University of Virginia School of Law professor Quinn Curtis’ paper examining whether mutual funds focused on environmental, social and corporate governance goals live up to their label has been named one of the top 10 corporate and securities articles of 2021.

A poll of academics conducted for Corporate Practice Commentator selected Curtis’ paper, “Do ESG Mutual Funds Deliver on Their Promises?,” forthcoming in the Michigan Law Review, and other honorees from more than 400 candidates. The paper is co-authored by law professors Jill E. Fisch of the University of Pennsylvania and Adriana Robertson of the University of Toronto.

Both the Department of Labor and the Securities and Exchange Commission have signaled that ESG funds may need more oversight, but the empirical research conducted by Curtis and his co-authors indicates that special regulation is not needed and affirms the funds do offer shareholders an option that supports ESG principles. The authors also conclude that the funds don’t increase costs or reduce returns for shareholders.

“It would help investors to have more transparency across the board about mutual fund investment strategies, ESG or not, but we didn’t find evidence that ESG funds were particularly problematic,” Curtis said.

Using proprietary data provided by four leading ESG ratings firms, Curtis and his co-authors were able to show that ESG funds generally invested in better ESG stocks and voted to support ESG proposals.

Curtis’ research was the focus of an episode of “Common Law,” a Law School-sponsored podcast. In looking at the data from the ESG fund ratings services, he discusses why characterizing what makes a company high-ESG can be difficult.

“Tesla makes electric cars. That, we would think on the E scale, is great, right?” he says. “But the cars themselves use lithium batteries and lithium mining is an extractive industry that’s pretty messy. They’re built in factories that themselves have carbon footprints.”

Corporate Practice Commentator is a 30-plus-volume set of journals featuring articles written on all aspects of corporate law. The articles poll began in 1994.

Curtis, who joined the faculty in 2011, has written extensively on the regulation of mutual funds and retirement accounts, including empirical work on 401(k) plans, mutual fund governance and fee litigation. His other research interests include corporate governance and corporate litigation. He is affiliated with the John W. Glynn, Jr. Law & Business Program.

Curtis’ paper “Shareholder Value(s): Index Fund Activism and the New Millennial Corporate Governance,” co-authored with Professor Michal Barzuza and Professor David Webber of the Boston University School of Law, was named one of the top 10 corporate and securities articles of 2020.

In the past, the poll has also recognized Professors George S. Geis, Cathy Hwang, Edmund W. Kitch and Paul G. Mahoney.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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