Honest Abe’s Advice to Young Lawyers, Poets, and Chefs

by Fred Abramson on December 11, 2012 · 0 comments

The theme of a famous person-providing pearls of wisdom to younger than (you pick the profession) is a time honored tradition. The most famous specimen is R.M Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet.  You can read it in couple hours for free here. I remember reading this book while backpacking through Europe back in 1993. In fact, it was in Brugge while sharing a room with a couple of Aussies and a Swede at the Sunffel hostel where I recall  finishing the short read.  FYI the hostel was awesome.  Anyway, I was travelling before entering my first year of law school and the book spoke to me.  The book was profound, inspirational, practical, easy to read and accessible. Seriously, you can finish the book in the time it takes to watch two episodes of Real Housewives of  (insert your favorite city) on your DVR.

On my next stop in Paris, with Rilke still fresh in my mind, I “drew’ the picture below while visiting the Musee D’Orsay.

A couple of years ago I purchased Daniel Boulud’s Letter’s to a Young Chef at a Heights Books on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights.  I am an avid cook and in the age of Blackberry I collected as many as culinary books as possible.  The book itself was  one in a series, with titles such as Letters to a Young Golfer by Bob Duval and the esoteric Letters to a Young Therapist by Mary Pipher.

On the heals of Spielberg’s Lincoln (I recommend it, Rotten Tomatoes 91%) comes  Abraham Lincoln’s Advice to Young Lawyers (h/t Slate by Rebecca Onion). The document is now held at the Library of Congress (you can read a transcript on their website).

According to Lincoln, despite law’s profitable nature (remember, Lincoln wrote this in the 19th Century), the lawyer should at all times “discourage litigation,” on the principle that “as a peacemaker the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.”

I concur with Lincoln here.  Unfortunately, much has not changed since the time of Lincoln.  Some lawyers encourage litigation because they are in the business of selling legal services.  Litigation attorneys have an  inherent conflict of interest. Clients must both trust us to diagnose the problem for free and then to pay for us to fix the problem.

““If in your own judgment you cannot be an honest lawyer,” Lincoln wrote, “resolve to be honest without being a lawyer. Choose some other occupation, rather than one in the choosing of which you do, in advance, consent to be a knave.”

Wise words.

The Law Office of Frederic R. Abramson represents individuals and business in civil ligation and business law in New York. 

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