I spent one fantastic summer in 1993 travelling through Russia and interviewing managers of companies that went through privatization, to get their perspective on what they thought a corporation was, what relation they had to their shareholders, and how many shareholders they had already struck from their registry, which was firmly sitting on their little desks in their offices, of course. So that was field work and was just fascinating to me.
I then spent many years here in the U.S., went back to Germany for a couple of years and started teaching in 2000 in the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, first, and then in 2001 came to Columbia and have been teaching there since.
PROF. NELSON: I've been at NYU Law School since 1979. I've published a number of books. The first one I published was on the legal system of Massachusetts from 1760 through 1830 — a snap-shot before the Revolution and trying to understand the impacts of the Revolution on the legal order. Another book is called The Roots of American Bureaucracy: 1830-1900. The post-Civil War part of the lecture is drawn from that book. I've done a legal history of twentieth-century New York, a book on Marbury against Madison, and now I'm working on a four-volume history called The Common Law in Colonial America. Volume One is scheduled to appear in July. So I've tried to cover most periods in American history and tried to cover it by looking — in this sense I'm much more a historian than a lawyer — I actually look intensely at the sources, which is a thing that most legal academics, Katharina excepted, do not do.
BRECK N. HANCOCK, ESQ. (Goodwin Procter): One question that I thought of when Mr. Nelson was speaking is that it seems that the development of both the American system and the Russian — and probably every other legal system — was largely reactionary. I was wondering, from the perspective of the post-Soviet era, whether there have been any developments that have been more proactive? And what reforms have been deliberate as opposed to reactionary? And how you all felt those might have a different impact than the reactionary changes?
PROF. PISTOR: There's been a ton of reforms in Russia, everything from experiments with jury trial in the criminal arena all the way to corporate law and a securities law that's very much borrowed from the American system. I think very often law, of course, is proactive, even in our society. Sometimes you're trying to change something or you're correcting something that the courts are doing, or you're really trying to accomplish different state policies. I think Russia has tried some of that as well, with varying success.
My sense — and that goes to some comparative research I've been doing about legal transplants — by and large, is that they do work if there are local constituencies who really have a demand for a particular legal arrangement or a particular legal area and invest in making it work. If you don't have that, it really doesn't necessarily work that well. I think a good example is the Russian corporate law introduced in 1996, two years after the complete mass-privatization of thousands of corporations floating around Russia with a very weak legal framework. The effectiveness of that law took quite a while to develop. You can still dispute it.
And I think that the 2002 reform has been Russified a little bit more, and probably works a bit better in that regard. Proactive reforms — one of the problems of Russia was that there were so many foreign advisors who were trying to dump their particular legal version of the Russian civil code or the corporate law. Many of them conflicted with each other. You exacerbated a situation where law was already a difficult animal with a war of laws, [inaudible].
PROF. WORTMAN: Katharina is the expert on the contemporary period. I have just superficial knowledge of that, but I would say that the law reform of 1864 was extremely proactive. It was led by intellectual bureaucrats. In a way you could see Medvedev and Putin under the shadow of these people who were rigorously well read in Western legal theory and went around studying institutions and worked out the most successful of the Great Reforms. They took the lead — a rare exception — away from the bureaucracy and the administration. That was certainly very proactive.
PROF. BURBANK: I would agree. I would say that the Russian tradition overall is very proactive. But I think that the terms are useful, actually, in thinking about the differences between the American and Russian systems in, as Bill described it, the ongoing intersection between society and the state in a number of different ways. It doesn't seem to fit very well when we think about the way Russian law works. One of our colleagues wrote a wonderful article called “The Reforming Tsar.” And in some ways that activity of reform, taking the lead, making a new regime, is very much a part of the imperial Russian tradition as well.
PROF. NELSON: I guess I should say something about how typically, in the United States, there's never any one person that's really setting about to do something. And to the extent that there is one person, it's often a person behind the scenes, and leaving little in the way of good records or evidence of their roles.
I think that the person behind the scenes in the 1800 period is Alexander Hamilton — buried right out there, I guess it is, if I've got my direction right [pointing south to Trinity Church]. Hamilton in 1798 persuades a guy named Theodor Sedgwick, who is Speaker of the House, to appoint a committee to revise the federal judiciary, which was only eight years old. One member of that committee, who becomes very much the dominant member of that committee, is a freshman congressman named John Marshall. At the same time, Hamilton persuades the governor of New York, a close friend of his, John Jay, to appoint James Kent to the New York State Supreme Court. When the Federalists lose the election of 1800, Sedgwick retires back to Massachusetts and becomes judge of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Marshall goes on to become Chief Justice of the United States.