About Ronald Sokol

Ronald Sokol, 2016
Ronald Sokol at home in Aix-en-Provence in 2016. On the wall are portraits of Daniel Meador (left) and Hardy Cross Dillard (right), then a judge on the United Nations International Court of Justice (right).
Photo courtesy of Ronald Sokol.

Ronald Sokol was born on March 23, 1939, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He graduated from Whitefish Bay High School in three years and migrated to North Carolina where he entered Duke University as a premedical student at the age of seventeen. During his first year at Duke he spent his spare time in the surgery research department of Duke Hospital where he actively assisted the chief surgeon in experimental kidney transplantation in dogs.

In his second year, finding chemistry a painful obstacle, he chose to abandon medicine. He switched to a major in English, but bored by his courses at the end of three years he applied to Virginia to study law. Despite having no university degree he was admitted in 1959 as the youngest member of the class of 1962. He was twenty years old.

In 1962 Sokol graduated, passed the Wisconsin bar examination, and was admitted to practice in Wisconsin, but feeling that he was not yet ready to practice law he decided to pursue a postgraduate degree. In 1963 Virginia awarded him an LLM. His thesis, “The Puzzle of Equality,” was published by the Michie Company later that year.

Ronald Sokol with students, circa 1965.
Ronald Sokol with students, circa 1965.
Photo courtesy of Ronald Sokol.

Upon completing his LLM, Dean Hardy Dillard invited Sokol to join the faculty as Lecturer in Appellate Practice and to initiate an Appellate Legal Aid program. From 1963 until the end of 1965, Sokol regularly appeared as court-appointed counsel before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit representing both state and federal prisoners. He used those cases as teaching material in a seminar on appellate practice. He drew on his experience to write A Handbook of Federal Habeas Corpus. Published in 1965, it was the first book published on habeas corpus since the late 19th century. It was followed by a second edition in 1969. A collection of his appellate briefs together with a long introduction was published by the Michie Company in 1967 under the title of Language and Litigation: A Portrait of the Appellate Brief.

In late 1965 Sokol resigned from the University, and in January 1966 he moved to Paris. There he began the research and thinking that would lead to his major work Justice after Darwin, published in 1975. The book brought evolutionary theory to bear on legal problems and on justice in particular. He employed a multidisciplinary approach rare at that time.

Wanting to learn a non-European language as an aid to understanding how the language we speak influences what we think, in June 1967 he moved to Tokyo to learn Japanese. He studied both spoken and written Japanese until December 1968 when he returned to Paris.

In June 1969 Sokol married, and in 1970 he and his wife left Paris and moved to Aix-en-Provence where they have lived ever since. Their first child was born in May 1972 and subsequently three more sons were born. All four live in London.

Sensing his book royalties might not be adequate to nourish his children, in 1973 he sought admission to practice in France. Admission granted, he put up a shingle, waited for clients, and began to educate himself in French law. Forty-three years later the shingle still hangs, and he continues to practice in courts throughout France.

In addition to his books on equality, habeas corpus and justice, Sokol has contributed to legal periodicals, written guidebooks to Aix-en-Provence and to Arles, and is an occasional contributor of op-ed articles to the New York Times and other publications. He has lectured at the University of Aix-en-Provence, the Institute of American Universities in Aix-en-Provence, the École des Mines in Saint-Étienne, France, the University of Buskerud in Norway, and at Imperial College in London.