Interdisciplinary collaborations on the rise

Since the founding of the joint J.D./M.B.A. program 43 years ago, the boundaries between Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School have grown more porous. Evidence of this is visible in the growing number of courses co-taught by HLS and HBS faculty, in the rise of cross-school course registration by HLS and HBS students, and in the proliferation of HLS/HBS co-sponsored symposia, conferences, and other events. Guhan Subramanian J.D./M.B.A. ’98 and Mihir Desai (Harvard M.B.A. [1993] and Ph.D. [1998] in political economy) hold tenured faculty positions at both schools.

It is also evident in the growth at Harvard in law-and-business scholarship, which often involves cross-school faculty collaborations.

One example is the research Subramanian is doing with HBS Professors Bo Becker and Daniel Bergstresser on the subject of “shareholder proxy access,” a hot topic in corporate governance. Proxy access gives shareholders the right to put their own candidates on a company’s proxy statement. The question is, Is that a good idea? Traditional legal scholarship typically employs qualitative analysis to address the issue. Subramanian, Becker and Bergstresser, in contrast, use econometric models to gather evidence about proxy access and its economic impact. Relying on an example from the securities markets, they estimate that on average, proxy access creates approximately $80 billion of wealth among the S&P 500 companies. Their findings have been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, and other mainstream outlets, and are getting notice from shareholder activists who are gearing up for the 2013 proxy season. The research, which will appear in The Journal of Law and Economics and in the Harvard Business Law Review, not only brings important new information to legal and business analysts, but has also yielded methodological improvements in financial analysis—outcomes that advance the study of both law and business.

The connections between HLS and HBS are part of the larger phenomenon of interdisciplinary work all over campus. And interdisciplinary scholarship is likely to grow as holders of dual and joint degrees continue to enter academia. Expect to see more of that at Harvard Law: “There is definitely an increasing presence of faculty members doing interdisciplinary work, and dual degrees are common,” says HLS Dean Martha Minow.