Docteur en droit. Age 32.
That doctorate in Geneva was a daring idea from the start, but the daring and all the other investment of smart, patience, and last not least money, did not pay back. It was thus a misinvestment, if not a total failure from the point of view of social success, but objectively evaluated, a tremendous achievement on the purely academic level! And here I do not mean theory. My thesis work was one of the rare exceptions when a doctoral thesis had very high practical value.
After all, I got this subject for study from my international law professor with the words:
—Herr Walter, I have the impression that you put your light under the bushel! While you are the most brilliant in class, but you don’t see it. Seriously, you do not see yourself in the right perspective. You are really lacking self-confidence! Now I will give you a subject with which you can profile yourself, for it is a difficult subject. And I am sure you will deliver a perfect result!
I got summa com laude for this seminar paper. And as my job search did not result in anything, I got the idea of a doctorate. I first tried to get admitted in Vienna, as Professor Seidl-Hohenveldern was encouraging me to apply, but there were no doctoral admissions at that time. So I tried Geneva and called Professor Christian Dominicé after having heard he was head of chair of international law. He encouraged me as well and I was getting an admission based on my law diploma and postgraduate studies in European Law (European Integration) at my home university. I then met a German lawyer in Geneva who had achieved what I hoped to duplicate: a lawyer’s admission at the Geneva bar based upon a doctorate at the Law Faculty of the University of Geneva. He did not give me any illusions, however, telling me that what he had achieved was clearly the exception and that in the normal case, Swiss Immigration would not grant a work permit, once the student permit had expired.
At that point, back in 1983, I was of course not aware that what he had pointed out was precisely what was going to happen to me four years down the road, in December 1987. Immigration had refused a work permit with the words they had ‘no work permits for German residents.’ And it was despite the fact that I had a valid work offer from one of the most prestigious law firms in Geneva.
But that was not all the negative. While Dominicé seemed to be competent as a thesis supervisor in the beginning, at some point before the public soutenance and in preparation of it, he told me honestly that he did not understand my thesis. He suggested therefore to invite Lady Hazel Fox, Q.C. from London who was a specialist on my thesis subject. This worked out fine, given the immense academic and social engagements of such a public icon.
After the soutenance, Lady Fox came to me and said that she was very angry. Upon my question why, she told me that ‘the Swiss lawyers’ had ‘no idea’ what my thesis was about, incompetent by and large on the subject. That she had proposed a summa cum laude and that they had refused to follow.
I was feeling stupid and betrayed. And I did not blame anybody but myself for I have had a wonderful opportunity two years before that, in 1985, when on a postgraduate program at Georgia Law School in Athens, Georgia. The Dean of the Law School had namely told me I was the most brilliant among his law students and that she had ‘a plan’ for me and my professional career. When I was asking, in surprise, what this plan was, she replied:
—It is simple. In one year, your are full professor, in six months, assistant professor at the Chair of International Law. The condition is that you drop the Geneva thesis and put it up here, for a doctoral title from here. Is that acceptable to you?
I did not give a clear answer, feeling moral scruples to scrap the thesis as I had received two Fulbright Scholarships for it, one from the Swiss Institute of Comparative Law at Lausanne-Dorigny, and another one from the University of Geneva (via the DAAD in Germany). And last not least also a Fulbright Travel Grant for my postgraduate work in the United States.
The perspective of becoming an assistant to Professor Louis B. Sohn, Harvard Emeritus and holder of the Chair of International Law, was very appealing to me. I was working with him already as he had invited me to give him some help with a publication on human rights destined for the United Nations.
But I could not get over my moral scruples and finally returned to Switzerland because of a functional disease and ongoing diarrhea (which was probably a result of my wrong decision-making and constant worries about my professional future).
The thesis was never published as I lacked the funds for it. The quotation from the printing company was 13,000 Swiss Francs, of which the law faculty would bear 5,000 as a matter of courtesy, but the rest, who was going to pay for it?
My mother refused and I had no funds. My mother’s decision was based upon my refusal to finally accept one surprising work offer when I was already admitted for the doctorate in Geneva. It was from a tax law firm whose office was close to the villa where my mother worked for the media studio. It was a good area of town and the work place was physically appealing. The salary too. But I had no idea of tax law and no interest for it, having specialized on European and International Law. So I refused and my mother got into a tantrum and found the idea of the doctorate ‘simply crazy.’
From a realistic perspective of life, my mother had been right, I think today. And the subsequent events around my thesis evaluation showed me that my idealism was misplaced by and large. However, a last chance had presented itself to me and instead of being grateful for it, I had scrapped that unique opportunity as well. I would have been a professor of international law working jointly with a Harvard emeritus at a very nice university in the United States …
Instead, real life was looking me in the face. After my return to Germany I was jobless and toured Germany to meet lawyers who would perhaps hire me. I still remember one, who was a noble-born, in a reputed law firm in Munich. He told me to abandon my idea to get a high salary from the start. He told me of a lawyer who was married and had two children, and yet a salary of only 1200 DM. My investigation led me to the insight that a simple one-room studio was already costing 1000 DM per month, thus with such a salary, how could that man get a flat and feed his family?
Academically, regarding my thesis subject, the evidence rules and burden of proof in cases that involve foreign sovereign immunity, there are only two places in the world where lawyers are involved in these complicated legal matters. They are London and New York. In Europe, there is barely any lawyer who even knows about the subject. Well, with the exception of Professor Dr. Dr. Georg Ress, who had given me that assignment …
Then back in 2014, I decided to translate the French thesis paper to English and worked it out thoroughly, updating the research. I made a Paperback edition and a Hardcover edition and finally a Kindle edition but those books by and large did not sell. And of all the law professors I had sent the the book to, only the Indian Ambassador in Phnom Penh replied. He invited me for a chat in the embassy, and that was the end of the story.