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De Fontenay awarded inaugural Karl W. Leo Distinguished Professorship

Elisabeth de Fontenay, a scholar of corporate law and corporate finance whose research focuses on how market actors behave in the less-regulated spaces of the financial markets, joined the Duke Law faculty in 2013

By Andrew Park/ / DUKE LAW NEWS

Professor Elisabeth de Fontenay

Elisabeth de Fontenay, a scholar of corporate law and corporate finance, has been awarded the inaugural Karl W. Leo Distinguished Professorship by Duke University. 

Dean Kerry Abrams nominated de Fontenay on the recommendation of a committee of faculty and emeritus faculty who currently hold, or have held, professorships. To qualify for a distinguished professorship at Duke, a faculty member must have amassed a substantial record of intellectual achievement and be one of the leading thinkers in their field. The award recognizes past achievement and predicts future accomplishment.  

“Elisabeth de Fontenay is a dynamic scholar and teacher who has long been a standout on our corporate law faculty,” Abrams said. “Her application of sophisticated methodologies to emerging issues in the financial markets, especially the private equity industry, have made her one of the most listened-to voices in her field.”

De Fontenay writes on private and public finance and corporate governance, including corporate debt and private equity, sovereign debt, mergers and acquisitions, and the roles of lawyers in these transactions. Her research focuses on how market actors behave in the less-regulated spaces of the financial markets and has examined questions such as the ongoing decline in U.S. public companies and the rise of private capital, private equity firms’ role in the debt markets, and in corporate governance, public versus private financial markets, complexity in financial contracting, and value creation by transactional lawyers and elite law firms. 

Earlier this year, de Fontenay was named an associate reporter on The American Law Institute’s Restatement of the Law, Corporate Governance project. She has testified before Congress and presented to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on current topics in corporate finance, and her article with Adam B. Badawi, “Is there a First-Drafter Advantage in M&A?” 107 California Law Review 1119, was selected as one of the Top 10 Corporate and Securities Articles of 2019 by The Corporate Practice Commentator.

At Duke, she teaches Business Associations, Corporate Finance, and Private Equity & Hedge Funds, and received the law school’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 2014.

The Karl W. Leo Professorship was established in 2014 with a gift from Karl Leo ’83 and his wife, Fay, and matching funds from Stanley and Elizabeth Star Professorship Matching Program. 

Leo, chief legal officer of ABC Supply, the nation’s largest wholesale distributor of roofing supplies, praised de Fontenay’s interest and expertise in corporate and transactional law, which have been the focus of his career.

“I wish Elisabeth had been a professor when I was going to Duke Law School, because her teaching interests turn out to be exactly what I’ve spent most of my legal career focusing on,” Leo said.  “Having seen what she does in her writing and research, I have no doubt students are better prepared for practice as a result of her teaching and exposure to her in the classroom.” 

De Fontenay joined the Duke Law faculty in 2013 after serving as a Climenko Fellow and lecturer on law at Harvard Law School. Before entering academia, she spent six years in practice as a corporate associate at Ropes & Gray, where she specialized in mergers and acquisitions, debt financing, and private investment funds. 

“I am deeply honored to receive a distinguished professorship at Duke University and especially delighted that it bears Karl Leo’s name,” de Fontenay said. “Karl’s career in private practice is a perfect model for our students who are interested in business law and one that I hope many will try to emulate. 

“This professorship is emblematic of the deep connections between Duke Law and corporate practice, which I aim to strengthen. I am immensely grateful to Karl Leo for the opportunity to do so.”

Karl ’83 and Fay Leo