“Professor Symeonides continues to be the number one scholar of conflicts of law.”
- The Honorable John W. deGravelles
Professor Symeon C. Symeonides has been described as “perhaps the world’s leading expert on comparative conflicts law today” by The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Law (at 1380). His work has been cited numerous times by the supreme courts of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Israel and has received both national and international recognition. But Symeonides is not just known for his professional and academic work. He is also held in high esteem by LSU Law faculty and students for his high standards and work ethic.
Symeonides grew up in a small town in Cyprus where his father was both a farmer and the mayor. He graduated summa cum laude with his degree in private law from the University of Thessaloniki in Greece and graduated summa cum laude a year later with his degree in public law from the same university.
Symeonides continued his education at Harvard University receiving both his LLM and SJD from Harvard Law School. One summer when he returned home from a semester at Harvard, Turkey invaded Cyprus and he was thrust into service.
At one point in the war, Symeonides and a fellow soldier were separated from their unit. They army-crawled a long distance back to safety with bullets whizzing above their heads. While it was not the summer break he’d imagined, “he never thought twice about it,” recalled Jan deGravelles, wife of The Honorable John W. deGravelles and family friend. His service to Cyprus demonstrates the dedication Symeonides has for what he is passionate about.
In addition to his degrees from Harvard Law School, he also holds three honorary doctorate degrees. Symeonides taught at the LSU Law Center from 1978 to 1999, including a seven-year service as vice chancellor. Prior to his time at the Paul M. Hebert Law Center, he taught at his alma mater the University of Thessaloniki.
Balancing the personal and personnel challenges that accompany leading a law school is no easy feat, but Symeonides handled the stress with finesse.
“He was about as intellectually fierce as anybody I’ve ever met,” said John Devlin, professor at LSU Law. “He was as hard on himself as he was on everyone else. He demanded a lot from you and a whole lot more from himself.”
Symeonides had a deep sense of impartiality. Judge deGravelles recalled a case where he worked opposite Symeonides. When he passed him in the hallway the day the case was heard, although Judge deGravelles tried to initiate a friendly exchange, Symeonides maintained a more professional demeanor.
“He didn’t want to appear to taint the process,” Judge deGravelles explained. “He was a stickler for integrity.”
His insistence on exceptional standards for all led Symeonides to accomplish astounding heights academically and become renowned for conflict of laws.
“Sym not only drafted Louisiana’s conflicts code, he went down to the Legislature and got into the exceedingly rough and tumble world of Louisiana politics,” said Judge deGravelles during a ceremony recognizing the Symeonides scholarships. “And needless to say, Sym’s conflicts code passed and is the law of Louisiana today (Book IV of the Louisiana Civil Code on Conflict of Laws and Title IX of Book III on Leases).”
Symeonides also drafted conflict of laws codifications for Oregon and Puerto Rico. His work, including more than 30 books and 130 articles in seven languages, has been honored with six academic prizes and three Lifetime Achievement awards.
Symeonides was a long-time proponent of the LSU Law’s mixed-jurisdiction approach. He is quoted in W. Lee Hargrave’s “LSU Law The Louisiana State University Law School from 1906 to 1977” as saying, “Is there anything wrong with Louisiana being a mixed-jurisdiction? Not particularly… This is a comparative-law paradise.”
“It (conflict of laws) is one of the more complex areas of traditional law,” Devlin explains. “To take that mass of decisions and put it in an organized, coded form where you clearly state principles-that is a sheer intellectual achievement.”
Symeonides has been sought internationally for his expertise in conflict of laws. He spent six months in Brussels, chairing five working groups drafting new laws for the European Union and represented the Presidency of the EU council in negotiating an international convention. He also provided legislative advice to the EU Parliament and the governments of Cyprus, Estonia, Russia, and Tunisia.
Symeonides assumed the law deanship at Willamette University College of Law in 1999. He retired as dean in 2011. His academic accolades afforded him the opportunity to teach nationally and abroad, including at the universities of Paris-I (Sorbonne), Paris-V (Descartes), Aix-en-Provence, Louvain-la-Neuve, NYU, Tulane, and Loyola, and many other academic institutions. The legacy Symeonides left at the Law Center is apparent to this day.
“He was a jewel for the faculty of LSU Law,” Judge John deGravelles said.
About Jan deGravelles and The Honorable John deGravelles
In December 2017, Jan deGravelles and the Honorable John W. deGravelles of Baton Rouge, LA made an extraordinary gift of $1,000,000 to the LSU Foundation for the benefit of the Paul M. Hebert Law Center. The deGravelles’ gift is among the largest scholarship gifts ever received by the Law Center. The gift was a blended gift that established two endowed scholarships and two large annual scholarship gifts that are awarded in the name of the honorees. The honorees are both former professors of law who greatly influenced the education and career of Judge deGravelles: Professor David Robertson and Professor Symeon Symeonides.
Judge deGravelles is a two-time graduate of LSU, receiving his Bachelor of Arts in 1971 and his Juris Doctorate in 1974 from LSU Law. He graduated with honors as a member of the Order of the Coif, was the winner of the Law Center’s Flory Trial Competition, and served on the Law Center’s Moot Court Board. Jan met Judge deGravelles while he was in high school, and they enjoyed the educational experience and comradery formed in those substantive years of his law education. He has been a member of the Law Center’s Board of Trustees for many years, and he and Jan are consistent annual donors to the Law Center’s Dean’s Council.
Following graduation from law school, Judge deGravelles practiced civil litigation. Some of his notable litigation cases were the result of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010. In March 2014, President Barack Obama nominated Judge deGravelles to serve as a judge of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana where he continues to serve to this day.
The deGravelles and Symeon Symeonides were introduced to one another through their mutual friend and colleague, the late LSU Law Professor A.N. Yiannopolous. Judge deGravelles and Symeonides worked together on legal education matters, and their extensive work together around the world forged a lifelong friendship of mutual respect.
Judge deGravelles first worked with Symeonides in 1979. Symeonides was appointed to be a curator for a Cypriot sailor who had been seriously injured aboard a ship in the Mississippi River. Judge deGravelles was the family’s lawyer. They both traveled to Athens to take depositions, which took place on New Year’s Eve. Initially, the pair did not anticipate the depositions to take very long given the holiday. However, a series of miscommunication between the lawyers and official translators prolonged their work.
Eventually, Symeonides went toe-to-toe with the Greek shipping layer advocating for the sailor and his family. Though Symeonides is renowned for his work in conflicts of law, after the encounter with the shipping lawyer Judge deGravelles remarked, “Sym: you chose the wrong profession. You should be a trial lawyer.” They finally wrapped up their work at 11:45 p.m. Most of the New Year’s Eve celebrations were complete by then, so Judge deGravelles and Symeonides returned to their hotel and celebrated the New Year with each other and their families.
Judge deGravelles and Symeonides continued to work together at the Paul M. Hebert Law Center through the 90s. Judge deGravelles served as adjunct faculty and taught courses in Maritime Torts, Advanced Litigation, Pre-Trial Litigation, and Federal Courts in various semesters and served as a member of the LSU Law Center’s summer program in Lyon, France where he taught Maritime Law. Symeonides joined the LSU Law faculty at the recommendation of Yiannopolous and rose through the ranks at LSU Law, serving as vice chancellor for seven years. Judge deGravelles enjoyed a warm working relationship with Symeonides. Even after Symeonides left LSU to become Dean of the Willamette University School of Law in Salem, OR their two families have remained very close.
“He’s just a wonderful friend,” Jan deGravelles said.
About the Scholarship:
Recipients of the Scholarship must be full-time graduate students or post-doctoral fellows enrolled in the Law Center who have a documented financial need and a history of overcoming disadvantage. It is Donors’ wish that in the interest of promoting enrollment diversity and educational opportunities to students born outside of the United States, preference be given to international students demographically underrepresented in the Law Center.