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Letter from Ronald Sokol to Daniel Meador, Friday, September 20, 1991

Ronald P. Sokol
B.P. 3
13540 Puyricard
France

Begun on 21 July 1991. . . . Continued on 20 September 1991

Dear Dan,

It took quite a while for West Publishing to get your book on
American Courts to me, but I have had it now for awhile. I
read through it from cover to cover in June and found it of
great interest for myself as a refresher on the changes that
have occurred in the federal courts over the past 25 years. I
have since gone back into the book and reread parts of it.

I personally found it interesting and useful. As a guide to
law students, I would think it should be of considerable use
as it brings together in one place in condensed form a great
deal of information.

As a guide to foreign lawyers and foreign law students, I am
less certain. When I think of the vast differences between
the American legal system and the French legal system, not so
much in terms of the actual black letter law but of how the
two systems actually function, I conclude that each system
must be incomprehensible to the practitioner in the other
system. I am reminded of Wittgenstein’s statement that to
understand a language is to understand a way of life which he
illustrated by saying that “if a lion could speak, we would
not be able to understand it.”

The only way to begin to understand either system is to see
it function. From reading about the system one can get some
idea of what the system aspires to, but less of an
understanding of the breadth of the gap between its
aspirations and reality.

It may be possible to get a greater idea of how our system
works from reported cases because of the detail of our
judicial opinions. Still, our reported opinions do not give
any idea of the discovery process which dominates American
litigation. Nonetheless, one must begin somewhere, and I
think your book succeeds very well in what it sets out to do.
The serious foreign student must move on from there.

Professor Daniel J. Meador
21 July-20 September 1991
Page 1.

I not infrequently have the task of trying to explain some
aspect of American law, procedure or practice to French
attorneys, and it is no easy matter. Our discovery procedure
is almost incomprehensible to both French clients and lawyers
because there is no equivalent here.

The fact-finding process here is very superficial and
therefore less costly. French clients and their lawyers are
not easily able to comprehend the power of American courts
and lawyers to ferret out evidence. They are also not able to
comprehend the power of American judges.

In a sense this stems from the different role that the
judicial system plays in the two countries. In the U.S. it
plays a major role; it is one of the critical players in
American life and sometimes the major player. In France, it
plays a minor role and is never a major player. Issues that
get resolved in the courts in the U.S. get resolved here
usually through the Executive Branch directly or as a result
of the Executive Branch taking the initiative and getting the
legislature to resolve the issue. The judiciary is relegated
to really quite a peripheral role. Obviously this means that
the lawyer’s role is more peripheral as well.

After 18 years of practicing here I have concluded that the
country is, comparatively speaking, very well governed. The
judicial system, however, does not function very well, but as
it occupies only a peripheral role, it probably does not
matter a great deal other than to the advocates and
magistrates and losing litigants. Brandeis’ statement that it
is more important that cases be decided than that they be
decided rightly has been nearly carried to its logical
conclusion here. The logical extreme, I suppose, would be
eliminating judges altogether and deciding cases by the flip
of a coin. While such a system would obviously be
unacceptable, it would have the virtues of honesty, economy,
and speed.

I recall your pointing out the significance of the physical
presence of the courthouse. In fact, you do so in your book
on American Courts, but where I recall it more vividly was in
your remark that when visiting Moscow you could not find the
courthouse. The taxi driver did not know where it was.

It is interesting to me to compare the physical condition in
France and the United States of these public buildings. In
the U.S. it is obvious that substantial sums of money are
spent by government in order to have modern courthouses. Here
little or no money is spent. Money is spent on medical
facilities, public housing, roads, trains, airports, primary

Professor Daniel J. Meador
21 July-20 September 1991
Page 2.

schools, and on cultural activities but very little on the
physical accoutrements of justice.

In part this reflects a difference in the over-all wealth of
the two countries, but it also reflects a difference in
priorities, and in France the judicial system and justice
generally are not very high on the list.

…………… Continued on 20 September 1991……………

Since beginning this letter we had a very pleasant visit from
Stewart Pollock, his wife and another couple. We took them
out for lunch and very much enjoyed spending the afternoon
with them. I appreciated your sending him this way as such
contacts are one of the missing elements of having a law
practice in the hinterland, even though it is a civilized
hinterland.

I had lunch this week with one of the senior partners at
Coudert Brothers in Paris. They have about 60 lawyers there.
This partner was responsible for hiring, and he said if he
were a young man he would not go into law today because it
has gotten too competitive and growth has stopped.

I was surprised at this. My oldest son André who is 19 will
enter the University of Exeter in England this year. His plan
is to go to law school in the States after getting his degree
in England. I was thus disturbed to hear such a pessimistic
report from someone in a position to know. Do you have any
thoughts on this subject?

I have found recently that I miss teaching. Perhaps this is
because I would like to write down some of my ideas ‘and
experiences after almost 20 years of practice here, and I
know how helpful teaching is to clarifying one’s thoughts and
expression. However, my family obligations are apt to keep me
tied up for at least another two or three years. After that,
I may be be able to allot some daily time to writing.

In the last two years our life has taken a radical turn in
that we discovered purely by chance that three of our four
children have musical talent and George who is number 3 is
awash in talent. The three youngest are all playing the
piano, and George who is 11 has plunged full speed ahead
destination unknown. It is quite exciting to have a child
gifted in this way, and it is providing me, as well as
George, with a whole new world to explore. Our entire family
is thoroughly enjoying this adventure.

Professor Daniel J. Meador
21 July-20 September 1991
Page 3.

While George seems to have an unusual gift, your namesake
Daniel who just turned 13 in August is not far behind him.

This is the first year in some time that I have not been back
to the States at all. I have no immediate trip planned, but I
shall try to work Charlottesville into the next trip I do
make, if it is at all possible. It has been too long since I
have visited with you.

As ever,

[no signature]

Professor Daniel J. Meador
21 July-20 September 1991
Page 4.

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