Monday, November 27, 2023

Of Directorships: Reconfiguring the Theory of the Firm

It always is a great pleasure to pass along and promote the work of a colleague.  And today, I get to post about the work of a UT Law colleague!  Many of you know Tomer Stein, who came to join us at UT Law back in the summer.  He is such an ideal colleague and, like many of us, has broad interests across business finance and governance.

This post supports a recent draft governance piece, the title of which is the same as this post--Of Directorships: Reconfiguring the Theory of the Firm.  You can find the draft here.  The abstract is included below.

This Article develops a novel account of directorships and then uses it to reconfigure the theory of the firm. This widely accepted theory holds that firms emerge to satisfy the economic need for carrying out vertically integrated business activities under a fiduciary contract that substitutes for the owners’ multiple agreements with contractors and suppliers. As per this theory, the fiduciary contract is inherently incomplete, yet often preferable: while it cannot address all future contingencies in the firm, it will effectively direct all unaccounted-for firm events by placing them under the owners’ purview as a matter of default, or residual right. Under this contractual mechanism, firm owners, such as corporate shareholders, acquire the status of residual claimants who have the power to decide on all contractually unenumerated contingencies.

This view of the firm is conceptually flawed and normatively mistaken. Firms do carry vertically integrated business activities managed by their fiduciaries, but those fiduciaries—agents, trustees, and directors—are not functional equivalents from either the legal or economic standpoint. Unlike agents and trustees who receive commands from principals and settlors, respectively, directors manage the firm’s business by exercising decisional autonomy. Conceptually, shareholders who hire directors do not run the firm’s business as residual claimants. Rather, it is the directors who manage the firm as residual obligors—all contractually unaccounted for contingencies are placed under the fiduciary’s purview as a matter of obligation. This feature makes directorship an attractive management mechanism that often outperforms other fiduciary mechanisms, and the residual-claimant structure that stands behind them, in a broad variety of contexts. By developing this critical insight, the Article proposes not only to reconfigure the prevalent theory of the firm, but also to redesign both federal and state laws in a way that will facilitate directorships not only in corporations, but also across several indispensable dimensions of our financial, communal, and familial organizations.

As someone who understands both the central role of the director in corporate governance and the incomplete and inaccurate principal/agent relationship between shareholders and directors, I have enthusiasm for this project!  But I also am intrigued by the thought that the ideas in the paper can be translated to non-business institutions and groups.

Read on, and enjoy!

Agency, Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Joan Heminway, Research/Scholarhip, Shareholders | Permalink


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