THE HOW-TO GUIDE TO LAWYERING LIKE LINCOLN “LESSONS, TIPS, AND TALES ON PRACTICING LAW AND HANGING OUT A SHINGLE”
By Michael J. Dunn
Abraham Lincoln was a successful lawyer for 25 years prior to his political career. Although he never went to law school, he studied under an established lawyer as an apprentice until he obtained his certificate of good moral character. Lincoln’s lack of schooling, however, was not an impediment. He had a great respect for the law, a keen client-centered business sense and a gift for storyteller. In short, he was a world-class solutionist who was a true believer in his clients and their causes. His simple approach to problem solving included a combination of diligence, organization, and attention to detail. Lincoln was a street-lawyer. One day he would represent a criminal defendant and the next he would represent a landowner or the Illinois Central railroad. He did it all and he did it small. Lincoln spent his entire legal career with only one law partner at a time.
In recent years, it is indisputable that the practice of law has undergone dramatic changes. The most important and exciting change is the reemphasis of the solo practitioner. The rugged soul who would hang out a shingle against all odds is the real beneficiary of the revolution currently going on in the business of law. To be a lawyer is more about client service than ever before. If you learn to live by the very real truism of focusing on the work and the money will take care of itself, you will be a success in this most honorable profession.
Abraham Lincoln called the practice of law “an honest calling.” Indeed, it is.
Mike Dunn has been a practicing attorney for nearly 30 years. He was an associate professor and clinical director of the Access to Justice Clinic at Western Michigan University’s Thomas M. Cooley Law School, where he currently is an adjunct professor of law teaching courses where he specializes in helping to launch new lawyers from page to practice. He is a co-host of the syndicated radio legal talk show: The Lawyer’s Show based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He maintains a busy law practice and has tried cases in state and federal court in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinois. He has published several legal periodicals on the Lawyer as Entrepreneur and the Teaching of Law.