In November 2012, the corporate law guru who is most revered by managers faced off against the corporate law guru who is most feared by managers, at the Conference Board think tank in New York, in a friendly debate that was about to turn hostile. Martin Lipton has defended CEOs against all comers since forming Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz 50 years ago. Lucian Bebchuk, a Harvard Law School professor, champions the “activist” hedge funds that assail CEOs in an intensifying struggle for control of America’s boardrooms.

Speaking with a thick Israeli accent (“Vock-tell is wrong”), Bebchuk argued that shareholder activism helps companies in both the short and long term. Lipton, whose voice carries a trace of Jersey City (“The bawd is right”), countered that activism is awful for companies and the economy over the long run. “Nor do I accept [your] so-called statistics,” said Lipton fatefully. “Your statistics are all based on things like ‘What was the price of the stock two days later?’”

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