In this first of my three-part interview with Justice Michael Hyman, he relates how Lincoln’s ability to remain professional, civil, and gracious is an example all lawyers should consider.
Justice Michael B. Hyman of Illinois’ First Appellate District says mediators need to look to Lincoln. “Lincoln was a great mediator because he was a peacemaker. Making peace was more important to him than anything else so that if he could resolve a case, he would try his darnedest to do so.”
Hyman is also a Lincoln devotee with hundreds of items of memorabilia.
Why Lincoln? “Someone who had less than a year of formal education, who taught himself law, did not study under a lawyer but taught himself law, who went bankrupt and paid off all his debts, who was so despondent at one point that his friends thought he might use a knife to kill himself if they didn't take it away from him—and this man was able to lead the country out of a situation that could have destroyed us, and the repercussions of what happened during his presidency are still being felt all these years later.”
Here’s one Lincoln story Hyman sometimes reflects on when he encounters incivility in his courtroom. “He wouldn't let anything get in the way of doing his job, or let personal feelings interfere with a lawsuit. He was retained to represent a company here in Chicago that had a patent and they hired him because he was familiar with Chicago, he practiced here in Chicago in Federal Court and it was a federal case. The company also hired lawyers from out east and when he found out that he was local counsel he said I'll take care of everything, I'll prepare it for trial, and at that time there wasn't much in terms of depositions, but there was some discovery he did and he got documents and prepared his opening statement. Then the trial was moved from Chicago to Ohio. He met the other lawyers and when they saw him they thought he was a buffoon. When they spoke about who was going to do the opening statement, they said, you're dismissed.
“Rather than leave and be upset, he sat in the courtroom and watched the trial. The lawyers would have nothing to do with him, wouldn't speak to him. They stayed at the same motel and would have nothing to do with him. At the trial, when it was concluded, the judge, this is back in the 1850s, invited everyone to his home for dinner, except for Lincoln, and Lincoln went back to Chicago and then Springfield on a train by himself. When asked about it, he said, I’ve got to be as good as those east coast lawyers, they were really good.
“The lawyer who treated him so shabbily and called him names that were very hurtful? Turned out to be Edward Stanton, who became Secretary of War in his cabinet.
“[Despite their past, Lincoln] felt that he was the best man for the job of Secretary of War and Stanton at the beginning thought Lincoln still was a baboon and an idiot. But it turned out that after working with Lincoln for several years, Stanton had tremendous respect and admiration for Lincoln, which we all know for his famous words that ‘now Lincoln belongs to the ages’ when he passed away. One of his greatest fans turned out to be Stanton.
“[Lincoln] didn't hold a grudge. When you talk about negotiations, I mean he could have tried again to get his way still in there. He actually gave his notes for the opening to Stanton. Stanton never opened the envelope, ever. Later in life he said he wished he had at least looked at it. That was how little respect they had for Lincoln.”
Hyman has always advocated passionately for lawyer civility. “Often in negotiations people do not have the sufficient respect for the other side which can interfere in one's negotiations, or have anger which will interfere with negotiations, or have emotional ties that will interfere with negotiations. One of the reasons lawyers are supposed to be professional is that they don't have those kinds of issues. However, too often as we know, the whole idea of incivility is that lawyers get too tied into these negative traits that can cause errors and poor strategies and lack of communications and other things.
Litigators appearing before Hyman, be aware. He strongly believes, “Being zealous doesn't mean being mean, lying, tricky, disagreeable. The best lawyers I ever faced were lawyers who were really great lawyers. They didn't need any of that kind of stuff. As a judge I don't know of any judge I've ever met who felt that those types of uncivil conduct made a difference. It never helps the cause of the individual who does it.I It has never won the day in court.”