Sharing Ideas for Shareholders—and Others

This post reproduces a recent article about the Forum by Julie H. Case that appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of the Harvard Law Bulletin, which can be found here.

For the past 10 years, one Harvard Law School blog has been serving as a forum for exchange of ideas and debate among lawyers, executives, institutional investors, academics and regulators. Each month, the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation features over 60 posts on a wide range of issues in these fields—from Brexit to mergers and acquisitions. Since its founding, the forum has attracted posts from more than 3,500 individuals, including such prominent contributors as SEC Chairs Mary Jo White and Mary Schapiro, Circuit Court Judge Richard Posner ’62, and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein ’78.

Run by Harvard Law School’s Program on Corporate Governance, the forum was founded in 2006 by the program’s director, Professor Lucian Bebchuk LL.M. ’80 S.J.D. ’84. It caught fire quickly. In the blog’s second year, its two co-editors were named to Directorship magazine’s list of 100 most influential people in corporate governance in the media category, alongside prominent reporters such as The New York Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin. Since then the blog has grown steadily, and today it attracts more than 70,000 unique visitors a month. Posts on the blog have been cited in more than 300 law review articles, noted in SEC speeches, and referenced in congressional testimony.

Reading the forum has become an integral part of the daily schedule of many. “[I]t is amazing to see the [forum] become required reading among the intelligentsia, such as it is, of corporate governance,” observes Leo Strine, chief justice of the Delaware Supreme Court and a lecturer on law at HLS. The blog is “the place to go,” comments Rodman Ward Jr. ’59, who was a key supporter of the forum at its founding.

While the blog enables Harvard Law faculty to write about their research, that is not its primary mission. “The goal in establishing the forum was not to communicate the views of the program’s members but rather to advance discourse in the fields by providing a central place for the exchange of views and the discussion of developments and new research,” says Bebchuk.

Initially, editors solicited posts from experts in the field. As the forum became the repository for conversations on corporate governance and financial regulation, contributions started flowing in. The forum has also attracted its share of heated debate along the way.

Hedge fund activism and shareholder rights, for example, are subjects that attract posts with strongly opposing views. Regular contributions by Martin Lipton, founding partner of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, have criticized Bebchuk’s work in support of strengthening shareholder rights and reducing the insulation of boards from shareholders. Recently, the forum has published a series of posts by Lipton that took issue with a study co-written by Bebchuk on hedge fund activism and its impact on shareholders. Being willing to take one on the chin so publicly may be part of the mission for Bebchuk and his team. The forum makes a substantial effort to be broad and diverse, and to be open to different views—even if they might be critical of work by Harvard faculty.

Edited by fellows of the Program on Corporate Governance—typically graduate students or postdoctoral fellows at HLS—the blog has been a learning tool for its co-editors. “[Editing the forum] gave me exposure to a broad community of practitioners, academics, and policymakers seeking a place for cutting-edge conversations about corporate law and finance—an experience that convinced me that legal academia was the place for me,” says Robert Jackson ’05, the forum’s first fellow editor and today a professor at Columbia Law School. “Ten years later, I still draw on those relationships and insights in my teaching and scholarship.”

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