For decades, corporate law played a pivotal role in regulating corporations across the United States. Consequently, Delaware, the leading state of incorporation, and its courts came to occupy a central and influential position in corporate law and governance. This, however, is no longer the case: The compositional shift in equity markets from retail to institutional ownership has relocated regulatory power over corporations from courts to markets. Corporate law has, as a result, and as illustrated by the declined role of the Delaware courts, lost its pride of place and is now eclipsed by shareholder activism.
What explains the connection between the rise of institutional ownership and the death of corporate law? We answer this question by unpacking the relationship between market dynamics and the role of corporate law. Our analysis uncovers a critical, yet hitherto unnoticed, insight: The more competent shareholders become, the less important corporate law will be. Increases in shareholder competence reduce management agency costs, intensify market actors’ preference for private ordering outside of courts, and, ultimately, drive corporate law into the shadow.