I enjoy the holiday season for many reasons. One is because Hollywood usually releases a few decent and entertaining movies. One movie that earned a respectable amount of praise this season is Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.
If you read the reviews, or talked to friends and colleagues who have seen the movie, you’ve probably heard a common refrain: “I didn’t know that Abraham Lincoln did that.”
Most of you should remember from your history classes that Lincoln (like many presidents) was a lawyer. You may even recall that he was a famed Illinois trial lawyer. But you probably don’t know that Lincoln the lawyer was just as skilled at marketing his own services as he was in the courtroom. By today’s standards, in fact, he might be accused of being an ambulance chaser.
As a lawyer in private practice, one of Lincoln’s most important cases was Illinois Central Railroad v. County of McLean. He represented the railroad and convinced the state’s high court that the county could not tax the property of railroads that had been chartered by the state.
Without getting into the details about the facts and holding of the decision, I’d like to share with you my fascination with how Lincoln got the nod to represent the railroad in the first place.
Lincoln initially solicited McLean County officials orally during some meetings. He wrote a letter to an official in neighboring Champaign County, seeking to represent it, too. After getting no response from either county, Lincoln then wrote to the railroad’s chief lawyer to indicate that he was available to represent the railroad. “And if you think fit,” he said, “you may ‘count me in.’” Four days later, Lincoln was retained. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
At the time, of course, Lincoln’s conduct violated no ethics rule. It wasn’t until 1908, when the ABA issued its Canons of Professional Responsibility, that individual states began to prohibit most forms of solicitation and advertising by lawyers. Under today’s rules, Lincoln’s solicitation and direct mail campaign would probably raise more than a few eyebrows.
It should come as no surprise that Lincoln was effective at marketing his talent as a lawyer, After all, getting elected twice as the nation’s president could be considered the quintessential American marketing endeavor. He was obviously no amateur.
Even the Best Market
The next time you catch yourself grumbling over having to market so much, stop and think. Just remember, even an icon like Lincoln needed to do his fair share of marketing in order to be successful.
Originally published on Lawyerist.com