The Disruptive Lawyer Series: How Abraham Lincoln Settled a Case in 2015


Much like the iPhone was dubbed “disruptive technology” because it changed the thinking of an industry, the Disruptive Lawyer embodies the right skills to disrupt – in a positive way – your expectations of legal results. And as we are in the “evidence” business, rather than telling you we are Disruptive Lawyers, we’re sharing stories of real cases that demonstrate Disruptive Lawyer results. Here’s the next. We welcome your thoughts at Read more Disruptive Lawyer stories here.

How Abraham Lincoln Settled a Case in 2015

The Disruptive Lawyer, while eating lunch at his desk, was perusing the ESPN website, reading that Alabama was guaranteed to win its seventh College Football National Championship and would defeat Clemson. Just then, an email popped up with a new assignment from an insurance client that wrote public entity business policies covering cities, counties, and sheriffs. The Disruptive Lawyer anxiously opened the email to review the lawsuit and immediately licked his chops because it was filed by a pro se detainee sitting in the county jail. In 25 years of representing sheriff’s departments, the Disruptive Lawyer had a 100% winning record of dismissals against pro se detainees. He was UNDEFEATED! This was the sort of streak that put the Disruptive Lawyer in the same conversations as Joe DiMaggio’s legendary 56-game hitting streak. Sure, pro se detainees don’t have law degrees (and often not even a high school degree), but a streak is a streak. Right?

As the Disruptive Lawyer read the complaint further, he noted it asserted a First Amendment civil rights claim against the local sheriff. And, to the Disruptive Lawyer’s dismay, if the alleged facts were true, there was a United States Supreme Court case on point establishing that the pro se detainee’s rights had actually been violated. The Disruptive Lawyer quickly called the sheriff who confirmed that YES, the department had done exactly what the pro se alleged-and what the United States Supreme Court prohibited. This was problematic to the Disruptive Lawyer for many reasons. His first thought was that his winning streak against pro se detainees was about to end. His second thought was he had to redefine a “win” for the client and deliver the best result possible. Swallowing his pride and conceding to Joe DiMaggio, he proceeded to handle the case.

While the pro se inmate’s damages were de minimis, if non-existent, he had every right to a jury trial. And, given a jury trial was a temporary “get out of jail free card,” the inmate made clear that, given he was facing life in prison, he was not interested in any “settlement.” Rather, he was excited to spend three or four days on a “field trip” to federal court for the civil trial. Knowing a motion for summary judgment was not an option, the client was mindful that a federal trial would be relatively expensive involving numerous documents (e.g. extensive pre-trial order, pre-submitted voir dire questions, motions in limine, trial memo, jury charges, etc.). The client authorized a legal budget for a federal trial “on the cheap for $10,000.”

Rather than prepare for trial and begin the $10,000 billing process, the Disruptive Lawyer decided to go a different route. He headed to the jail to visit the pro se inmate, who was being detained for a double homicide. At the jail, a deputy warned the lawyer, “I’ve been doing this a long time, and this guy has no soul.” “Wow. That’s encouraging,” thought the Disruptive Lawyer. After a brief introduction, the deputy departed so the unshackled and unrestrained inmate and the lawyer could meet alone in a jail conference room.

In the meeting, the Disruptive Lawyer complimented the pro se murderer (the pro se detainee was convicted a year later for the double murders and got the death penalty) on writing a very solid lawsuit indicating he was clearly well-read on the Constitution. This led the pro se to discuss his appetite for reading and his true passion, the Civil War. For the next 30 minutes, the pro se talked about his favorite battles and how President Lincoln brilliantly managed his generals. The Disruptive Lawyer noted that litigation was similar to war, as no matter how long you fight, eventually there is a treaty. This allowed the Disruptive Lawyer to ask, “What would a treaty look like in this case?” The pro se indicated his excitement about the trial and really couldn’t think of any other treaty options. In turn, the Disruptive Lawyer responded, “How about this: In your murder trial, you will likely get a good month in court. Trust me, court isn’t that much fun. So, rather than a few days in court on the civil rights case, wouldn’t you get more pleasure from reading a several books on the Civil War?” The pro se got a twinkle in his soulless eyes (if that was possible) and asked, “Could you make that happen!?” Hence, the case was settled.

The pro se signed the dismissal with prejudice and, in return, the Disruptive Lawyer delivered four books, including the deal closer: A. Lincoln: A Biography. And so, while our great President Abraham Lincoln died in 1865, he was a key player in helping the Disruptive Lawyer resolve the case. Take that, Joe DiMaggio!

Cost of settlement: $110 worth of books
Cost of defense saved: $9890


*If you haven’t read The Disruptive Lawyer’s Little Black Book of Litigation Management, contact us at and we will get a complimentary copy in the mail to you right away.