Agency Problems and Legal Strategies

13 Pages Posted: 13 Dec 2004

See all articles by Henry Hansmann

Henry Hansmann

Yale University - Law School; European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI)

Reinier Kraakman

Harvard Law School; European Corporate Governance Institute


This article is the second chapter of a book authored by R. Kraakman, P. Davies, H. Hansmann, G. Hertig, K. Hopt, H. Kanda, and E. Rock, "The Anatomy of Corporate Law: A Comparative and Functional Approach," (Oxford University Press 2004). The book as a whole provides a functional analysis of corporate (or company) law in Europe, the U.S., and Japan. Its organization reflects the structure of corporate law across all jurisdictions, while individual chapters explore the diversity of jurisdictional approaches to the common problems of corporate law.

"Agency Problems and Legal Strategies" establishes the analytical framework for the book as a whole. After further elaborating the agency problems that motivate corporate law, this chapter identifies five legal strategies that the law employs to address these problems. Describing these strategies allows us to more accurately map legal similarities and differences across jurisdictions. Some legal strategies are "regulatory" insofar as they directly constrain the actions of corporate actors: for example, a standard of behavior such as a director's duty of loyalty and care. Other legal strategies are "governance-based" insofar as they channel the distribution of power and payoffs within companies to reduce opportunism. For example, the law may accord direct decision rights to a vulnerable corporate constituency, as when it requires shareholder approval of mergers. Alternatively, the law may assign appointment rights over top managers to a vulnerable constituency, as when it accords shareholders - or in some jurisdictions, employees - the power to select corporate directors. Finally, the law may attempt to shape the incentives of managers or controlling shareholders, as when it regulates compensation or prescribes an equal treatment norm such as the rule that dividends must be paid out ratably.

In addition to Chapter 2, Chapter 1 "What is Corporate Law" is available in full text on the SSRN at

The abstracts for Chapter 3: The Basic Governance Structure; Chapter 4: Creditor protection (; Chapter 5: Related Party Transactions; Chapter 6: Significant Corporate Actions; Chapter 7: Control Transactions; Chapter 8: Issuers and Investor Protection; Chapter 9: Beyond the Anatomy are also/will be available on the SSRN.

Keywords: Agency, agency cost, agency problem, appointment rights, decision rights, control rights, regulation, corporate governance, equal treatment, trustee, mandatory disclosure

JEL Classification: D23, G32, G34, G38, K22, M14

Suggested Citation

Hansmann, Henry and Kraakman, Reinier H., Agency Problems and Legal Strategies. Available at SSRN:

Henry Hansmann (Contact Author)

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States
203-432-7101 (Phone)

European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI)

c/o the Royal Academies of Belgium
Rue Ducale 1 Hertogsstraat
1000 Brussels


Reinier H. Kraakman

Harvard Law School ( email )

1575 Massachusetts
Hauser 406
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-3586 (Phone)
617-496-6118 (Fax)

European Corporate Governance Institute ( email )

c/o the Royal Academies of Belgium
Rue Ducale 1 Hertogsstraat
1000 Brussels

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