Rudolf B. Schlesinger - Clip 2

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Rudolf B. Schlesinger


Thomas R. Bruce

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Event Video

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From the video archives of the Cornell Law School Heritage Project. The interviewer-videographer is Thomas R. Bruce. This video covers Rudolf Schlesinger's reflections on the distinctive features that held him at Cornell Law School, changes in the composition of the student body and legal education generally, and his approach to comparative law.

Rudolf Schlesinger was born in Munich in 1909 to an American father. He studied at the Universities of Geneva and Berlin and submitted his doctoral thesis in commercial law at Munich only weeks before the Third Reich planned to block promotions to the doctorate for Jews. This was in the summer of 1933. He graduated summa cum laude, the third summa granted that century by the faculty. Thereafter he worked as a lawyer for a German private bank, developing a background in finance while also assisting German Jews to transfer their assets out of the country. When daily life for Jews in Germany began to rapidly decline, he was able to emigrate to the United States thanks to his father's citizenship in 1938.

Shortly after his arrival, Rudolf Schlesinger enrolled at Columbia Law School. There he was elected Editor in Chief of the Columbia Law Review, graduating with distinction in 1942. He clerked for a year for Chief Judge Irving Lehman of New York's highest court, the Court of Appeals, and served as Law Secretary for that court for another year. For four years he was law associate at the Wall Street firm, Milbank, Tweed, Hope & Hadley.

In 1948 Rudolf Schlesinger began his academic career at Cornell Law School. He became William Nelson Cromwell Professor of International and Comparative Law, retiring in 1975 to join Hastings College of Law as professor emeritus until 1994. He was a prolific writer and wrote on comparative law, civil procedure, international business transactions, and contracts. He directed a ten-year international research project on contracts.

In 1950 the first edition of his Comparative Law: Cases, Text and Materials, appeared and with it came the recognition of comparative law as a mainstream academic subject. His casebook made six editions and is still used today. For the Law Revision Commission he produced a book-length study in 1955 of Article 5 of the proposed Uniform Commercial Code, a study that proved integral to the development of the UCC. Perhaps his crowning achievement was a ten-year study, thanks to the Ford Foundation, by nine comparatists from countries dealing with ten legal systems.

Published in 1968, Formation of Contracts: A Study of the Common Core of Legal Systems, was a study of the law of offer and acceptance as they combine to make contracts, but beyond the original research question it brought nations and people together and inspired a much larger project, The Common Core of European Private Law Project, an ongoing series at Cambridge University Press.

Rudolf Schlesinger, the father of comparative law who first showed that shared notions and principles in the law of transactions and of procedure could impact international relations and even peace, died in 1996.


Cornell Law School, Law professors, Milbank Tweed Hope & Hadley


Legal Education


The initial phase of this project was sponsored by a generous grant from the law firm of Sutherland Asbill and Brennan LLP. Clip 2 of 2.