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Optimal Defaults for Corporate Law Evolution

40 Pages Posted: 10 Dec 2001 Last revised: 15 Apr 2015

Lucian A. Bebchuk

Harvard Law School; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) and European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI)

Assaf Hamdani

Hebrew University - Faculty of Law

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Abstract

Public corporations live in a dynamic and ever-changing business environment. This paper examines how courts and legislators should choose default arrangements in the corporate area to address new circumstances. We show that the interests of the shareholders of existing companies would not be served by adopting those defaults arrangements that public officials view as most likely to be value-enhancing. Because any charter amendment requires the board's initiative, opting out of an inefficient default arrangement is much more likely to occur when management disfavors the arrangement than management supports it. We develop a "reversible defaults" approach that takes into account this asymmetry. When public officials must choose between two or more default arrangements and face significant uncertainty as to which one would best serve shareholders, they should err in favor of the arrangement that is less favorable to managers. Such an approach, we show, would make it most likely that companies would be ultimately governed by the arrangement that would maximize shareholder value. Evaluating some of the main choices that state corporate law has made in the past two decades in light of our proposed approach, we endorse some but question others. The arrangements we examine include those developed with respect to director liability, the regulation of takeover bidders, and the range of permitted defensive tactics.

Keywords: Shareholders, managers, directors, default rules, interpretation, takeovers, antitakeover statutes, poison pill, and staggered boards

JEL Classification: G3, G34, K22

Suggested Citation

Bebchuk, Lucian A. and Hamdani, Assaf, Optimal Defaults for Corporate Law Evolution. Northwestern University Law Review, Vol. 96, No. 2, pp. 489-520, 2002; Harvard Law and Economics Discussion Paper No. 343, November 2001. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=293585 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.293585

Lucian A. Bebchuk (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-495-3138 (Phone)
617-812-0554 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.harvard.edu/faculty/bebchuk/

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) and European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI)

Assaf Hamdani

Hebrew University - Faculty of Law ( email )

Mount Scopus, 91905
Israel

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