Vanderbilt Lawyer - Volume 36, Number 1

Global Positioning

Harold G. Maier built Vanderbilt's International Legal Studies program from the ground up

by Grace Renshaw Harold G. Maier

In the spring of 1966, at the end of his first year as a Vanderbilt law professor, Professor Harold G. Maier was approached by a small group of students interested in forming an International Law Society. In a retrospective article about the founding of the International Law Society and the Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law - both of which are thriving 41 years later - Professor Maier claimed that he had little to offer besides the use of a file drawer in his office and the occasional use of the office itself.

In fact, Maier admitted to feeling a bit overwhelmed that spring. "My contract letter at Vanderbilt had said that I was to 'develop a program of teaching in international legal studies,'" he wrote in a 1992 article for the Vanderbilt Lawyer magazine. "It didn't, however, say anything about money or facilities to support that project."

Maier felt strongly that the program he established at Vanderbilt must not only meet the primary goal of training law students who wished to engage in international practice, but also stimulate and enable scholarship in international legal studies. He also hoped to provide course options for students who were not planning to pursue an international law practice, but wished to broaden their legal education. "Only a program that combined a full curriculum, diverse faculty members, and broad-based student activities could accomplish all three goals," he noted. "We were pretty far from all those goals in 1965-66, my first year at Vanderbilt."

Maier did have one advantage working in favor of this fledgling international program: timing. Students came to law school in the late 1960s with, he noted, "an interest in international studies informed by the immediacy of the Vietnam War. The question for many of them was not, 'What firm shall I work for?' but 'How long will it be before I'm drafted?'"

With few resources other than his formidable intellect and force of will, Maier helped to form the International Law Society and Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, and used these early successes to establish a firm foundation for future growth of international legal studies at Vanderbilt. Over a career that spanned four decades, he worked with six successive Vanderbilt Law deans to build and support a thriving program, while also serving as chair of the faculty senate, on two provost search committees and on the law school's faculty appointments committee. "He played a central role in recruiting the 'next generation' of Vanderbilt faculty - the generation after Dean John Wade and Professor Paul Hartman," Don Welch, who joined the law school as administrative dean in 1980, says. "During his tenure as Faculty Senate chair, he communicated with his colleagues by publishing regular installments of "Thoughts of Chairman Maier." In 1988, he was named the law school's first David Daniel Allen Distinguished Chair in Law.

After earning his undergraduate and j.d. degrees at the University of Cincinnati and an LL.M. from the University of Michigan, Maier spent his entire academic career at Vanderbilt, where he "was single-handedly responsible for enhancing the status of the law school," says Professor Don Hall. "When he started the Journal of Transnational Law, he made a personal decision to make sure it became a prestigious publication, and he developed and coordinated a robust list of international law offerings at a time when many law schools didn't include international law in their curricula. He got the Jessup Moot Court program up and running, and coached and mentored countless students. His impact on the law school and the students he taught was huge."

Maier was also a prolific scholar whose work in the fields of international law, international civil litigation and conflict of laws gained an international audience and influenced national policy decisions. "Long before there was a critical legal studies movement, Hal was thinking about how law was socially constructed - he clearly was way ahead of the formalist, positivist view of law," Professor Tom McCoy recalls. "He tended to gravitate toward subjects that were developing or unsettled - the study of international law was relatively new at the time he went into academia, and he also focused on conflict of laws, which is a collection of unsolved problems."

As a result of his extensive background and experience, Maier was asked to serve as Counselor on International Law to the Legal Adviser of the U.S. Department of State and on the U.S. Secretary of State's Advisory Committee on Private International Law. In addition, he was a member of the editorial boards of the American Journal of International Law and the American Journal of Comparative Law.

Maier was also an influential participant in many historic events. He served as a consultant to the Office of the Secretary of the Army on the Panama Canal Treaty negotiations and as an expert witness for the federal government in civil litigation resulting from the Mariel boatlift of Cuban refugees in 1980. In 2000, he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on behalf of former U.S. World War II pows seeking to bring legal action against Japanese corporations the soldiers claimed had used them as slave labor while they were prisoners of war. He also testified before a congressional committee regarding emergency Presidential controls on international economic transactions.

Maier retired at the end of the 2005-06 academic year, but he remains a recognized authority on the application of United States regulatory legislation to foreign business activity, and his scholarship has made a lasting contribution to the study of international law in the United States.

His many contributions have also influenced members of the next generation of legal scholars, including Vanderbilt graduates Paul Kurtz, '72, associate dean and J. Alton Hosch Professor at the University of Georgia School of Law, and Lonnie Brown, '89, who is an associate professor on the Georgia law faculty.

"Clad in a white shirt and oh-so-narrow tie which he constantly seemed to be adjusting, Professor Maier was one of those teachers who wandered around the front of the classroom, seeming to come toward the student he was engaging in conversation," Kurtz recalls. "It was always a conversation, not a performance, He asked careful question after careful question. No yelling or screaming, but a brilliant demonstration of complete control of the subject. What the hell does 'renvoi' mean, anyway? The flat-topped fellow pacing the front of the room in his comfortable shoes kept prodding and poking until we all understood."

In Maier, students encountered the embodiment of the stereotypical absent-minded professor. As he paced the floor, he would often get so engaged in the point he was discussing that he would trip. But, as Brown recalls, this had the effect of making his formidable intellect more accessible. "In the classroom, he demonstrated astounding intellect, unbridled enthusiasm, good humor, sage wisdom and perhaps most importantly, deep compassion and respect for others," Brown says. "The fact that all of these remarkable qualities were packaged beneath a somewhat quirky, quintessentially professorial exterior made Professor Maier all the more dear to me and my fellow classmates."