Golden Pen Award 2005


Legal Writing Institute Honors Richard C. Wydick

At a well-attended reception held January 7, 2005, during the 2005 AALS meeting in San Francisco, the Legal Writing Institute presented the 2005 Golden Pen Award to Professor Richard Wydick of the University of California at Davis School of Law, author of Plain English for Lawyers. The award consists of a beautiful illuminated and hand-lettered plaque, reading:

The Legal Writing Institute presents its fifth Golden Pen Award to Professor Richard C. Wydick. Twenty-five years ago, he published the first edition of a slim, forceful book called Plain English for Lawyers. That book, now in its fourth edition, has become a classic. Perhaps no single work has done more to improve the writing of lawyers and law students and to promote the modern trend toward a clear, plain style of legal writing.

LWI gave Professor Wydick a golden pen to accompany the plaque. Carolina Academic Press supplied posters bearing the covers of all four editions of Plain English for Lawyers. In the opening pages of his book, Professor Wydick explains why lawyers need to use Plain English:

We lawyers do not write plain English. We use eight words to say what could be said in two. We use arcane phrases to express commonplace ideas. Seeking to be precise, we become redundant. Seeking to be cautious, we become verbose. Our sentences twist on and on, phrase within clause within clause, glazing the eyes and numbing the minds of our readers.

LWI President Terry Jean Seligmann presented Professor Wydick with the award. In her remarks, she noted the influence Plain English for Lawyers has had on legal education and more generally on legal writing. Plain English for Lawyers is a required text for many of our legal writing classes. The book is written following the principles it recommends. Although it was based on a 1978 law review article, the title has no colon or subtitle. Chapter titles run only a few words– “Omit Surplus Words”; “Use Short Sentences.” Many of Wydick’s phrases have made their way into the teaching vocabulary: “working words and glue words”; “concrete words.” Seligmann noted, “in my legal writing classes, a common comment in the margin of a student paper is ‘please do a Wydick edit on this.’”

Wydick’s views and work are cited worldwide by scholars, legislators, and judges. References appear, for example, in a Google search from the Queensland Parliamentary Council and the Osaka University Faculty of Law. Federal regulations have been rewritten specifically to take account of Wydick’s advice to prefer precise terms of authority, like “may, must, and should,” instead of the unreliable “shall.”

Professor Wydick accepted the award with grace and humor, analogizing the work of improving legal writing to that of Sisyphus. Not one to allow a teaching moment to pass, he even handed out an assignment to revise a complex contractual clause into plain English. After the award presentation, the appreciative crowd mingled with Professor Wydick and his wife, Judy.

The Thomas F. Blackwell Award– On the same evening Professor Ralph Brill of Chicago-Kent College of Law received this joint ALWD/LWI award honoring him for outstanding contributions to legal writing. The award honors Tom Blackwell, who taught legal writing at Chicago-Kent, then joined the faculty at Appalachian until he was killed in a tragic shooting at that school. Tom’s wife Lisa and their three children, Zebadiah, Jillian, and Ezekiel, attended the reception. Lisa presented the plaque that will hang at Appalachian bearing the names of Blackwell Award recipients Richard Neumann, Pam Lysaght, and Ralph Brill. The award also includes a beautiful lamp, to remember Tom’s liking for lightbulb jokes.

ALWD President Bard Clary introduced the award. Remarks by Professor Molly Lien of John Marshall Law School, who was sidelined in Chicago with an injured wrist, were read to the attendees. In her remarks, Molly noted:

There are so many parallels between Ralph and Tom Blackwell. I know that Tom is with us in spirit for each of these awards. I also know that if Tom were attending a reception in person, he would be looking around the room, trying to identify people who were new or who needed some support. Ralph has been doing that for those of us in the "legal writing room" his whole life. In the early days of legal writing, he fought hard to make the course a part of the core curriculum. He also worked to improve the status of legal writing faculty. In the 1970's, he lobbied successfully for full time faculty at Chicago-Kent. In 1986, he established the Visiting Assistant Professor Program, designed to attract people with an interest in teaching. The program under his leadership provided excellent teachers, and at the same time was a wonderful introduction to law teaching for many young lawyers. In the late 1990's I counted over 40 former VAPs who had found permanent positions in law teaching.

Professor Richard Neumann also spoke about Ralph’s support of legal writing, his loyalty and his fierceness in defense of a good cause. He recalled that Ralph was one of the authors of the ABA Sourcebook on Legal Writing Programs. When Molly Lien was denied tenure by the then Dean at Chicago-Kent, it was Ralph who made sure this injustice was known. It became a front-page story in Chicago and a national cause celebre. Professor Brill accepted the award in typically humble fashion, and told the supportive crowd that he was deeply moved and honored.

View the 2005 Golden Pen Award.