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Yes. There was no requirement, as there were maybe one or two law schools in the U.S., and lawyers were needed further on the frontier. Becoming a lawyer without law school was normal, but not having a mentor or Inn was abnormal. Lincoln stands with very few who pretty much made it on his own. Born in 1809 in a small log cabin, Abraham Lincoln had a rough childhood as his family moved from one state to the other to avoid the major problems plaguing the several states within the United States at the time. Eventually, the family settled in Indiana, where they spent much of their lives on the family farm to make a living.
Many people are unaware that Lincoln was mostly self-educated and learned to read while in Kentucky, scratching words on the back of a shovel as his paper pad of sorts.
From a very young age, Abraham had an interest in reading books and learning. However, with the financial situation at home, Lincoln would work outside his farm to earn some living, which he would give to his father to run the house. By the age of 21, Lincoln had become a champion wrestler in his county due to his tall and strong body structure.
In 1830, a fear of milk sickness soon spread in Indiana, the same disease that had taken his mother’s life in 1818. The family soon moved to Cole County, Illinois. However, Lincoln decided to stay on his own in New Salem. Living independently and exploring the different cities in the state, Lincoln would soon discover the harsh realities of the world. Lincoln and his friends would head to New Orleans to sell goods, where he soon encountered slavery, which he would stand against for the rest of his life.
Abraham Lincoln enjoyed a 25-year legal career in Illinois, but he was never really educated in the field. He did practice law but did not take the traditional law school route. Like many lawyers in the 1800s, Abraham Lincoln never received his legal education or attended law school. A tradition began when young aspiring lawyers and law students would work under established lawyers to learn to practice law instead of attending law school. However, Abraham was one of the few who actually studied the field on his own by looking at law books and working with a law partner.
In 1834, Abraham caught the attention of a lawyer by the name of John Stuart, who gave Lincoln a lot of legal books to study and encouraged him to pick up this profession. As bright as Lincoln was, the stout gentleman joined John Stuart as a partner in his law practice within three years. As his legal career grew, Stuart became a member of the bar, got his law license in 1836, and started his law practice. By 1838, Stuart had become a representative of the general assembly, with the Illinois County certifying his election to the Illinois legislature.
Soon, Stuart got a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and left the law firm for Abraham to manage, which he successfully did even though he never attended law school. However, in 1841, Lincoln broke his partnership with Stuart and joined Stephen Logan, as he did have a law license.
Far older than Abraham, Logan had a huge reputation in Sangamon County and Illinois County Court. By understanding the opportunity at hand, Abraham quenched his thirst for learning by observing his partner and studying precedents. Soon, Abraham would also make a name for himself, handling more than 300 cases in the Supreme Court.
While working for “Logan and Lincoln,” Abraham focused on bankruptcy law since a new bankruptcy act came into effect in 1842. At the time, the great depression had taken its toll on businesses, and the show was necessary to protect businesses from closing down. However, the act did not last long; in 1843, it ended. Logan and Lincoln saw great heights once their law office moved to the second floor of the U.S. District Court. Here, the two partners got more clients, and the business flourished. However, the partnership came to an end in 1844, as Logan wanted to partner up with his son.
In 1844, Abraham came into partnership with William H. Herndon, where Abraham Lincoln practiced law as a senior partner, and Herndon would be the junior. The pair would travel to the Eighth Judicial Circuit for three months each year. During his time at the Circuit, Abraham met with many individuals who would later become his political supporters.
In the 1840s, Abraham Lincoln took on his first Illinois State Supreme Court case just before ending his partnership with Logan. After he got elected to the U.S. Congress in 1846, Lincoln took a 2-year break from practicing law. However, he soon resumed his practice, working hard to regain his position as a prairie lawyer. In 1849, as a lawyer, Lincoln once again practiced law before the United States Supreme Court.
With most of his practice in Sangamon County, his trial in the circuit court continued, where he handled hundreds of cases (the majority of these were railroad cases), earning a reputation for himself as an honest attorney. By 1853, he was on retainer for the Illinois Central Railroad Company, one of the largest in the country, again, even without attending any of the local law schools.
Abraham Lincoln was a general attorney who took up civil and criminal cases, providing some of the best legal representation at the time due to his good moral conduct. You may want to believe that the former Springfield attorney and U.S. president received his degree at Harvard Law School. However, he never truly received a formal legal education and legal documents like a J.D. to boot.
Lincoln took on many different cases before the Illinois Supreme Court but argued only one before the U.S. Supreme Court. He had no legal education and passed the bar exam by judge, not by written examination. That’s how he got a law license. He did not study law in a traditional Inn or as an apprentice, as was the standard. He did not get a law license in the same way we do today. Instead, there was a lot of focus on an applicant’s good moral character, and self-taught lawyers studied law on their own by becoming a part of a law firm, maybe as a junior partner. They then had to take an oral examination to pass the bar.
During his time as president, Abraham Lincoln appointed five justices in 1861 since one had resigned and the other had died. By 1863, Lincoln appointed ten justices to the Supreme Court who had to travel around the circuit courts annually to hear federal cases.
Some of the U.S. Supreme Court members during his administration included John Archibald Campbell, John Catron, David Davis, John McLean, and James Moore Wayne, among others. The law expanded and got more complex as time passed, requiring specialized attorneys to represent different civil and criminal matters. Our lead counsel, Michael Ehline, read for the law on the California State Bar Law Office Study Program and presently practices law as a Los Angeles a personal injury lawyer in Torrance, Long Beach, and other major California locations.
If you have questions about tort law or a legal issue, or you’ve received injuries that were not your fault, contact us at (213) 596-9642 for a free consultation with our personal injury attorneys. Studying law and helping victims get back on their feet is our passion.
Michael is a managing partner at the nationwide Ehline Law Firm, Personal Injury Attorneys, APLC. He’s an inactive Marine and became a lawyer in the California State Bar Law Office Study Program, later receiving his J.D. from UWLA School of Law. Michael has won some of the world’s largest motorcycle accident settlements.