In Honor of Lincoln’s Birthday: The Two Gettysburg Addresses

(Today is the birthday of Abraham Lincoln. We old folks remember his birthday because it was a school and national holiday when we were growing up. We also remember February 22, Washington’s birthday, for the same reason. Then, Congress smooshed the holidays celebrating our two greatest presidents into a three-day weekend “Presidents Day.”)

Lawyers sometimes think that the longer they argue to the jury the more persuasive they are.  I disagree. 

My favorite opening statement in a jury trial came from a criminal defense attorney. After the prosecutor droned on and bored the jurors, the defense lawyer stood up and simply said, “As my Grandpa told me, no matter how thin you make the batter, there are always two sides to the pancake.” Then he sat down.

During jury trials, I do not impose time limits on the lawyers for their closing arguments. However, I share the lesson of the two Gettysburg speeches.

After the Union victory over the Confederacy at the Battle of Gettysburg a dedication was scheduled for the Soldiers National Cemetery.

Edward “The Orator” Everett was the keynote speaker.  He was a pastor, politician, and famous orator. His “Oration” at Gettysburg lasted over two hours.

In his “Dedicatory Remarks,” President Abraham Lincoln spoke for only two minutes.  Yet, his “Gettysburg Address” is perhaps the most famous speeches in American history.

I remind the lawyers that the famous orator spoke for over two hours, and Lincoln spoke for less than two minutes, and nobody remembers what the other guy said.

In other words, “Keep it short and sweet.”

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