Purpose of the Burton Awards

A Well-Established Tradition in Law

In 1999, a unique national awards program was established to perfect legal writing and evolved into also rewarding legal achievements. These achievements range from legal writing to publications to the greatest reforms in law. The principal focus is awarding effective legal writing. The program now honors partners in law firms and law school students who use plain, clear and concise language in their writing, as well as lawyers in the military and the Executive Branch of Government, Journalists, and Law School Professors.

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.

The Founder

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

Instant Recognition

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.