Scribes: The American Society of Legal Writers

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Scribes is an organization dedicated to encouraging legal writers and improving legal writing throughout the entire legal community: in court, in the law office, in the publishing house, and in law school.[1] Founded in 1953, Scribes is the oldest organization of its kind. Scribes has almost 2,700 members, including state and federal judges, practicing lawyers, law-school deans and professors, and legal editors. Since 2015, its executive office has been located in Lubbock, Texas at Texas Tech University. Previously, it was located in Michigan at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School.[2] The executive director is Jamie J. Baker.[3]


Scribes was formed in 1951 by Arthur T. Vanderbilt, Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court. That year he invited several like-minded lawyers to join him in creating an organization to assist those who would write about the law as well as to promote better legal writing. Membership was initially limited to members of the legal profession who had published at least one book or three articles on legal subjects; new members were required to be nominated by an existing member. Later, the eligibility requirement was reduced to one book or two articles, and nominations are no longer necessary.[4]


As written in its Constitution, Scribes's goals are:[2]

  1. to foster a feeling of fraternity among those who write about the law, and especially among its members;
  2. to create an interest in writing about the history, philosophy, and language of the law and about those who make, interpret, and enforce it;
  3. to help and encourage people who write about the law; and
  4. above all, to promote a clear, succinct, and forceful style in legal writing.


The Scribes Journal of Legal Writing[edit]

In 1990, Scribes printed its first volume of The Scribes Journal of Legal Writing. The initial circulation was 3,000 copies; its editor in chief was Bryan Garner, then a young law-school professor at the University of Texas. Today, Garner is recognized as the preeminent authority on legal writing and language, and is a board member of Scribes.[4]

From 2001 through 2013, the editor in chief was Professor Joseph Kimble, who is widely known for his plain-language advocacy and his work restyling the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Evidence.[5] Kimble is now a senior editor. Since 2013, Mark Cooney has served as editor in chief.[6]

From Volume 9 through 15, printing and distribution was sponsored by Western Michigan University Cooley Law school.[2] The Journal is now sponsored by Texas Tech University and, to a lesser extent, by private law firms.

The Journal is widely read and cited.[7] Its distribution exceeds 6,000 copies, and it has published articles by some of the best-known figures in legal writing, including Garner himself, Joseph Kimble, Charles Alan Wright, Judge Richard Posner, Lawrence M. Friedman, Richard Wydick, Reed Dickerson, Dean Darby Dickerson, Irving Younger, Steven Stark, Ken Adams,[8] Ross Guberman,[9] and Wayne Schiess.[2]

Volume 13 of the Scribes Journal featured the transcripts of interviews with justices of the United States Supreme Court.[10] The interviews were conducted by Bryan Garner.[10]

The Scrivener[edit]

The Scrivener has been Scribes’ newsletter since 1974.[11] Originally it was used for membership updates and organizational news, but today it also includes shorter pieces about legal writing and publishing.[2]

Other Publications[edit]

In 1960, Scribes issued Advocacy and the King’s English, published by Bobbs-Merrill Company. Forty years later, the book was reissued under the title Classic Essays on Legal Advocacy, published by The Lawbook Exchange in Clark, New Jersey.[4]


Lifetime-Achievement Awards[edit]

The Scribes Lifetime-Achievement Award[12] is presented to persons who have had a great influence on legal writing or distinguished themselves in their own writing:[2]

Book Award[edit]

Since 1961, Scribes has presented its annual Book Award for the best legal work published during the previous year. The Scribes Book-Award Committee reviews up to 40 submissions each year, and the award is presented at Scribes’ annual meeting or CLE where the author usually speaks and signs copies of the book.[4] A list of winners of the Scribes Book Award is posted on the Scribes website.[15]

Law-Review Award[edit]

Since 1987, Scribes has presented its annual Law-Review Award for the best student-written article published in a law review or law journal. Each year, the editors of every law review and law journal are encouraged to submit their best student-written note or comment. Volunteer legal-writing professors review the submissions and nominate the finalists to the Scribes selection committee. The committee selects a winner, and the award is presented at the "Scribes Dinner" following at the annual meeting of the National Conference of Law Reviews.[4]

Brief-Writing Award[edit]

In 1996, Scribes began an annual Brief-Writing Award for the best student-written brief. Each year, any law student who won best brief in a regional or national moot-court competition may submit the brief to Scribes, which then honors the best of the best. As with the Law-Review Award, volunteer legal-writing professors review the articles and decide on the finalists. The Scribes committee selects a winner, who receives the award at Scribes's annual meeting or CLE.[2]

National Order of Scribes[edit]

In 2007, Scribes created the National Order of Scribes to honor graduating law students who excel in legal writing. Each year, every law school that is an institutional member of Scribes may nominate law students to be inducted into the National Order of Scribes. As with other Scribes awards, a list of all honorees, past and present, appear on the Scribes website.[16]

Programs & CLEs[edit]

Scribes has on several occasions participated in legal-writing programs at the American Bar Association’s annual meetings. In 2007, Scribes participated in the annual meeting of the Association of American Law Schools in Washington, D.C., where it presented a panel discussion on “Jury Instructions in Plain English.” In 2008, Scribes teamed up with the New York City Bar Association’s Legal History Committee to cosponsor a symposium on Abraham Lincoln’s legal writing.[2]

Recently, Scribes has also made a point of speaking directly to law students about legal writing. Since 2006, institutional-member law schools have hosted Scribes’s annual board meetings. In return, Scribes conducts legal-writing programs for the school's students.[2]

In 2016, Scribes began hosting annual CLEs for legal professionals. The first CLE was hosting at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago, Illinois. The second CLE was hosted in Houston, Texas.


Scribes had 41 members at its first meeting in the early 1950s. Today, membership has grown to almost 2,700 members, including state and federal judges, practicing lawyers, law-school deans and professors, and legal editors. Any member of the legal profession is eligible to join.[2]

In 1990, President Roy M. Mersky helped develop a new category of membership for law schools: institutional membership. Since then, 37 law schools have become institutional members. Once a law school becomes an institutional member, professors at those schools automatically become a Scribes member if they meet the other eligibility requirements. In the mid-2000s, institutional membership expanded to include appellate courts; once an appellate court becomes an institutional member, the judges on that court automatically become members of Scribes as well.[2]

Past Presidents[edit]

1953-1957 Sidney Teiser

1957-1958 Eugene C. Gerhart

1958-1959 Gibson Witherspoon

1959-1960 Harry Gershenson

1960-1961 Walter P. Armstrong

1961-1962 William A. Schnader

1962-1963 Justice E.J. Dimock

1963-1964 Judge Charles W. Joiner

1964-1965 Willoughby A. Colby

1965-1966 Herman Finklestein

1966-1967 Justice Laurence Hyde

1967-1968 Warren V. Ludlam Jr.

1968-1969 Paul Wolkin

1969-1970 Rufus King

1970-1971 Eugene C. Gerhart

1971-1972 Sidney Bernstein

1972-1973 Howard L. Oleck

1973-1974 Jack Kleiner

1974-1975 James J. Brown

1975-1976 Bobby D. Dyess

1976-1977 Frederick D. Lewis

1977-1978 Justice William H. Erickson

1978-1979 Judge Edward Re

1979-1980 H. Sol Clark

1980-1981 Francis L. Kenney Jr.

1981-1982 E. Donald Shapiro

1982-1983 Joseph J. Marticelli

1983-1984 Margaret S. Bearn

1984-1985 Michael Cardozo

1985-1986 Rudolph Hasl

1986-1987 Justice Charles Blackmar

1987-1989 Roger Billings

1989-1991 Kenneth A. Zick

1991-1993 Roy M. Mersky

1993-1995 Lynne P. Iannelli

1995-1997 Marianna Smith

1997-1999 Bryan A. Garner

1999-2001 Gary Spivey

2001-2003 Donald J. Dunn

2003-2005 Beverly Ray Burlingame

2005-2007 Norman Otto Stockmeyer

2007-2009 Stuart Shiffman

2009-2012 Steven Smith

2012-2015 Darby Dickerson

2015- Judge Michael Hyman

For a historical list of past award winners and other executive board members, see Thomas M. Steele and Norman Otto Stockmeyer, Scribes After More Than 50 Years -- A History, 12 The Scribes Journal of Legal Writing 1 (2008-2009).[17]


  1. ^ "scribes". scribes. Retrieved 2016-08-08. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Thomas M. Steele & Norman Otto Stockmeyer (2008–2009), "Scribes After More Than 50 Years — A History" (PDF), The Scribes Journal of Legal Writing 
  3. ^ "Texas Tech University School of Law". 
  4. ^ a b c d e Stockmeyer, Norman Otto (March 2011), Meet Scribes: A Society That Promotes Legal-Writing Excellence (PDF) 
  5. ^ "Burton Awards". 
  6. ^ "Mark Cooney Faculty Bio". 
  7. ^ See, e.g., Texas v. United States, 809 F.3d 134, 148 n.14 (5th Cir. 2015); Hardge v. DuBosq, 797 So. 2d 84, 91 n.5 (La. Ct. App. 2001); Tom Gaylord, Briefer Briefs: Writing and Speaking Tips from the Supreme Court, 99 Ill. B.J. 368 passim (2011); Adam Liptak, Keep the Briefs Brief, Literary Justices Advise, N.Y. Times May 21, 2011, at A12.
  8. ^ "Adams Drafting". 
  9. ^ "Legal Writing Pro". 
  10. ^ a b
  11. ^ "The Scrivener". 
  12. ^ "Scribes Lifetime Achievement Award". 
  13. ^ a b Lifetime Achievement Awards for Judges Richard Posner and Frank Easterbrook to be Presented in Chicago, The Scrivener, 3 (Spring 2016),
  14. ^ Scribes Annual Luncheon, The Scrivener, at 2-3 (Winter 2015).
  15. ^!book-award/ycdfw
  16. ^ "National Order of Scribes". 
  17. ^ "Scribes After More Than 50 Years -- A History" (PDF). 

External links[edit]