Honest Abe, Honestly

The Madison County Record Mar. 25, 2007, 11:42am

"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."

-Abraham Lincoln, July 1, 1850

America's 16th president, and Illinois most famous lawyer, is also known for his (now prescient) 19th Century declarations against frivolous litigation.

So it comes as some irony that with Springfield overflowing with pro-lawsuit ideas promoted by lawyers, our state's largest lawyers' group would announce Honest Abe as the centerpiece of its new image-making campaign.

"There's probably not a better symbol for lawyers and putting lawyers in a positive light than our own Abraham Lincoln," said Joseph Bisceglia, president of the Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA), as quoted in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.

At least he's playing proactive. Illinois lawyers will need all the "positive light" they can muster once the masses catch wind of their latest orgy of raw self-enrichment in our State Capitol. Voters elected the Democrats; they got the lawsuits-for-profit industry, which summarily nudged them aside, snagged the keys and started driving home a dream agenda.

Among the new concepts chugging their way through the system are a "deep pockets" law (chronicled previously on these pages) that would divide judgments against multiple defendants by ability to pay, not relative responsibility. Another measure allows the relatives of a person killed in an accident to claim damages for "grief, sorrow, and mental suffering."

Meanwhile, bills that would slow down Illinois' insatiable lawsuit machine-- creating standards for asbestos plaintiffs, banning intra-state venue shopping and establishing qualifications of expert witnesses-- have all been soundly ushered to the gallows.

To the victors, as they say, go the spoils. And those of us who don't bill by the hour should never forget it.

And we won't, the marketing efforts of ISBA notwithstanding. The group's rank-and-file, on whose watch this has all occurred, would be well-advised. Rather than co-opt Lincoln as a means to a false veneer, start actually listening to him.

"Discourage litigation," Lincoln wrote. "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."

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