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Robert Samuel Summers (September 19, 1933 – March 1, 2019) was the former William G. McRoberts Research Professor in the Administration of the Law at the Cornell Law School in Ithaca, NY. Summers retired in 2011.



Robert Summers was born in 1933 on his family's 80-acre farm a few miles outside Halfway, Oregon. His early academic education was limited, due to the difficulty in attracting good teachers to the remote valley in eastern Oregon. After graduating from the University of Oregon, he became a Fulbright Scholar. He went on to receive a law degree from Harvard University.

Summers taught for 50 years, 42 of them at Cornell. He has won international acclaim for his work in contracts, commercial law, jurisprudence, and legal theory. During his time at Cornell Law School, Summers authored and co-authored multiple works on various legal topics with a focus on contracts and commercial law. His treatise on the Uniform Commercial Code, co-authored with Professor James J. White, is the most widely cited on the subject. His other influential works include texts on legal realism, form and substance in the law, and on statutory interpretation. Summers has served as official advisor both to the Drafting Commission for the Russian Civil Code and to the Drafting Commission for the Egyptian Civil Code. Professor Summers was recently named principal co-drafter of a new code of contract law for Rwanda. Summers lectured annually on jurisprudence and legal theory in Britain, Scandinavia, and Europe.

He was known for his passionate relationship with his students and research assistants. In the 1960s he began advocating for more minority students in law schools, holding summer sessions around the country, with Robert O'Neil of the University of California-Berkeley, to recruit and prepare minority undergraduates.

Summers taught contracts and American legal theory with his class mascot, "the particularistic contract snail," and last completed a book on the varieties of legal form and their importance in law, which is titled Form and Function in a Legal System: A General Study, published by Cambridge University Press.

He was well known among Cornell Law School students for his inquisitive, spirited use of the Socratic method in instruction. He died on March 1, 2019 at the age of 85.[1]



  1. ^ Kelley, Susan (2019-03-08). "Robert Summers, pre-eminent legal scholar, dies at 85". Cornell Chronicle. Retrieved 2019-03-09.

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