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Empirical Law and Finance

Course Description

Goal: Empirical tools have been increasingly used in litigation, regulation, and policymaking in corporate law, corporate governance, and securities regulation and litigation. This course will aim to expose students to, and contribute to their ability to engage with, empirical work in these fields. To this end, we will discuss in each session the current or recent empirical paper/s by professors from Harvard or other universities. The author of research studies assigned for any session will participate in the session and engage with student questions and comments regarding their work.

Sessions: The course will meet for six two-hour sessions on Wednesday 5-7pm. In particular, the sessions of the course will take place on September 4, September 11, September 18, October 2, October 16, and October 23. All the sessions will take place in Hauser 102.

Course materials: All the course materials are recent or current studies that use empirical methods to examine issues at the intersection of law and finance. No technical knowledge in empirical methods or financial economics will be required. However, some familiarity with financial, economic or empirical reasoning – or at least an interest in or tolerance for it – will be helpful. Students who have questions regarding whether the course would be suitable for them should feel free to contact the instructor to discuss the subject.

Readings will be made available on the Course Materials page of the course website on Canvas (canvas.harvard.edu), and in the copy center. When readings are available students will be notified by an announcement through the course website.

Primary course requirement: There will be no exam. Instead, students will be required to submit before sessions brief written memos on readings to be presented. Students may submit one or two memos (the nature of which is discussed further below) prior to any given session. Students should follow the instructions indicated in the course package regarding the readings on which memos should focus.

The course requirement is the submission of eight memos: a student might, for example, submit two memos prior to four sessions and no memos for the other sessions or, to take another example, submit two memos prior to each of two sessions and one memo prior to each of the other four sessions. Memos that students elect to submit for the first session will count toward the total of eight memos, but will factor in the course grade only favorably and will in no case operate to lower a student’s grade. The grades for the memos will be determined at the end of the term, based on the entire body of each student’s memos submitted throughout the term. In addition, a student’s grade can also be improved by class participation (discussed further below).

Memos: Each brief memo submitted prior to a session should generally be about one to two pages, 1.5-spaced. Whereas a part of a memo can describe relevant aspects of the paper, most of the memo should focus on making point/s of the kind that can be raised in a seminar discussion of the readings. In particular, in their memos, students may discuss one or more potential weaknesses of the analysis, one or more questions raised by it, additional related issues that could be worth examining, alternative explanations for reported findings, potential policy implications of the analysis, and so forth. Because students taking the course might substantially vary in their background and interests, students should feel free to focus on points and use approaches that best fit them.

Format and submission of memos: Each memo should be submitted as a Microsoft Word file (.doc or .docx) or a rich text file (.rtf). All memos should be submitted by 3:00 PM on the day of the session in which the paper will be discussed. Please submit by logging into Canvas with your Harvard ID and PIN. Once you have logged in and selected the Empirical Law and Finance course, you can submit memos by clicking on Assignments in the left-hand menu. Then select the appropriate session and upload your memo by clicking Submit Assignment in the right-hand menu.

Logistics: Light supper will be served in the middle of each session. Students who have dietary restrictions of any kind should inform the course coordinator, Marina Apostol, at mapostol@law.harvard.edu .

Attendance: Students are expected to attend sessions regularly, and students who have to miss a session for health or other reasons should contact the course coordinator. Because students submitting memos will have thought critically about the readings before each session, sessions are expected to contain a great deal of student discussion. To facilitate such discussion, using laptops, tablets and similar devices will not be permitted during sessions. It is hoped that all students will choose to participate in the discussion, and good class participation would raise a student’s grade.

Additional optional credit: Students who wish to do so may choose to do an empirical research project in conjunction with the course for an additional one or two credits. 

Office Hours: During the period of the course, Professor Cohen’s office hours are Tuesday 3:15-4:45 and Thursday 4-5:30. If you plan to come to the office hours, please email the course coordinator in advance to get a slot.

Administrative issues: Any administrative questions should be emailed to the course coordinator, Marina Apostol, at mapostol@law.harvard.edu. If you have any technical problems with the submission of memos, please contact the student help desk at (617) 496-1316.