NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Executive Lawyers: Gatekeepers or Strategic Officers?

Adair Morse, Wei Wang, Serena Wu

NBER Working Paper No. 22597
Issued in September 2016
NBER Program(s):CF, LE

Lawyers now serve as executives in 44% of corporations. Although endowed with gatekeeping responsibilities, executive lawyers face increasing pressure to use time on strategic efforts. In a lawyer fixed effects model, we quantify that lawyers are half as important as CEOs in explaining variances in compliance, monitoring, and business development. In a difference-in-differences model, we find that hiring lawyers into executive positions associates with 50% reduction in compliance breaches and 32% reduction in monitoring breaches. We then ask whether firms’ optimal contracting of lawyers into strategic activities implies less lawyer gatekeeping effort. Using a design comparing executive lawyers hired from law firms to lawyers poached from corporations, we find that lawyers hired with high compensation delta (indicative of the importance of strategic goals in compensation contracts) do less monitoring, preventing 25% fewer breaches than are typically mitigated by having an executive gatekeeper. Reassuringly, lawyers do not compromise compliance.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w22597

Published: Adair Morse & Wei Wang & Serena Wu, 2016. "Executive Lawyers: Gatekeepers or Strategic Officers?," The Journal of Law and Economics, vol 59(4), pages 847-888.

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