Detlev F. Vagts was born in Washington D.C. on the 13 February 1929 to an American mother and a father who had fled Germany during the rise of the Nazi party. He received his legal education at Harvard Law School, graduating with an LL.B. in 1951. During the 1950s Vagts worked in private practice in New York City as well as completing three years active service in the United States Air Force as a Judge Advocate Officer from 1953-1956. He returned to the Harvard Law School in 1959 as an Assistant Professor of Law specialising in International Law and gained tenure in 1962. Vagts was awarded the position of Goldston Professor in 1980 and four years later became Bemis Professor of International Law. Following his retirement in 2005, Vagts continued to hold the position Bemis Professor of International Law, Emeritus until he passed away in 2013.
In addition to his academic role Vagts worked for the state department as Counselor on International Law from 1976-1977. He was also an Associate Reporter for the Foreign Relations Law of the United States 1979-1987 and was the Co-Editor-in-Chief of the American Journal of International Law from 1993 to 1998. Vagts has published on a wide range of subjects from international business transactions, developing countries and transnational investment as well as international conflicts. His publications include Basic Corporation Law (1989), Transnational Legal Problems (1994) and Transnational Business Problems (2008). He has forged a career as one of the leading figures in international law particularly with regards developing countries and transnational investment, international business transactions and military conflicts. He has also written widely on comparative and transnational lawyering.
- ‘Biographies of Panellists and Moderators’, Globalisation of the Legal Profession, A joint regional event between the Harvard Law School Program on the Legal Profession and the American Society of International Law. Available at http://www.law.harvard.edu/programs/plp/pages/globalization_conference.php#bios (visited on 08 April 2012)
- ‘In Memoriam: Detlev F. Vagts (1929-2013). Available at http://opiniojuris.org/2013/08/23/in-memoriam-detlev-f-vagts-1929-2013/ (visited 17.02.2014).