Oklahoma Bar Journal

From the Executive Director | Lessons from Lincoln: Make Your Word Your Bond

By Janet Johnson

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Presidents Day is celebrated in February, and I thought it would be ripe to reflect upon one of the most revered presidents of the United States, who was also a fellow lawyer. As our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln left behind a legacy that extends far beyond politics. There was much more to his leadership than the Civil War and his role as a statesman. In fact, lawyers can draw valuable lessons from Lincoln’s life and career.

One of the key lessons lawyers can learn from Lincoln is the importance of resilience and determination. Lincoln faced numerous setbacks and failures throughout his life, both personally and professionally. Despite facing defeats in elections and experiencing personal tragedies, he persevered. Lawyers often encounter challenges in their legal careers, such as losing cases or facing criticism. Lincoln's ability to bounce back from adversity serves as a testament to the power of resilience in the face of obstacles. Dare I say he also did so with extreme professionalism and civility.

Integrity and honesty were integral to Lincoln's character, and these virtues remain crucial for lawyers. Known for his honesty and straightforwardness, Lincoln earned the nickname "Honest Abe." Lawyers, as officers of the court, are held to high ethical standards. Lincoln's commitment to honesty and integrity serves as a guiding principle for legal professionals, emphasizing the importance of maintaining trust and credibility in the legal field.

Lincoln's leadership style is another aspect that can inspire lawyers. He was known for his ability to bring together individuals with differing opinions and unite them toward a common goal. Lawyers often find themselves dealing with diverse perspectives, whether working with clients, colleagues or opposing parties. Lincoln's skill in navigating complex relationships and fostering cooperation can serve as a model for lawyers seeking to build effective partnerships in the legal arena.

Executive Director Johnson displays in her office artwork honoring President Lincoln.

The Gettysburg Address, one of Lincoln's most famous speeches, offers a timeless lesson in effective communication. Lawyers must often convey complex legal concepts to clients, judges and juries. Lincoln's concise and powerful rhetoric in the Gettysburg Address showcases the impact of clear and compelling communication. Lawyers can benefit from honing their communication skills to convey their arguments persuasively and make a lasting impression.

Additionally, Lincoln's commitment to the rule of law is a foundation that lawyers should embrace. Despite his many personal and professional challenges, Lincoln maintained a commitment to constitutional principles and the rule of law. Lawyers play a crucial role in upholding the legal system and ensuring justice. Lincoln's dedication to the rule of law serves as a reminder of the lawyer's responsibility to uphold and defend the principles that form the foundation of the legal system.

These lessons have been something I have tried to remind myself of since law school, as evidenced by a piece of art that I have had hanging in my office since about 2008. President Abraham Lincoln's life and lessons offer valuable insights for lawyers. From resilience and integrity, professionalism and civility, to effective communication and commitment to the rule of law, Lincoln's legacy extends beyond his presidency. Lawyers can draw inspiration from Lincoln's character and leadership, applying these lessons to navigate the complexities of the legal profession with honor and purpose.


To contact Executive Director Johnson, email her at janetj@okbar.org.     


Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar JournalOBJ 95 No. 2 (February 2024)

Statements or opinions expressed in the Oklahoma Bar Journal are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Oklahoma Bar Association, its officers, Board of Governors, Board of Editors or staff.