Paper on Dispute-Management Provisions in M&A Contracts

Through M&A Law Prof, I learned of a paper by John Coates, a professor at Harvard Law School, entitled Managing Disputes Through Contract: Evidence from M&A. It considers dispute-management provisions in a sample of 120 randomly chosen M&A contracts from 2007 and 2008. Here’s the abstract:

An important set of contract terms manages potential disputes. In a detailed, hand-coded sample of mergers and acquisition (M&A) contracts from 2007 and 2008, dispute management provisions in correlate strongly with target ownership, state of incorporation, and industry, and with the experience of the parties’ law firms. For Delaware, there is good and bad news. Delaware dominates choice for forum, whereas outside of Delaware, publicly held targets’ states of incorporation are no more likely to be designated for forum than any other court. However, Delaware’s dominance is limited to deals for publicly held targets incorporated in Delaware, Delaware courts are chosen only 20% of the time in deals for private targets incorporated in Delaware, and they are never chosen for private targets incorporated elsewhere, or in asset purchases. A forum goes unspecified in deals involving less experienced law firms. Whole contract arbitration is limited to private targets, is absent only in the largest deals, and is more common in cross-border deals. More focused arbitration – covering price-adjustment clauses – is common even in the largest private target bids. Specific performance clauses – prominently featured in recent high-profile M&A litigation – are less common when inexperienced M&A lawyers involved. These findings suggest (a) Delaware courts’ strengths are unique in, but limited to, corporate law, even in the “corporate” context of M&A contracts; (b) the use of arbitration turns as much on the value of appeals, trust in courts, and value-at-risk as litigation costs; and (c) the quality of lawyering varies significantly, even on the most “legal” aspects of an M&A contract.

If I found myself creating document-assembly M&A templates, I’d consult this paper. Sure, you could use automated-transaction-analysis software to analyze dispute-management provisions in any set of contracts, but empirical data plus analysis by an experienced practitioner has the potential to provide additional insight.

Categories M&A

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.