Paul Haskell

Obituary of Paul Haskell

Paul G. Haskell, William Rand Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, died peacefully in his sleep on March 7 at his home in Chapel Hill. He was 90.

Haskell came to UNC Law School in 1977 and remained there until his retirement in 1998, specializing in property, trusts and estates, and professional ethics. He continued teaching professional responsibility courses well into the new century on an emeritus basis.

After receiving his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1951, Haskell practiced in New York City at Kelley, Drye, Newhall & McGinnis and White & Case until 1959. Before entering the academy, he served as counsel at an oil and gas company in St. Petersburg, FL and with the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, NJ.

Haskell joined the law faculty at Georgetown University in 1962. There he began work, together with longtime friend Thomas Bergin of the University of Virginia, on Preface to Estates in Land and Future Interests, their influential and accessible textbook that demystified a topic commonly dreaded by first-year law students. In addition to many other academic publications, he wrote Why Lawyers Behave as They Do (1998), a book for lay readers that explained the professional rules governing what might appear to some to be unethical legal behavior, and proposed a new model for the profession.

In 1967 Haskell left Georgetown for Case Western Reserve University. Although he lived in Cleveland only ten years before coming to Chapel Hill, he developed deep loyalties to the Cavaliers, Indians, and Browns, teams he followed until his death. 

Haskell was regarded as an engaging and highly demanding professor – a kind of "Professor Kingsfield," but with a softer side. Serious students relished the analytical rigor, scrupulous intellectual honesty and humor (often at his own expense) he brought to the classroom. He maintained relationships with former students going back to his Georgetown days, attending their weddings and dispensing wisdom from his varied experience. He was respected by his colleagues for his dry wit and independent views on subjects ranging from baseball to religion. 

Haskell was born in 1927 in Boston, MA, and grew up in Brookline and smaller towns in Maine and New York. His mother, Leah, attained a law degree, and his father, David, worked in business and for the Labor Department. 

After finishing Cambridge High and Latin School, Haskell received a full scholarship to Harvard College, from which he graduated in 1948. He served in the Navy at the end of World War II.

He met his wife, Sarah (Sally) Evarts, in New York City in 1954. They were wed in 1955. He boasted that he had "married someone smarter and better looking" than he, a strategy he recommended to others.

Haskell is survived by Sally and their three sons, Peter (Carol) of Blacksburg, VA, Tom (Marykristin) of Havertown, PA, and John (John Sotelo) of Arlington, VA, as well as nine grandchildren, one great-granddaughter and numerous nieces and nephews. He was pre-deceased by his older brother, Boris.