His father was Mikhail Korkunov, a noted Russian historian. His sister Marie de Manacéïne was known for her pioneering studies of sleep and dreams. After Aleksandr Gradovsky's death in 1889 Korkunov held the chair in constitutional and international law at the University of Saint Petersburg.
Korkunov was also active in the Commission for the Laws of Finland. He argued that Grand Duchy of Finland's claim to sovereignty was groundless. He defined autocracy as the "sovereignty of the ruler, the unlimited character of his rule, but at the same time the need to limit this rule by legal principles, basic laws of his own making".
- Alexander J. Motyl. The Post-Soviet Nations: Perspectives on the Demise of the USSR. 2nd ed. Columbia University Press, 1995. Page 97.
- Quoted from: Stalinism: Essays in Historical Interpretation (ed. Robert C. Tucker). Transaction Publishers, 1977. Page 134.