Here are four examples of Lincoln’s integrity as a young lawyer in Illinois.
- He advised fellow lawyers to avoid ethical lapses. “Resolve to be honest at all events,” he said, “and if in your own judgment you cannot be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer."
The “honest lawyer” admonition made a big impression. One admirer who quoted it said the “words should be printed upon cardboard and hung in every law office in the land.”
- He practiced honesty and fairness. Lincoln had a pioneer’s sense of justice and fair play, another fan wrote, including simplicity, clarity, a “knack of happy illustration and his earnestness.” Journalist and early biographer Ida Tarbell said Lincoln sought cases where he saw miscarriages of justice that he thought he could fix.
- He was no ambulance-chaser. “Never stir up litigation,” he said. “A worse man can scarcely be found … . Who can be more nearly a fiend than he who habitually overhauls the register of deeds in search of defects in titles, whereon to stir up strife, and put money in his pocket?” Lincoln thought such lawyers should be kicked out of the profession.
- He took the donkey work seriously, too, detailing how lawyers should do their paperwork, research and fee collection without embellishment or complaining. A lawyer’s work habits, he believed, were at least as important as ethics and public relations.