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Blackstone, Burton, and Brevity

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The following is a guest post by Jean Marie Layton, Part-time Contractor in the Office of Collections, Outreach, and Services.

William C. Burton received the Blackstone Award at the Friends of the Law Library of Congress Wickersham Awards Ceremony on June 13, 2011.  I was fortunate to attend the gathering at which the Honorable Justice John Paul Stevens received the Friends’ Wickersham Award.

Bill Burton accepting the Blackstone Award from Roberta Shaffer, Law Librarian of Congress (photo by Patrick Ouellette)

The Blackstone Award is named for Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780), the English jurist and politician whose great work, Commentaries on the Laws of England, transformed the study of the common law.  The Law Library of Congress has one of the finest collections of this seminal jurist’s papers in the world.  Awarded for the first time in 2011, the Blackstone Award honors an individual whose significant dedication advances the mission and activities of the Law Library of Congress.

Like the jurist for which the award is named, Bill Burton, a partner in Sagat|Burton, LLP, shares a passion for the law and an unerring sense of legal excellence.  He moved the needle on judicial jargon from legalese to legal ease with the publication of his Burton’s Legal Thesaurus, now in its 4th edition and celebrating its 27th year.  Bill Burton initiated the thesaurus to combat what he saw as a serious lack of clarity in legal writing and due to a desire to clean up tortuous language that made the law too opaque to too many.

Charles O. Verrill, Jr., President of the Friends of the Law Library of Congress, summoned Bill Burton up to the podium with these words: “For many years, Bill has been more than generous with his time and expertise, always willing to make a phone call or to connect us with an interested individual.  His enthusiasm for the work of the Law Library of Congress is infectious and the Friends relish his very deep and sustained commitment to the Law Library.  Bill has been an ardent supporter of the Law Library, understanding its unique place in the world’s legal firmament and the importance that our collections have in an interconnected global world.”

Upon receiving the Blackstone Award, Burton thanked the gathered crowd and then proceeded to discuss his call for a universal pledge for legal writing that would serve as a guide for eradicating ponderous, meandering, highfalutin (but not high on content) legal writing.  In fact, on Monday immediately following his receipt of the Blackstone Award, Burton hosted the 12th annual Burton Awards for Legal Achievement.  He established the Burton Awards to turn the spotlight on those whose legal writing and work is truly excellent.

Good luck to Mr. Burton in his quest to improve legal writing and congratulations on his being awarded the Blackstone Award!

Comments (3)

  1. Thanks for this posting. Good to see that the award was given to such a worthy honoree. As a creative nonfiction writer, I certainly would welcome legal findings being presented in a less opaque manner.

  2. Thank you for this posting. Always refreshing to hear of an expert in the field who values sharing knowledge with others in order to grow and expand this knowledge.

  3. Wonderful event and a very worthy recipient of the Blackstone Award. Thanks for posting!

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