Golden Pen Award

Golden Pen Awards

Purpose of the Award

The Legal Writing Institute (LWI) created the Golden Pen Award to recognize individuals or organizations for significantly advancing the cause of professional legal writing. Anyone who has made an extraordinary contribution to improving legal writing may be nominated for the Golden Pen. The contribution may take any form, such as promoting the use of clear language in public documents; engaging in outstanding scholarship or journalism about legal writing or in exceptional writing for law practice; improving the quality of legal writing instruction; or advocating for better writing within the legal community. The award is usually given to someone who is not an active LWI member, but an active member may be considered in exceptional circumstances.


Procedures for Golden Pen Award

1. Timing of the Award: Once a year at the annual meeting of the AALS, the LWI Biennial Conference, or any other place that the LWI Board of Directors approves.

2. Number of Persons Who Could Receive the Award Each Year: No strict limits. For instance, several persons or an organization might be responsible for a specific project.

3. Procedure for Identifying and Choosing Recipients: Any LWI member may nominate someone to receive the Golden Pen. The Awards Committee will call for nominations and send its recommendations to the LWI Board of Directors on a schedule designed to allow ample time to arrange for the award recipient to attend the award presentation. If multiple nominations are approved for a given year, the Awards Committee may recommend them in order of preference. The Board may reject or accept any of the nominees.


The 2017 Award

The Board of Directors of the Legal Writing Institute (LWI) is delighted to announce that Dahlia Lithwick is the recipient of the 2017 Golden Pen Award.  Lithwick is an author, journalist, former attorney, and senior editor at Slate.  Since 2014, she has also served as the founder and host of the podcast Amicus: Law and the Supreme Court Justices Who Interpret it.  The award will be presented during the 2017 Association of American Law Schools annual meeting in San Francisco, California, on January 4, 2017.

The Golden Pen Award honors those who make significant contributions to advance the cause of better legal writing.  These contributions may take any form, such as promoting the use of clear language in public documents, improving the quality of legal writing instruction, advocating for better writing within the legal community, outstanding scholarship or journalism about legal writing or legal topics, or exceptional writing in law practice.  The award is normally given to someone who is not an active member of LWI, but active members are considered in exceptional circumstances.

The LWI Awards Committee recommended Lithwick for the 2017 Golden Pen to recognize her incisive writing about legal issues, and the varied ways in which she shares information about the courts with the public.  Her writing has been published in The New York Times, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, Elle, New Republic, and Harper’s.  She has appeared on major news networks, The Colbert Report, and is a regular guest on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show.  Lithwick is also co-author of two books, Me v. Everybody: Absurd Contracts for an Absurd World and I Will Sing Life: Voices from the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. 

Lithwick’s nominators noted that she is “extremely gifted and highly regarded.”  Her peers admire her for her brilliance and candor.  In a 2014 interview, Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg praised Lithwick’s writing about the courts, calling her “very good” and “kind of—spicy.”  The LWI Board unanimously approved this recommendation.

 The LWI Board is grateful for the work of the LWI Awards Committee in identifying nominees and making recommendations to the Board.  The Committee includes C0-chairs Myra Orlen and Kirsten Dauphinais, and members Brenda Gibson, Margaret Hannon, Greg Johnson, Mary Nagel, and Suzanne Rowe.  

Past Award Winners

The 2016 Award

The Board of Directors of the Legal Writing Institute (LWI) is pleased to announce that Ross Guberman is the recipient of the 2016 Golden Pen Award.  The author of three books, Point MadeDeal Struck, and Point Taken, Guberman is known around the world as an expert and advocate for better legal writing.  The award will be presented during the 2016 Biennial Conference of the Legal Writing Institute, July 10-13, 2016, in Portland, Oregon. `

The LWI Awards Committee recommended Guberman for the 2016 Golden Pen to recognize his significant contribution to advancing the cause of better legal writing.  In addition to his books, he gives legal writing seminars around the world.  Guberman’s nominator noted that his “work is . . . targeted at improving the writing of everyday lawyers.  Ross’s techniques aren’t esoteric; they’re easy to understand, they can be implemented quickly and easily, and they greatly improve the quality of writing.”  The members of the LWI Awards Committee have used his books in their teaching, and know many other legal writing teachers who have done the same.  The LWI Board unanimously approved this recommendation.

In the ABA’s Appellate Issues on-line magazine, Wendy McGuire Coats wrote that in Point Made, “Guberman has assembled example after example of creative, clever, clear, common-sense legal writing.  He’s compiled in one book the great writing that will cause a legal writer to sigh, ‘I wish I'd written that.’  But he did not stop there.  Guberman has written a useable handbook that will aid the writer in crafting similar envy worthy moments of argument . . . Guberman’s techniques provide immediate ways to improve, tighten, and enliven the language and persuasive force of your prose.” 

For more than a decade, Guberman was a Professorial Lecturer in Law at the George Washington University Law School, where he taught a seminar on drafting and writing strategy.  He also provides seminars throughout the United States and internationally (see


The 2015 Award

The Honorable Michael A. Ponsor, Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, is the recipient of the 2015 Golden Pen Award. Judge Ponsor is being recognized for his contributions to the cause of excellent legal writing, both in his opinion writing and in his teaching as an adjunct at Western New England University School of Law and at Yale, his alma mater. Demonstrating his commitment to teaching future lawyers, Judge Ponsor has for the last 20 years taught persuasive writing and advocacy skills in an upper-level simulation course. 

Judge Ponsor presided over the first death penalty case in Massachusetts in 50 years, and he recently wrote a well-received novel, The Hanging Judge, about the legal and moral issues involved. The nomination of Judge Ponsor recognized him as [a] respected and compassionate jurist as well as an exceptional writer, teacher, and mentor. . . . He has engaged the judiciary, current and future lawyers, and the public in a much-needed dialogue about two major challenges facing the criminal justice system: the death penalty and the extremely high rates of incarceration in the United States.

The 2014 Award

Ken Adams is the recipient of the 2014 Golden Pen Award. The author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, published by the ABA, Mr. Adams is an internationally known expert in legal drafting. The award will be presented during the 2014 Biennial Conference of the Legal Writing Institute, June 29-July 2, 2014, in Philadelphia.

The LWI Awards Committee recommended Mr. Adams for the 2014 Golden Pen to recognize his exemplary work in contract drafting at a time when transactional law is increasingly important in the overall legal writing curriculum. The LWI Board unanimously approved this recommendation.

According to The Lawyers Weekly, “in the world of contract drafting, Ken Adams is the guru.” The nomination submitted to the LWI Awards Committee echoed this assessment, stating that “Ken is the author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, simply the best guide to contract language—ever.” It went on to say that “[he] focuses on the language of contracts—not what you express in a given contract provision, but how to express it in modern and effective contract language. On that subject, he is without peer; no one else comes close.”

Mr. Adams’s blog is consistently listed in the ABA Journal’s Blawg 100 (designated as the top 100 law-related blogs). He also has been recognized by the ABA Journal as one of the leading innovators in the legal profession. Mr. Adams practiced transactional law for more than 15 years and was a lecturer in law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School from 2006 to 2012, where he taught the school’s first course on contract drafting. He currently provides seminars throughout the U.S., Canada, and internationally (see


The 2013 Award

Jeffrey Rosen, Professor of Law at The George Washington University and President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Constitution Center, received the 2013 Golden Pen. In addition to his other positions, Professor Rosen has been legal affairs editor of The New Republic and is the author of The Supreme Court: The Personalities and Rivalries that Defined America. He also is the author of The Most Democratic Branch, The Naked Crowd, and The Unwanted Gaze. Rosen is a graduate of Harvard College; Oxford University, where he was a Marshall Scholar; and Yale Law School. Professor Rosen's essays and commentaries have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, on National Public Radio, and in The New Yorker, where he has been a staff writer. The Chicago Tribune named him one of the 10 best magazine journalists in America and the L.A. Times called him, "the nation's most widely read and influential legal commentator." LWI recognized Professor Rosen for his consistently outstanding coverage of issues relating to the United States Supreme Court and in particular for his efforts to make discussion of complex legal issues more accessible to a wider public audience.

The 2012 Award

The 2012 Golden Pen Award recipient was Matthew Butterick, the author of Typography for Lawyers. Mr. Butterick was recognized for his long-standing efforts to improve the design of legal documents. In presenting the award to Mr. Butterick, the LWI Board recognized that “Matthew Butterick has advanced the conversation of persuasive tone – visually – in professional legal writing as the designer of the website Typography for Lawyers and author of the book of the same name. These clear, easy-to-follow resources take the fear and mystery out of document design for legal texts, giving lawyers at all levels and in all specialties the tools they need to let their polished prose truly shine.” Mr. Butterick’s training and work for many years as a digital font designer and engineer gave him a unique ability to look at legal writing documents in practice and to recognize a need to teach lawyers better document design. His book and website have become the go-to resources for document design information in the legal world.

The 2011 Award

The 2011 Golden Pen Award has been given to George Gopen, a Professor of English at Duke University. Prof. Gopen was one of the first to recognize the need for professionalization of the legal writing academy, and he has worked tirelessly throughout his career to urge law schools to improve the status of legal writing professors. He was the first to suggest an annual survey of legal writing programs to measure our progress over the years. His ground-breaking work on the Reader Expectation Approach to legal writing was one of the earliest attempts to put a theoretical framework to legal writing, and he wrote one of the first textbooks devoted to the teaching of legal writing.

The 2010 Award

The LWI Board voted to award the 2010 Golden Pen Award to William C. Burton, Esquire. Mr. Burton received the Golden Pen for all of many notable accomplishments including his very well-respected legal thesaurus, but mostly because he has become one of the most listened-to and melodic voices in the world of people who advocates for legal writing excellence. He created the Burton Foundation, a volunteer, not-for-profit, academic organization that concentrates on the relevance and importance of modernized legal writing. His foundation rewards and celebrates legal writing instruction and action. You may read more about the foundation and the awards here . The award ceremony took place at the LWI Biennial Conference in June 2010.

The 2009 Award

LWI presented its ninth Golden Pen award to the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) to honor their work helping attorneys general to deliver high quality legal writing in their briefs. Dan Schweitzer, the project counsel for NAAG's Supreme Court Project, accepted the award on behalf of NAAG.

Past Golden Pen Award Winners:

2008: Judge Ruggero J. Aldisert, Senior Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

2007: California's Plain Language Jury Instructions and Justices Ronald M. George, Carol A. Corrigan, and James D. Ward

2006: Joseph Williams

2005: Richard C. Wydick

2004: Judge Robert E. Keeton, federal district of Massachusetts

2003: Linda Greenhouse, New York Times Supreme Court correspondent

2002: Don LeDuc, dean of the Thomas M. Cooley Law School

2000: Arthur Levitt, Chairman of the Securities adn Exchange Commission