Minnesota Law

Spring 2022

The Bridge Builder

Professor Claire Hill finds connections between different disciplines and between theory and real-world practice.

Illustration: Robert Ball

Claire Hill, who joined the Law School in 2006, has distinguished herself as a professor, author, and researcher, but what may best describe her is an attribute not listed on her resume. She is a builder of bridges, not only between law and other disciplines such as psychology, sociology, philosophy, anthropology, and economics, but also between academic theory and real-world practice. 

“What interests me is what makes people tick—what we have laws about, and why those laws should work,” says Hill, James L. Krusemark Chair in Law.

Hill served as an associate reporter on the American Law Institute’s Principles of Compliance and Enforcement for Organizations, which received final approval last May. She had primary responsibility for the chapter on compliance risk management. Compliance has become a “very hot topic” in recent years, she says. Traditionally, compliance was within the legal ambit, whereas risk management was more concerned with financial risk. But as our world has gotten riskier, at least according to some, it has become clear that the two should not be dealt with in isolation.

“Compliance risk needs to be managed as part of a company’s overall risk management,” Hill explains, hence the need for ALI principles, which are expected to be influential and useful to companies, regulators, and lawyers, among others.

“[Professor Hill] challenges prevailing ideas in the law and economics fields we both work in. She always has these sorts of unique, different twists in the way she thinks.”
Colleague and frequent co-author Professor Brett McDonnell

“The ALI is a prominent organization, and these principles will likely be taken very seriously,” says Professor Brett McDonnell, a colleague and frequent co-author who lauds Hill’s exploration of rationality and behavioral psychology. “She challenges prevailing ideas in the law and economics fields we both work in,” he says. While economists may attribute certain behaviors to bias or dumb mistakes, for example, that is not her way. “She always has these sorts of unique, different twists in the way she thinks,” he says, noting that she is also engaging, easy to talk with, a magnet for intellectual discourse among a wide circle of friends and colleagues, and “a great cook.”

Toward a Better Bank Culture

Co-author with Professor Richard Painter of Better Bankers, Better Banks (University of Chicago Press, 2015), Hill has applied her fascination with how people think to banking culture here and abroad. She taught for a semester at University College Dublin’s Sutherland School of Law and is currently a non-resident visiting professor there. She has worked with U.S. and Irish regulators on issues relating to bank culture, with psychological literature on individual characteristics and cognition as well as group dynamics informing her approach. To change behavior, she argues, the complex determinants of motivation and mindset must be understood.

This perspective applies to mergers and acquisitions as well. Hill co-authored a leading textbook titled Mergers and Acquisitions: Law, Theory and Practice (West Academic, 2d edition, 2019) with Brian J.M. Quinn and Steven Davidoff Solomon. Learning how to be a transactional lawyer requires more than just studying statutes and cases, she points out. Theory can be marshaled to help students make analogies between experiences in their own lives and those in the world of big business. By understanding and empathizing with the concerns of the parties to a transaction, students will become better at figuring out what contractual mechanisms exist to address them.

Hill is, not surprisingly, a prolific organizer of conferences. In February 2020, she co-hosted “Regulating Bank Culture,” a conference at University College Dublin that assembled an international array of regulators and bank CEOs as well as legal and other academics, with a few cognitive scientists in the mix. As well as more traditional conferences on tax shelters, corporate governance, finance, and contract theory, she is also known for organizing legal conferences with an interdisciplinary bent, such as “Philosophical, Psychological, Economic, and Biological Perspectives on Legal Scholarship,” “Self and Other: Cognitive Perspectives on Trust, Empathy, and the Self,” “Meeting of the Minds: Right Meets Left,” and “Ferguson: A Case Study in Persuasion.”

Future conferences will focus on such topics as individualism versus collectivism and interdisciplinary perspectives on stakeholder interests in corporate governance, among others. Clearly, her efforts to bring people with myriad interests together to help them understand and bridge their differences show no signs of abating, much to the benefit of all involved.

Cathy Madison is a Twin Cities-based freelance writer