Due diligence on current and prospective board directors should extend not only to the legal liability exposure but also to the possibility of losing valuable opportunities for board membership at other firms,” said Jason Schloetzer, assistant professor of accounting at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and author of The Conference Board Report. “In the current litigation environment, it is particularly important for the board to demonstrate to shareholders and the judicial system that any failure to prevent or discover corporate misconduct took place in spite of the rigorous performance by the board of its oversight duties, including the establishment of a state-of-the-art compliance program.”

The Conference Board Report, released November 4, 2010, analyzed the changes in directorships held by outside board members of 113 public companies involved in shareholder class-action lawsuits that alleged misrepresentation of information to investors. The study, encompassing the period of 1996 to 2005, tracked directorship changes for three years after the start of litigation and used data from proxy statements to identify director turnover.

Within three years of litigation, 83.2% of outside directors remained on the board of the public company involved in the lawsuit, the study found. Related research showed that outside directors in firms involved in litigation did not appear to turn over any more frequently than the average among all outside directors. However, outside directors whose companies were involved in litigation experienced reduced opportunities to serve on other companies’ boards. The average number of board seats held by these individuals at other companies dropped from 0.95 in the year prior to the litigation to 0.47 three years after the suit was filed.