Lincoln on the Practice of Law

“Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser: in fees, and expenses, and waste of time. As peacemaker the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.”

Abraham Lincoln
Notes on the Practice of Law
The Library of America, Lincoln: Speeches and Writings, 1832-1858

John-Paul Boyd is the executive director of the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family. The Institute is a federally-incorporated charity established in 1987 and is affiliated with the University of Calgary


  1. Mr. Lincoln, a successful lawyer who never attended law school and knew how to say so much in so few words.

  2. I thought readers might like to see the whole, but short (2 pages) notes that Lincoln wrote. He was good on the public’s view of lawyers and on law as a career choice:
    This link is to Google Books.It will take you to 2 excerpts. Click on the first one, p.245, to see the whole two pages.

  3. The mediation and arbitration Bar have been quoting this passage since I have been involved in such matters, over 25 years, and it would not surprise me to hear that it’s been actively referred to for the preceding century too. That is, of course, only in part because it serves the interests of that Bar – there is a lot of wisdom in it.

    One recalls Voltaire, in a very different time and legal system, who said he had been ruined only twice in his life: once when he lost a lawsuit, and once when he won one.

  4. Thanks very much for posting that link, Simon.