Sunday, August 3, 2008

Lawyers as Peacemakers

Say the word "lawyer," and far more people think of "Whiplash Willie" — the unscrupulous ambulance-chaser portrayed by Walter Matthau in The Fortune Cookie — than of Atticus Finch. Google™ the term "lawyer jokes," and you are rewarded(?) with almost 600,000 hits.

Against this backdrop of popular culture, it may be helpful to remember Abraham Lincoln’s admonition to a group of law students more than 150 years ago:

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.*

I was gratified to hear one of my colleagues, Rob Howard of Henniker, NH, demonstrate the other day at a meeting of our local Bar Association’s ADR Section that Lincoln’s advice is still followed. The topic for discussion was how to foster a mediation mind set in the public. He stated that he has been counseling his clients to make peace since he started his practice more than thirty years ago. When he said this, he seemed surprised that the concept would be regarded as anything but obvious. As far as he was concerned, this is what lawyers do.

* From The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume II, "Notes for a Law Lecture" (July 1, 1850?), p. 81.


Nancy E. Hudgins said...

Thanks for posting this.
Too often we're taught to be warriors rather than peacemakers. In the same vein, your readers might like Steven Keeva's book, Transforming Practices: Finding Joy and Satisfactioin in the Legal Life.

John Lassey said...

Thanks, Nancy. My posting included a link to the source of the Lincoln quote. The entire two pages are worth reading. As a model for our profession, I think Honest Abe is without peer.

Chris Annunziata said...


I actually had that quote on an early version of my website. The greedy "Bill the Hell Out of It" mentality was one of the reasons I got into mediation. Great post.