Abraham Lincoln handled cases in almost all levels of the court, including justice of the peace, county, circuit, appellate, and federal. He had three successive formal partnerships: junior partner to John Todd Stuart (1837-1841), junior partner to Stephen T. Logan (1841-1844), and senior partner to William H. Herndon (1844-1861). Like many of his legal colleagues, Lincoln was a general practice attorney and represented clients in a variety of civil and criminal actions including debt, slander, divorce, mortgage foreclosure, and murder.
Lincoln was away from Springfield for nearly six months of each year, three months each spring and fall riding the circuit; he did not have any formal partnerships during this time. When he reached a county seat, local attorneys asked him to assist them with a case, or litigants themselves sought his services. Lincoln handled the business as it came to him. Generally, he chose neither clients nor co-counsels along partisan lines.
During various times in his legal career, Lincoln suspended the practice of law in favor of his political career. During election years in the 1840s, Lincoln stumped for the Whig Party in various regions of the state. However, in a few instances, Lincoln combined his political and legal careers.
After losing the 1854 Senate election, Lincoln wrote to some clients in March 1855 that he had dabbled in politics and neglected business and that since he had lost, he had to go back to work. During his 1858 Senatorial campaign against Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln did not practice law for much of the summer and fall. After his loss, he returned to law but maintained active political correspondence, which eventually helped him garner support for the presidential election in 1860.
The Republican National Convention nominated Lincoln for president in May 1860. He continued to handle several cases during the summer term of the federal court in Springfield. It is unlikely that he represented any more clients after the summer. In November 1860, Lincoln won the election for the presidency over his political rival Stephen A. Douglas and two other candidates. During the winter, Lincoln wrapped up his legal business with Herndon and left for Washington in February 1861. According to Herndon’s biography of his famous law partner, Lincoln wanted the partnership sign to hang undisturbed and “give our clients to understand that the election of a President makes no change in the firm of Lincoln and Herndon.” He told Herndon that if he returned he wanted to resume their practice of law “as if nothing had ever happened.”