The Path(s) of Corporate Law Scholarship
posted by Dave Hoffman
I’ve had a few conversations at the AALS this year revolving around the same topic: where is corporate law scholarship going? These conversations are naturally framed by being a (still relatively) junior scholar, not wanting to pick a research agenda or field that will be seen to be a dead-end in a few year’s time. Over these conversations, folks have suggested several different types of corporate law research agendas. Obviously, the categories overlap and over-simplify, but it seemed useful to me to list them here, with a few thoughts on the obvious promises and perils of each.
1. Market Quant-heads: Using Tobin’s Q and other quantitative methods to evaluate governance. Pros: still lots of low-hanging fruit, interesting results, multiple papers per data set. Cons: some barriers to entry if you aren’t afraid of being publicly wrong, severe barriers to entry if you are; co-authorship with finance folks is useful but quality proxies are unreliable; probably little connection with your day-to-day teaching responsibilities; unclear value-added over business school professors; not clear how easy it is to place this work in flagship mainstream law reviews, if your law school values this currency (which it shouldn’t).
2. Contract Quant-heads: Evaluating databases of agreements to shed light on private law-in-action. Pros: great work being done in entrepreneurial law, and huge areas of private corporations and LLCs are still basically unexplored; the learning curve, once you are familiar with STATA, is not steep; lawyer competencies are essential to the project. Cons: coding takes time, and projects can take >18 months to complete; finding appropriate data sources requires connections you likely do not have at the beginning of your career; you will almost certainly eventually want to get a grant, which creates its own set of bureaucratic issues.
3. Doctrinalists: Careful reading of Delaware cases, often informed by some L&E or BL&E theory. Pros: there are always new cases to write about; consulting gigs abound; lots of tie-in with teaching; influence over development of law; doctrine probably still places pretty well. Cons: in a globalizing economy, Delaware may be a declining stock to ride; elite law schools will likely not hire you; the “grand theory” field is very rich and possibly occupied.
4. Modelers and Historians: Using abstract models, or historical precedents, to illuminate aspects of the legal regime that doctrine obscures and the data fail to speak to. Pros: The field is pretty thin, so the fruit may hang low; cross-disciplinary work with economists and historians is likely to be very fruitful. Cons: hard to place both kinds of works in student-edited journals; relevancy critiques; probably harder to get elite jobs than it used to be for modelers.
5. Experimental Research: Organizational studies meets experimental behavioral law and economics: doing controlled experiments to test board and manager behavior under conditions of uncertainty. Pros: Almost no one does this, so the world is wide-open; lots of theories to test; value-added of lawyers to co-authored papers easy to see. Cons: If you are going to use real Board members as subjects, designing appropriate controls is not a trivial problem; cost; finding appropriate co-authors.
6. Qualitative Comparative Governance: Something like doctrinalism-without-borders, often without a quantitative element. Pros: Illuminating; easy to enter field; good travel opportunities; Cons: you are never going to know foreign systems that well unless you’ve practiced in them, and so you will face skeptical audiences; the market-quants are out in front on these problems, and are going to believe your work is largely not useful.
Does this about cover the field, or am I missing the gorilla for the trees?
(Image Source: Wikicommons)