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Henry Hansmann & Reinier Kraakman, What is Corporate Law?, in Reinier Kraakman, Paul Davies, Henry Hansmann, Gerard Hertig, Klaus Hopt, Hideki Kanda & Edward Rock, The Anatomy of Corporate Law: A Comparative and Functional Approach ch. 1 (2004).

Abstract: This article is the first 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. As the introductory chapter to the book, this paper introduces the book’s analytic framework, which focuses on the common structure of corporate law across different jurisdictions as a response to fundamentally similar legal and economic problems. It first details the economic importance of the corporate form’s hallmark features: legal personality, limited liability, transferable shares, delegated management, and investor ownership. The major agency problems that attend the corporate form and that, therefore, must be addressed, are identified. The chapter next considers the role of law and contract in structuring corporate affairs, including the function of mandatory and default rules, standard forms, and choice of law, as well the debate about the proper role of corporate law in promoting overall social welfare. While almost all legal systems retain the core features of the corporate form, individual jurisdictions have made distinct choices regarding many other aspects of their corporate laws. The forces shaping the development of corporate law, including evolving patterns of share ownership, are examined.