cases. Lincoln’s advice to others was to gather the facts of a case immediately and write out a declaration, citing the law that supported your position at once, rather than waiting for the case to be called for trial. In ordinary legal matters “make all examinations of titles, and note them, and even draft orders and decrees in advance. This course has a triple advantage; it avoids omissions and neglect, saves your labor when once done, performs the labor out of court when you have leisure, rather than in court when you have not.”

Lincoln taught that mediation and compromise were to be pursued rather than litigation. “Discourage litigation”, Lincoln wrote in his lecture on the practice of law. “As a peacemaker the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man.” Lincoln counseled lawyers to “Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often the real loser in fees, expenses and waste of time.” While recognizing that this would lessen the business revenue that lawyers received from litigation, he concluded “There will still be business enough.” In the middle of a case between two merchants in 1839 involving the quality of flour, Lincoln counseled his client to settle, offering to charge nothing for his services if the dispute was resolved.

On the matter of fees, he cautioned “An exorbitant fee should never be claimed. As a general rule never take your whole fee in advance, nor any more than a small retainer. When fully paid beforehand, you are more than a common mortal if you can feel the same interest in the case, as if something was still in prospect for you, as well as for your client. And when you lack interest in the case the job will very likely lack skill and diligence in performance.”

Did Lincoln follow his own counsel in the practice of law? What was his reputation and skill as a lawyer in Illinois before he was elected President? Lincoln was concerned, as are most lawyers today, about the reputation of some lawyers in the mind of the public of being dishonest. History tells us that the sobriquet “Honest Abe” did not come from the practice of law, but rather from the fact that he labored many years to pay all of the debts incurred in his failed career as a storekeeper. Of course, Lincoln may have had little choice in that since when the store failed, a comprehensive bankruptcy act did not exist, making debtors liable for their debts without resort to bankruptcy. An examination of his career reveals that Lincoln had a well earned reputation as an able, competent and accomplished lawyer despite his self deprecating remarks.

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