Golden Pen Award 2004

Legal Writing Institute Honors Robert Keeton

On January 3, at the AALS meeting in Atlanta, the Legal Writing Institute presented its Fourth Golden Pen Award to Judge Robert E. Keeton, from the federal district of Massachusetts. The ceremony was the best attended of the Golden Pen events to date. About 60 persons, including two other federal judges, were there to see Judge Keeton receive the award.

Judge Keeton was honored for his work in creating the Style Subcommittee that reviews all federal court rules. Steve Johansen made the presentation. The language on the hand-lettered plaque stated:

In 1991, as chair of the Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure of the Judicial Conference of the United States, Judge Keeton had the wisdom to create the Committee’s first Style Subcommittee. He recognized that clarity promotes accuracy and that sharpening the drafting style in the federal rules would sharpen their content. His decision has led directly to the greatly improved Rules of Appellate and Criminal Procedure and to the current restyling of the Rules of Civil Procedure.

Judge Keeton’s decision was truly revolutionary. For the first time, the drafters of the federal rules acknowledged what legal-writing teachers have long known: legal drafting is a special discipline that requires special expertise.

Shortly after he created the Style Subcommittee, Judge Keeton wrote the following:

Federal Rules of Practice and Procedure ought to be . . . easy to read and understand — as clear in content and meaning as it is possible to make them, and as crisp and readable as clarity permits. . . . Having a consistent drafting style in all the rules carries major benefits. Foremost among these, of course, is that clear expression promotes clear thought.

After accepting the Golden Pen Award, Judge Keeton said that in the years since his work on the federal rules, he has continued to think not only about drafting but also about interpreting. He then held up his book, Guidelines for Drafting, Editing, and Interpreting, published by Lexis-Nexis. When he first saw the cover, he noticed with dismay that the serial comma after “Editing” was missing. (That tells you something about his concern for style!) But the publisher generously produced another version. Judge Keeton said that when you know you’re right, persistence does sometimes pay off. He expressed his deep gratitude to the Legal Writing Institute for the Golden Pen Award.

Bryan Garner was a guest speaker for the event. In introducing Garner, Joe Kimble noted his “prodigious” output of books and articles on legal writing and his “unsurpassed influence” among judges and lawyers. Joe mentioned in passing that the next edition of Black’s Law Dictionary (for which Garner is the editor in chief) will include entries for the Association of Legal Writing Directors, the ALWD Citation Manual, and the Legal Writing Institute.

Garner had the highest praise for Judge Keeton. He said that Judge Keeton was a “madman” in the best sense — a brilliant and inventive legal mind. Garner said that because of Judge Keeton’s foresight, the Appellate Rules and Criminal Rules are now in tip-top shape. Garner also complimented the Legal Writing Institute on the two latest volumes of Legal Writing: The Journal of the Legal Writing Institute. And he thanked the Institute for inviting him to share in honoring Judge Keeton.

It was quite a night.

View the 2004 Golden Pen Award.