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Symeonides completes a 30-year project and 7 books in 7 years

by Sarah Bello,

 Dean Emeritus and Professor of Law, Symeon Symeonides

Dean Emeritus and Professor of Law Symeon Symeonides has completed a 30-year project. Widely described as the world's leading expert on comparative conflicts law today, Symeonides has also completed seven books in the last seven years.

For the past 30 years, Willamette Law Dean Emeritus and Professor Symeon Symeonides spent Thanksgiving weekend collecting up to 6,000 American conflicts-of-laws cases to write an annual survey on the topic. In every year except two, he always completed the survey by his self-imposed deadline of New Year’s Eve, spending 15–17 hours working each day to finish the project.

When he wrote his first survey at the request of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS), Symeonides had no idea what the project would become. At that time, there were fewer than 1,000 cases per year, and the survey was meant to be a brief, newsletter-type service for the benefit of other law professors. But the number of cases grew, and so did the survey — both in length and readership around the world.

Published in a premier law journal, the American of Comparative Law, and translated into other languages, his now-30 surveys define the field of conflicts law, and his colleagues revere him as the subject matter guru.

The task was certainly laborious. “Sometimes one case that would take you an hour to read and think about might translate into a sentence or a footnote in the 90-page survey,” he says.

But the work has been valuable, he says, both for him and for the readers. “An important thing that came out of the survey is I developed decisional patterns and extracted from them certain rules, which I used in drafting a codification for Louisiana,” Symeonides says. “When I came to Oregon in 1999, we drafted a similar statute that tells courts what to do in these cases. More importantly, there is now a similar project on the national scale — the Third Conflicts Restatement — and it is gratifying to see that it relies heavily on the Oregon and Louisiana rules.”

 Choice of Law in Practice - A Twenty-Year Report from the Trenches, by Symeon Symeonides, published by Brill | Nijhoff

Because of this, Symeonides says his years of work have paid off. His surveys aren’t just a description of what the courts did — they have become the source of rules to guide the future. The last 20 of the 30 surveys are now published in a three-volume book subtitled “A Twenty-Year Report from the Trenches.” In his preface, Harvard Law Professor Joseph W. Singer wrote:

“It is impossible to overstate the value and significance of Symeonides’ Surveys. They have not only educated law professors and lawyers about changing dynamics in the field, but they have been instrumental in refining the modern method of analyzing and resolving conflicts of laws and have formed the basis for the emerging Third Restatement of Conflict of Laws. In all the ways that count, Symeonides is the father of choice of law in the twenty-first century. ... He deserves our gratitude and respect and our recognition of his pivotal place in the choice of law field.”

After 30 years, Symeonides has delivered the baton to the next generation. The AALS Conflict of Laws section, after recognizing him for his long-standing work, assigned the task to Professors Aaron Simowitz of Willamette Law, John Coyle of UNC Law, and William Dodge of UC Davis Law.

“[This suggests] it takes three of our most eminent scholars to replace Symeonides,” says Professor Ralf Michaels, director of the Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International Private Law in Germany.

Cross-Border Infringement of Personality Rights via the Internet, by Symeon Symeonides, published by Brill | Nijhoff

With a freed-up December, Symeonides has no plans to sit still. In the last seven years alone, he has published seven books, the last of which is Cross-border Infringement of Personality Rights via the Internet." And he is now writing another one.

“All these years, I have been learning, and I feel a certain urgency to say what I have learned,” he explains. “That is our mission and privilege as academics. We are to contribute to the academic discourse, and we do that by putting down our thoughts so that others can critique or build on them. That’s how knowledge is advanced. In the end, what remains is what we put down on paper.”

About Willamette University College of Law

Willamette University College of Law was the first law school to open in the Pacific Northwest. Building on deep historic roots, we focus with pride on educating the next generation of problem-solving lawyers and leaders. Our location in Salem, Oregon, directly across the street from the Oregon State Capitol and Supreme Court, cannot be matched in the region. Our thought-leading scholars advance and promote our shared responsibility to make a difference in society, placing justice, fairness, and equality at the heart of everything we do.

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