Some lessons from Lincoln

With all the hubbub from the far right about returning to our roots and the Founders of the Constitution (whether you think they are crazy or not), it has occurred to me that perhaps they–the Tea Partyers, 9/12 groups, and so on–might be missing a lot of important history in the middle.  That is, all that stuff that has happened between 1776 and 2010.  This is not to say that i believe that we should just disregard everything that the Founders believed, or the application of original meaning to any analysis of the federal constitution.  On the contrary, I think the historical analysis is very important, insofar as it can shed any light.

On the other hand, the Founders didn’t always agree on the meaning themselves, and, further, there’s been a lot of important stuff that has happened in the interim.

With this in mind, and because this blog is geared towards the law, I ran into an interesting article in Dispute Resolution Magazine, a publication of the American Bar Association.  One of those important events in-between1776 and now was the Civil War, and out of that morass and destruction, we found a man who has been often referred to as our greatest president, Abraham Lincoln.  But before he was president, Lincoln was a lawyer.  He rode the circuit in Illinois in the role of the “lawyer’s lawyer” working on cases across the full spectrum of practices.  In his article, Thomas J. Stipanowich mentions just a few of the lessons that can be learned from Lincoln’s example as an attorney.

  1. Use litigation as a last resort–and be frank with your client about the costs and risks.
  2. Try to be objective in assessing your client’s case. A void “irrational optimism.” Be clear about your client’s interests and focus your energies accordingly.
  3. Begin negotiating cooperatively and encourage the reliance of others by behaving in a logical and predictable way.  Look for trade-offs.
  4. Seek creative ways of bridging the gap to an agreement that achieves a client’s key goals and priorities in a simple straightforward manner.
  5. Do not place financial interests or ego above the interests of the client.

While these are perhaps a little less salient to the discussion of the constitution and the direction that the Tea Parties want our country to move, I do think they say a lot about how they we interact, even for non-lawyers.  Much of the political discourse is vitriolic and tense, drawing lines in the sand from which retreat and compromise is difficult.   To be sure, the stakes are high; however, this should be a reason for more care in negotiation, not less.


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