Mar 24, 2017

Eight Beatitudes for Lawyers: Lessons from Lincoln | Joseph Onele


The First Beatitude
Blessed are they who thirst after knowledge (both law-related and non-law related) like the future depends on it; for they shall have a fountain of 'flowing knowledge,' achieve mastery in no mean time and become envies of colleagues and delight of clients.


The above Beatitude was inspired by a letter written by Lincoln on 25 September 1860 to a certain J.M Brockman Esq. which reads thus:

Dear Sir,
Yours of the 24th, asking "the best mode of obtaining a thorough knowledge of the law" is received. The only mode is very simple, though laborious, and tedious. It is only to the books, and read, and study them carefully. Begin with Blacksone's Commentaries, and after Pleadings, Greenleaf's Evidence & Story's Equity... Work, work, work, is the main thing.
Yours very truly
A. Lincoln


The Second Beatitude
Blessed are those who find great delight in finding the ratio decidendi of judgements on their own - who neither get carried away with the catchwords and/or case summaries by law reports nor rely heavily on secondary sources without 'first drinking deeply' from the primary sources but go the extra mile in understanding the primary sources, ratio decidendi in judgements and do not use precedents slavishly; for they shall achieve inimitable mastery of the law.


The Third Beatitude
Blessed are those who do not despise their days of little beginning but keep investing in themselves through continuous legal education; for they shall reap a bountiful harvest when the time is ripe.

This third Beatitude was inspired by two letters written by Lincoln. First was written on 3 August 1858 and addressed to a certain William H. Grigsby who applied for a job to his office. The letter Lincoln wrote is still very instructive as it captures what most lawyers should focus on in the formative years of their career in the legal profession. The letter reads:

My dear Sir:
Yours of the 14th of July, desiring a situaiton in my law office, was received several days ago. My partner, Mr Herndon, controls our office in this respect, and I have known of his declining at least a dozen applications like yours within the last three months.

If you wish to be a lawyer, attach no consequence to the place you are in, or to theperson you are with; but get books, sit down anywhere, and go to reading for yourself. That will make a lawyer of you quicker than any other way.
Yours respectfully,

A. Lincoln

The above Beatitude was also inspired by another letter written by Lincoln to James T. Thornton on 2 December 1858. Thornton had earlier written to Lincoln for mentorship on behalf of a certain law student. John W. Widmer. Lincoln wrote:

Dear Sir,

Yours of the 29th, written in be of Mr. John W. Widmer, is received. I am absent altogether too much to be a suitable instructor for a law student. When a man has reached the age that Mr. Widner has, and has already been doing for himself, my judgment is, that he reads the books for himself without an instructorThat is precisely the way I came to the law. Let Mr.Widner read Blackstone's Commentaries, Chitty's Pleadings...Greenleaf's Evidence, Story's Equity... get a license, and go to the practice, and still keep reading. That is my judgment of the cheapest, and best way for Mr. Widner to make a lawyer of himself.

Yours truly

A. Lincoln


The Fourth Beatitude
Blessed are those whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole - ones who will stand for the right though the heavens fall - ones who will stop at nothing in achieving their goals; for they shall have integrity and good name unsoiled but will stand before kings and not mean men.


The Fifth Beatitude
Blessed are they whose first professional duty as ministers in the hallowed temple of justice is not sacrificed in a foolish and sheepish commitment to the clients' demands - who do not truncate the course of justice for their own or clients' selfish ends but allow justice to take its natural course, having done all that is professionally expected of them; for they shall not be 'witch-hunted' by the Economic Financial Crimes Commission and made to face 'brutal sanctions' from the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee as the fear of both is the beginning of professional sanity.


The Sixth Beatitude
Blessed are those who do not sacrifice family, healthy living cum healthy relationships and good networking opportunities on the altar of 'crazy deadlines' and 'never-ending-work' but are able to maintain a good work-life balance; for their joy shall be full and shall live to the fullness of their potentials while enjoying the fruits of their labour.


The Seventh Beatitude
Blessed are those who never see anything as impossible but look at the word 'impossible' as I'M POSSIBLE - who keep pushing the limits, exceeding all expectations and delivering great results to clients, colleagues and 'constituted authorities' alike and non-alike; for they shall reap their rewards in no mean time.

The seventh beatitude was inspired by Lincoln's letter to Ishaam Reavis.

The letter dated 5 November 1855 reads thus:

My dear Sir:
... If you are resolutely determined to make a lawyer of yourself, the thing is more than half done already. It is but a small matter whether you read with any body or not. I did not read with any one. Get the books, and read and study them till, you understand them in their principal features; and that is the main thing. It is of no consequence to be in a large town when you are reading... The books, and your capacity for understanding them, are the same in all places...

Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed, is more important than any other thing.

Very truly Your friend

A. Lincoln


The Eighth Beatitude
Blessed are those who do not mix work with pleasure - who bill when they have to and follow through to ensure that clients pay timeously for work done while skillfully sustaining healthy relationships with clients; for they shall know more peace, have their 'bank accounts smiling to the banks' and know no taste of being denied payments for work done.


NoteThis publication represents only the personal views of the author and is provided to highlight issues as well as for general information purposes only; it does not constitute legal advice. Whilst reasonable steps were taken to ensure the accuracy of information contained in this publication, the author does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage that may arise from reliance on information contained in this publication.

Legal Practitioner/Consultant/Scholar/Writer


 Photo - Joseph Onele 
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