One Illinois Lawyer’s Thoughts About the Practice of Law

“The leading rule for the lawyer, as for the man of every other calling, is diligence. Leave nothing for tomorrow which can be done today…”

“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, expenses, and waste of time. As a peacemaker the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.”


“Never stir up litigation. A worse man can scarcely be found than one who does this. 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? A moral tone ought to be infused into the profession which should drive such men out of it.”

“An exorbitant fee should never be claimed. As a general rule never take your whole fee in advance, nor any more than a small retainer. When fully paid beforehand, you are more than a common mortal if you can feel the same interest in the case, as if something was still in prospect for you, as well as for your client. And when you lack interest in the case the job will very likely lack skill and diligence in the performance…”

“Resolve to be honest at all events; and if in your own judgment you cannot be an honest lawyer, 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.”

–Abraham Lincoln

(Mr. Lincoln took part in over 3,000 lawsuits during his time as a lawyer in Illinois. His prowess before juries was legendary, and he was probably the leading Illinois appellate lawyer of his generation. Nevertheless, he knew that, in many disputes, there were better ways of achieving justice than filing lawsuits. His thoughts about diligence, fees, and honesty speak for themselves.)

In Memoriam:

  • Thomas Webster (1631-1715)
  • Daniel Webster (1782-1852)
  • David Burnham Webster (1802-1860)
  • Alfred Orendorff (1845-1909)
  • Robert Fielden Webster (1911-1978)