Stroock’s Joel Cohen and James Bernard Win 2017 Burton Award for Legal Writing
Pair honored for essay analyzing scene in Oscar-winning film Spotlight as a teaching moment on legal ethics
New York, NY, April 7, 2017 – With their creative analysis of a riveting scene in the Oscar-winning movie Spotlight, a pair of Stroock litigators have earned the firm its third consecutive Burton Award for Distinguished Legal Writing.
Stroock partner James Bernard and of counsel Joel Cohen were honored for their article, "The Movie Spotlight and Legal Ethics," published in the New York Law Journal last June 14. Their piece dissects a pivotal scene from Spotlight in which an investigative features editor at the Boston Globe, played by Michael Keaton, meets privately with an old friend who is also an attorney for the Catholic Diocese of Boston, seeking to goad the lawyer into corroborating the names of priests whom the Diocese has knowingly shielded from prosecution for serial sexual abuse.
The article was selected by a panel of distinguished law school professors and judges as one of just 25 winning entries from the nation’s top 1,000 law firms.
Mr. Cohen and Mr. Bernard will be presented their award at a May 22 event at the Library of Congress, alongside other 2017 Burton honorees, including U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The awards are named for New York lawyer William Burton, who launched the program in 1999 in part to showcase written excellence in the legal profession.
In their short essay, Messrs. Bernard and Cohen address a dilemma many lawyers face at some point in their careers: "whether and how to report your client’s confidences." They note that rules governing disclosure are "permissive – not mandatory – leaving the decision to the lawyer’s own conscience, as guided by the rules."
Their description of the scene in Spotlight paints a vivid portrait of the conflict facing the Diocese’s outside counsel Jim Sullivan, played by actor Jamey Sheridan:
This is the third straight year that Stroock lawyers have taken home a Burton Award for excellence in legal writing. In 2016, Miami partner James Sammataro, head of the firm’s Entertainment Litigation Practice Group, was honored for his article "Problems in The ‘Fight Of The Century’ Class Actions." And in 2015, New York benefits and executive compensation partner Steven Rabitz won for his article "DOL Re-Opens Brokerage Window Inquiry: Will It Clear the Air or Leave Participants in ‘Pane’?"
Standing before Sullivan at Sullivan’s home, Robinson boldly asked if all 70 of the priests on his list had been accused as, without that information, Robinson could not "go to press." Sullivan (understandably) refused. He was, after all, a lawyer for the diocese. Still, a couple of seconds later, Sullivan, seemingly looking for a vehicle to do the right thing while ostensibly adhering to his professional obligations, found himself at that situs where legal ethics and morality intersect. He emerged from his home and asked to see Robinson’s list. Rather than nodding, or mouthing the words "all 70 of them," he took a pen and circled the whole list, basically acknowledging to Robinson—giving the reporter a source’s "confirmation"—that indeed all 70 were implicated and that the scandal wasn’t about only a few aberrant priests, however horrific.
The Burton Awards, run in association with the Library of Congress, are funded by the Burton Foundation, a non-profit organization devoted to recognizing excellence in the legal profession. The program honors the finest accomplishments in law, including writing, reform, public service and interest, regulatory innovation and lifetime achievements in the profession.
Stroock is a law firm providing transactional, regulatory and litigation guidance to leading financial institutions, multinational corporations, investment funds and entrepreneurs in the U.S. and abroad. With a history dating back 140 years, the firm has offices in New York, Washington, DC, Los Angeles and Miami. For more, visit www.stroock.com.