Overview of the Burton Awards
A Well-Established Tradition in Law
For the past 20 years the national, non-profit awards program has recognized excellence in law. From the outset, the effort has been devoted to rewarding excellence and encouraging perfection in law. We are honored that several members of our nation’s High Court have attended the events on more than one occasion, including U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, and the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
The program is proud that 100% of Top 20 Law Firms have participated; 90% of Top 10 Law Schools have been involved; and 100% of Ivy League Schools have been a part of the effort. In the past, the selection panels have included professors from Yale Law School, Harvard Law School, Stanford Law School, Columbia Law School, University of Pennsylvania Law School, Berkeley Law School, and Michigan Law School. Each year, the guests include federal court judges, general counsel from the finest corporations, officers in the military, law deans and professors, and partners in the largest and most prestigious law firms.
The awards program, annually held at the Library of Congress in May, present recognizes outstanding general counsel, law school and law firm writers, lawyers in the military, attorneys in the executive branch of government, legal journalists, law firm and law school writers, law school professors, managing partners in the nation’s finest law firms and public service recipients.
The judges of the awards include leading law school professors, members of law firms, and outstanding leaders in law who all contribute their time and talents to support the legal profession.
The Burton Foundation
Not-for-Profit, Academic, and Cultural Effort
The Burton Foundation is a volunteer, not-for-profit academic and educational organization concentrating on major accomplishments in law. It defrays the costs for the program’s judges, winners, and students who attend the event and are given the awards. With tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) corporation, the program is designed to reward excellence and encourage perfection.
William C. Burton, Esq.
William C. Burton is a partner in Sagat/Burton LLP., New York. He is the founder and Chairman of the Burton Awards Program. His practice is devoted to lobbying at the federal and state levels of government. He has served as a New York State Assistant Attorney General and an Assistant New York State Special Prosecutor. For fifteen years, he was the Director of Government Affairs and handled legislative and regulatory matters for Continental Insurance, one of the largest international insurance companies. He is the author of “Burton’s Legal Thesaurus,” the first and only reference book of it’s kind ever written for the legal profession. The book is now in its fifth edition. When it was published thirty-seven years ago, Mr. Burton was given a prestigious and prominent award by the Association of American Publishers which declared the book “One of the most Creative and Innovate Projects of the Year.”
In 1999, Mr. Burton created the Burton Foundation and the Burton Awards program to encourage perfection and reward excellence in the legal profession. The nonprofit Burton Awards program is run in association with the Library of Congress.
In 2011, Mr. Burton was awarded the highest award by the Legal Writing Institute, the second largest organization of law professors in the United States. The honor and tribute was given for his advocacy and impact on legal writing. Later in 2011, he was presented the “Blackstone Award” by the Friends of the Law Library of Congress for embodying and promoting the best ideals of the venerable institution.
He was as a Legal Reform Award recipient from the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform in the fall of 2017.
The Inaugural Awards Program
On July 12, 2000, more than 200 guests attended the inaugural program at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Twelve law-firm winners and 10 law school recipients were recognized.
The master of ceremonies was Paul Duke, moderator emeritus of the television show, Washington Week in Review. At the inaugural program, the Vice President’s National Partnership for Reinventing Government participated, with Deputy Director Annetta Cheek speaking on the importance of reforming legal writing. The program received major press attention, with articles in the National Law Journal, New York Law Journal, New York Times, USA Today, California Lawyer, Legal Times and many other publications.
In 2001, the function was held at Carnegie Hall and the Master of Ceremonies was Roger Cossack, co-host of CNN’s Burden of Proof. Instead of only the top 250 largest firms being invited to participate, the nomination process was extended to the top 500 law firms in the United States.
One year later, in 2002, Tom Brokaw was the guest speaker at the event held at the New York Palace. A special posthumous award was presented to honor Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. Elizabeth Pugh, General Counsel for the Library of Congress accepted the award in memory of Justice Holmes. In 2003 Tim Russert attended the event as the main speaker. A new association was forged with the Library of Congress. The event was held in the Great Hall in the Jefferson Building in Washington, D.C.
A new award was presented for Outstanding Reform in Law. The Judicial Council of California won the coveted prize and Justice Jim Ward of the California Court of Appeal accepted on behalf of the Council. The Committee on Jury Instructions won for its efforts to rewrite the civil and criminal jury instructions. Since California has the largest court system in the United States, this was a critically important task and will have an impact on its sister states.