Former ABA president Hubbard to receive new Burton Award for 'Leadership in Law'

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William Hubbard

Photo of former ABA President William Hubbard by Marc Hauser.

The Burton Awards for Legal Achievement were launched 17 years ago primarily to recognize good legal writing. But over the years, the awards have expanded, with a variety of categories recognizing excellence also in teaching, journalism, public service in government, public interest work and efforts by general counsel.

This year brings a new category: Leadership in Law. The first recipient is William C. Hubbard, whose tenure as ABA president in 2014-2015 caught the eye of the Burton Foundation—particularly Hubbard’s willingness to take on the kinds of controversial issues within the legal profession that guarantee pushback from various groups of lawyers.

“We’re at a sea change in the world of law and William Hubbard is an example of how to grapple with new issues as they evolve,” says William C. Burton, founder and chairman of the foundation. “He is a man of vision who is trying to make change, to respond to great needs in the legal profession.”

The Burton Awards are held in association with the Library of Congress. Since 2015, they have been co-sponsored by the ABA. Burton is a named partner with Sagat Burton LLP, and focuses his practice on insurance and banking law. He is also a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., and the author of Burton’s Legal Thesaurus.

The awards ceremony will be on Monday evening at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. The formal affair—awards, cocktail reception, entertainment and dinner—will include presentations by U.S. Supreme Court justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Breyer will discuss his new book, The Court and the World, in which he argues that globalization is so extensive that courts must entertain questions concerning foreign law. Justice Ginsburg will offer a tribute to her good friend, the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

There will be approximately 70 awards.

Hubbard’s efforts in creating the ABA Working Group on Unaccompanied Minor Immigrants in 2014, to recruit and support lawyers to represent such children, clicked with Burton. Last year a Burton Award went to Judge Robert Katzmann, chief judge of the New York City-based U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, for his efforts to bring competent legal representation to immigrants who can’t otherwise afford it.

“I wanted to know more about William Hubbard, and found out he was doing significant work on the delivery of legal services to low-income people,” says Burton. “He was tackling the toughest issues.”

Indeed, Hubbard was the force behind the creation of the ABA’s Commission on the Future of Legal Services. In February, following lengthy and sometimes heated debate, the ABA House of Delegates approved a resolution proposed by the commission, providing model regulatory objectives for states considering how to regulate nontraditional legal service providers. That goes straight at the long-running controversies over the standards for unauthorized practice of law and the lack of legal services for those with low incomes.

Hubbard, a partner with the Columbia, South Carolina, office of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, addressed this in his President’s Message column in the August 2015 issue of the ABA Journal. “A growing number of technology-based companies now offer the public easy-to-use, low cost dispute resolution and legal services,” Hubbard noted. “As we have learned with medicine, journalism, finance, real estate and other sectors, many lawyers face the threat of becoming obsolete if we do not embrace innovation and technology.”

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