Common Law Power Struggle

The Rising Tension between Shareholder and Director Power in the Common Law World by Jennifer G. Hill, available at SSRN, explores the rising tension between shareholder and director power in the common law world. First the article analyzes key arguments in the shareholder empowerment debate, and current US reform proposals to grant shareholders stronger rights, from a comparative corporate law perspective, examining how traditional US legal rules diverge from other common law jurisdictions. Secondly, the article discusses power shifts in the opposite direction – namely toward the board – in some parts of the common law world.

The article shows that US shareholders have traditionally possessed significantly fewer participatory rights than their counterparts in other common law jurisdictions, and examines particular legal rules that contribute to this divergence. Indeed, the current reform proposals to enhance shareholder rights, despite being the subject of great controversy in the US, fall far short of rights already held by shareholders in other common law jurisdictions, such as the UK and Australia.

The article also identifies an important tension between legal rules designed to enhance shareholder power, and commercial practices designed to subvert it. It shows how strategic commercial responses to regulation can affect the operation of legal rules. The existence of commercial pushback of this kind suggests that, even if US shareholder powers are significantly strengthened, that will by no means be the end of the story.

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