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BILL FELSTINER turns 90 on December 14 (by Johannes Feest)

13 Dec 2019 11:48 | Susana Arrese (Administrator)

Bill is not one of your everyday, run-of-the-mill, sociolegal scholars.

Over the decades, he has practiced law, conducted empirical research, taught law, political science and sociology. He held positions at the Rand Corporation, the American Bar Foundation, at Cardiff University, Northwestern University, UCLA, UC Santa Barbara and Yale. He published in fields as diverse as dispute resolution, divorce lawyering, asbestos litigation and the legal culture of global business transactions. In the words of one of his children, he seemed "unable to hold a job for very long".

In 1991, he organised the first International conference of the Law&Society Association in Amsterdam, together with Erhard Blankenburg from the RCSL. For the RCSL he ran the influential Working Group of Legal Professions from 1994-2000. With this background, he was the obvious choice for becoming Scienctific Director of the International Institute for the Sociology of Law in Onati. He is still the only one, to have held this job jointly, alternating with another colleague (Manolo Calvo), for three years.

In Onati, he left his mark by initiating rather revolutionary changes, e.g. depriving the teachers of the Masters Program of their stipends, in order to provide scholarships and thereby attracting students from poorer parts of the world tot he Masters Program. He also managed to transform the publications coming out of Onati workshops from a rather amateurish affair into an internationally recognized, duly peer-reviewed, series published in Oxford, England. 


His extra-curricular activities span boating, fishing, golfing, mountain climbing, voter registration (for Obama), organising shelters for the homeless (after Catrina), the founding and funding of a non-profit NGO (to aid refugees in Africa). In his late eighties, Bill brought together end edited an admirable collection of narratives from his Yale School class of 1958 (What Lawywers Do). Still in the Pipeline is his long-standing work on the highest and lowest places on earth. 

In Germany you would call a guy like him a Tausendsassa. In Spanish this untranslatable term is rendered as hombre habil para todo, in English as man of all trades (but without catching the artistic and adventurous flamboyance indicated by the suffix "sassa"). Maybe the French dictionaries come close, when they suggest as translation "diable d'homme".

Bill has survived anti-submarine-warfare during the Korean War and several floods and fires in California.There is no way of predicting what he will come up with and survive next. We can only wait in awe and admiration and wish him the best of luck.

For more details cf. the Wikipedia articles in English, Euskera, French, German and Spanish.

Johannes Feest


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