Monday, April 20, 2015

U.S. News Rankings: Underperforming and Overperforming Law Schools

As most of you know, this year's U.S. News rankings of law schools are now available. I'm not a big fan of those rankings. I don't think they're a particularly meaningful way of comparing law schools. They sometimes provide a laugh or two, as when a dean disparages the rankings while pointing to his or her school's rise in the rankings as a sign of successful decanal leadership. But no student should be choosing a law school based on those rankings.

However, the rankings are fun to play with from time to time, and here's one example for your amusement.

Most of the top 100 law schools in the rankings are affiliated with universities that are ranked in the U.S. News rankings of national universities. Everything else being equal, one would expect a law school's ranking to be comparable to that of its university, and many are. Yale is the top-ranked law school (an obvious mistake in this Harvard grad's opinion); its university ranking is number 3. But that's not always the case; many of the law school rankings are significantly different from the rankings of their universities.

I computed a comparison score for each of the top 100 law schools by subtracting its ranking  from the ranking of its university on the U.S. News list of national universities. (Some of the top law schools aren't affiliated with a U.S. News "national university," so they don't get to play.) The higher the number in a positive direction, the better the law school did in comparison to its university. The lower the number, the worse the law school did in comparison to its university. (U.S. News only provides national university rankings down to number 201, so I used 201 for any university below that in the list, with a plus in the comparison score to indicate that the difference is actually greater than that.)

These comparison scores might actually have greater validity than the rankings themselves, because they net out some of the factors, such as geographical differences and name recognition, that bias the underlying rankings. A university and its law school share the same name and they're in the same location.

Here are the ten law schools with the highest comparison rankings (those which are outperforming their university the most):

Georgia State 145+
Nevada-Las Vegas 134+
Houston 130
New Mexico 118
Arizona State 103
George Mason 96
Utah 87
Hawaii 86
Arizona 79
West Virginia 74

Here are the ten law schools with the lowest comparison ranking:

Northeastern -45
Syracuse -29
Yeshiva (Cardozo) -27
Penn State -23
Case Western Reserve -21
Wake Forest -20
Pittsburgh -16
Miami -15
Michigan State -9
Notre Dame -6

(The comparison numbers tend more to the positive because there are so many national universities without law schools.)

Here's a full listing of the comparison scores if you want to look up your school.

As I said, the U.S. News rankings don't mean much, so these comparisons probably don't mean much. I will leave it to others to figure out why these particular schools are so different from their universities. In the interest of full disclosure, the comparison score of Nebraska, where I teach, is 43.

April 20, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

ICYMI: Tweets From the Week (April 19, 2015)

April 19, 2015 in Stefan J. Padfield | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, April 18, 2015

When is a fine not a fine?

It was recently announced that the SEC has reached a settlement in its lawsuit against Freddie Mac executives Richard Syron, Patricia Cook, and Donald Bisenius.  The basic allegation in the case was that these executives violated Section 17 of the Securities Act and Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act by dramatically understating Freddie Mac’s exposure to subprime mortgages.  The executives falsely claimed that Freddie Mac’s portfolio included $2 to $6 billion of subprime loans, when the true figure was closer to $141 billion to $244 billion.  Freddie Mac’s exposure to subprime loans ultimately caused it to experience dramatic losses, thus harming investors.

The SEC ran into difficulty because there is no accepted definition of “subprime.”  The SEC alleged that investors understood the term to refer to certain loans issued with a high likelihood of default, such as loans with high loan to value and debt to income ratios.  The executives, however, claimed that “subprime” was understood by investors only to refer to loans that were designated as subprime by their originators.

The case has now settled, and, under the terms of the settlement, the executives will make payments to a Fair Funds account for the benefit of investors, in the amounts of $250K, $50K, and $10K, respectively. 

Unusually, this is not your classic “no admit, no deny” settlement.  Instead, it appears to be straight up “no admit,” because after the settlement was reached, Bisenius said that "The dismissal of the case today under these terms vindicates me completely."

Perhaps even more unusually, the payments are characterized as neither fines nor disgorgements.  Instead, they are described as “donations.”  Meanwhile, the amounts – coincidentally! – were calculated in proportion to the stock and options granted to the defendants during the (alleged) fraud period.

So what gives?

As far as I can tell, the euphemism is because of who’s paying.  The settlement amounts will be paid by insurance (which itself is paid for by Freddie Mac).  D&O insurance tends to exclude coverage for disgorgement and regulatory fines, see Lawrence J. Trautmana & Kara Altenbaumer-Price, D&O Insurance: A Primer, 1 Am. U. Bus. L. Rev. 337 (2011-12); Jon N. Eisenberg, How Much Protection Do Indemnification and D&O Insurance Provide?, and the SEC has taken the position that contracts to indemnify for Securities Act violations are unenforceable as against public policy.  See 17 C.F.R. §229.512. 

But I guess the SEC doesn't feel too strongly about it, because by characterizing the payments as donations rather than fines or disgorgement, the defendants are able to get the benefit of insurance and avoid paying out of pocket.

Though the SEC's fair funds statute does contemplate that donations may be included in a fund, see 15 U.S.C. § 7246(b), the settlement is an outlier, by SEC standards.  According to Urska Velikonja’s article, Public Compensation for Private Harm: Evidence from the SEC's Fair Fund Distributions, 67 Stan. L. Rev. 331 (2015), executives who pay fines and disgorgement to an SEC fair fund typically pay out of pocket – an important feature, if the SEC is to avoid the criticism that fair fund distributions suffer from the same “circularity” problem that plagues private lawsuits. 

Given all of this, one wonders why the SEC even bothered.  If they thought they had a case, they could have just taken it to trial, risks be damned. And if they had doubts about the merits of the case, they should have simply dropped the matter.

One possibility is that the SEC believed its legal case was too weak for trial but that the reimbursement to investors was worth it – after all, circularity criticisms notwithstanding, not all investors are diversified, and some may have suffered losses that they did not make up in gains elsewhere.  But that's not the motivation here, because the SEC will not establish a new fund to compensate investors for the alleged fraud.  Instead, the defendants' donations will be added to an existing fair fund that was set up for the SEC's earlier case against Freddie Mac, brought in 2007, regarding accounting fraud that took place from 1998 through 2002.  Which apparently means that the SEC will not even pretend to distribute the funds to the investors who were harmed by the more recent misconduct. 

(I suspect this is because the SEC believes it lacks authority to establish a fund consisting solely of donations, with no penalties or disgorgements.)

In any event, $310K is a rather paltry sum if investor compensation was the goal; according to the parallel private lawsuit (dismissed on the pleadings, see Ohio Pub. Emples. Ret. Sys. v. Fed. Home Loan Mortg. Corp., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 155375 (N.D. Ohio Oct. 31, 2014)), Freddie Mac’s misrepresentation of its subprime exposure resulted in over $6 billion in losses to shareholders.

So the point is, if paid by insurance, the amounts aren’t large enough to deter, and as it stands, they are facially not even intended to compensate.  Instead, the settlement seems an exercise in face-saving – the SEC believed it had a weak legal case (though possibly a strong moral one) but didn’t want to exit the field with nothing at all.  The whole adventure thus raises the question whether face-saving payments are appropriate for regulators to collect (as well as the question whether much face-saving was actually accomplished).

April 18, 2015 in Ann Lipton | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 17, 2015

UConn Social Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Conference│ Storrs, CT │ April 23-24, 2015

SE2-Logo2

At the end of next week, I will be at the University of Connecticut School of Business and the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center for their Social Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Conference.

Further information about the conference is available here, a portion of which is reproduced below:

In October 2014, Connecticut joined a growing number of states that empower for-profit corporations to expand their core missions to expressly include human rights, environmental sustainability, and other social objectives. As a new legal class of businesses, these benefit corporations join a growing range of social entrepreneurship and enterprise models that have the potential to have positive social impacts on communities in Connecticut and around the world. Designed to evaluate and enhance this potential, SE2 will feature a critical examination of the various aspects of social entrepreneurship, as well as practical guidance on the challenges and opportunities presented by the newly adopted Connecticut Benefit Corporation Act and other forms of social enterprise.

Presenters at the academic symposium on April 23 are:

  • Mystica Alexander, Bentley University
  • Norman Bishara, University of Michigan
  • Kate Cooney, Yale University
  • Lucien Dhooge, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Gwendolyn Gordon, University of Pennsylvania
  • Gil Lan, Ryerson University
  • Diana Leyden, University of Connecticut
  • Haskell Murray, Belmont University
  • Inara Scott, Oregon State University

Presenters at the practitioner conference on April 24 are:

  • Gregg Haddad, State Representative, Connecticut General Assembly (D-Mansfield)
  • Spencer Curry & Kieran Foran, FRESH Farm Aquaponics
  • Sophie Faris, Community Development, B-Lab
  • James W. McLaughlin, Associate, Murtha Cullina LLP
  • Michelle Cote, Managing Director, Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation
  • Mike Brady, CEO, Greyston Bakery
  • Jeff Brown, Executive Vice President, Newman’s Own Foundation
  • Justin Nash, President, Veterans Construction Services, and Founder, Til Duty is Done
  • Vishal Patel, CEO & Founder, Happy Life Coffee
  • Anselm Doering, President & CEO, EcoLogic Solutions
  • Dafna Alsheh, Production Operations Director, Ice Stone
  • Tamara Brown, Director of Sustainable Development and Community Engagement, Praxair

April 17, 2015 in Business Associations, Business School, Conferences, Corporate Governance, CSR, Entrepreneurship, Ethics, Haskell Murray, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

Delaware Rapid Arbitration Act

On April 3, Delaware Governor Jack Markell signed the Delaware Rapid Arbitration Act (DRAA) into law. The DRAA becomes effective on May 4, 2015. The DRAA is a different take on the attempted Chancery Arbitration that the Third Circuit ruled unconstitutional in 2013.

Under the DRAA, all parties in the dispute must agree to the arbitration. The DRAA does not use sitting judges to arbitrate, as the Chancery Arbitration attempted to do, but the Delaware Court of Chancery will be “facilitating” the process under the DRAA. Among other things, the Delaware Court of Chancery can assist in appointing an arbitrator for the process, enter final judgments, and determine an arbitrator’s fees. The Delaware Supreme Court can hear appeals of awards. 

The DRAA appears to be encouraging a relatively fast and cost effective dispute resolution process. The process is limited to 180 days – final award to be issued within 120 days of the arbitrator’s appointment and allowable extensions up to an additional 60 days. 

Given the privacy and the apparent time and cost-savings, this may be an attractive alternative dispute resolution process for various businesses. 

For more analysis see:

David J. Berger (Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati)

Brian Quinn (Boston College)

April 17, 2015 in Business Associations, Delaware, Haskell Murray | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The EU's Conflict over Conflict Minerals

Regular readers know that I have blogged repeatedly about my opposition to the US Dodd-Frank conflict minerals rule, which aims to stop the flow of funds to rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Briefly, the US law does not prohibit the use of conflict minerals, but instead requires certain companies to obtain an independent private sector third-party audit of reports of the facilities used to process the conflict minerals; conduct a reasonable country of origin inquiry; and describe the steps the company used to mitigate the risk, in order to improve its due diligence process. The business world and SEC are awaiting a First Amendment ruling from the DC Circuit Court of Appeals on the “name and shame” portion of the law, which requires companies to indicate whether their products are DRC Conflict Free.” I have argued that it is a well-intentioned but likely ineffective corporate governance disclosure that depends on consumers to pressure corporations to change their behavior.

The proposed EU regulation establishes a voluntary process through which importers of certain minerals into the EU self-certify that they do not contribute to financing in “conflict-affected” or “high risk areas.” Unlike Dodd-Frank, it is not limited to Congo. Taking note of various stakeholder consultations and the US Dodd-Frank law, the EU had originally limited the scope to importers, and chose a voluntary mechanism to avoid any regional boycotts that hurt locals and did not stop armed conflict. Those importers who choose to certify would have to conduct due diligence in accordance with the OECD Guidance, and report their findings to the EU. The EU would then publish a list of “responsible smelters and refiners,” so that the public will hold importers and smelters accountable for conducting appropriate due diligence. The regulation also offers incentives, such as assistance with procurement contracts.

One of the problems with researching and writing on hot topics is that things change quickly. Two days after I submitted my most recent article to law reviews in March criticizing the use of disclosure to mitigate human rights impacts, the EU announced that it was considering a mandatory certification program for conflict minerals. That meant I had to change a whole section of my article. (I’ll blog on that article another time, but it will be out in the Winter issue of the Columbia Human Rights Law Review). Then just yesterday, in a reversal, the European Parliament’s International Trade Committee announced that it would stick with the original voluntary plan after all.The European Parliament votes on the proposal in May.

Reaction from the NGO community was swift. Global Witness explained: 

Today the European Parliament’s Committee on International Trade (INTA) wasted a ground-breaking opportunity to tackle the deadly trade in conflict minerals. […] Under this proposal, responsible sourcing by importers of tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold would be entirely optional. The Commission’s proposed voluntary self-certification scheme would be open to approximately 300-400 companies—just 0.05% of companies using and trading these minerals in the EU, and would have virtually no impact on companies’ sourcing behaviour. The law must be strengthened to make responsible sourcing a legal requirement for all companies that place these minerals on the European market–in any form. This would put the European Union at the forefront of global efforts to create more transparent, responsible and sustainable business practices. It would also better align Europe with existing international standards on responsible sourcing, and complement mandatory requirements in the US and in twelve African countries.

I’m all for due diligence in the supply chain and for forcing companies to minimize their human rights impacts. Corporations should do more than respect human rights-- they must pay when they cause harm. I plan to spend part of my summer researching and writing in Latin America about stronger human rights protections for indigenous peoples and the deleterious actions of some multinationals.

But a mandatory certification scheme on due diligence is not the answer because it won’t solve deep, intractable problems that require much more widespread reform. To be clear, I don't think the EU has the right solution either. Reasonable people can disagree, but perhaps the members of the EU Parliament should look to Dodd-Frank. SEC Chair Mary Jo White disclosed last month that the agency had spent 2.75 million dollars, including legal fees, and 17,000 hours writing and implementing the conflict minerals rule. A number of scholars and activists have argued that the law has in fact harmed the Congolese it meant to help and news reports have attempted to dispel some of the myths that led to the passage of the law.

So let’s see what happens in May when the EU looks at conflict minerals again. Let’s see what happens in June when the second wave of Dodd-Frank conflict minerals filings come in. As I indicated in my last blog post about Dodd-Frank referenced above, the first set of filings was particularly unhelpful. And let’s see what happens in December when parents start the holiday shopping—how many of them will check on the disclosures before buying electronics and toys for the members of their family? Most important, let's see if someone can actually tie the money and time spent on conflict minerals disclosure directly to lower rates of rape, child slavery, kidnapping, and forced labor-- the behaviors these laws intend to stop. 

April 16, 2015 in Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, International Business, Law Reviews, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Makin' Tennessee For-Profit Benefit Corporation Sausage

"Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made." -- John Godfrey Saxe

This is a brief legislative update on the progress of Tennessee's current bills, introduced in the house (HB0767--amendment not yet filed) and senate (SB0972), to institute the benefit corporation as a distinct for-profit business corporation in the State of Tennessee.  The links provided are to the current versions of the bill, which reflect a significant amendment, as described below.

As you may know from my prior posts (including here and here), I am a benefit corporation skeptic.  Please read those posts for details.  And within the Tennessee Bar Association (TBA) Business Law Section Executive Council and Business Entity Study Committee (our state bar committee that vets changes to Tennessee business associations and other business laws), I am not alone.  We have rejected bills of this kind several times over the past few years when the matter has been put to us for review by the TBA.  This year was no different.  We opposed the benefit corporation bills that were introduced in Tennessee this year, too.

What was different this time around, was that the folks at B Lab had gotten the attention of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Tennessee, who appear(ed) to have some misunderstandings about the current state of Tennessee corporate governance law and came to push for adoption of the bill in committee in both houses of the legislature. Given that we were late to the party and that the members of our TBA Council and Committee are very busy lawyers, our efforts to re-educate members of the relevant committees were not as effective as we would have liked.  But we ultimately were afforded two weeks to attempt to write an amended bill--one that better reflected Tennessee law and norms.

Now, any of you who have worked on a project like this before know that two weeks is not enough time to do a professionally responsible job in spotting and tracking down all of the issues that the introduction of a new business form routinely and naturally raises.  Heck.  We couldn't even get all the constituents around the table that we would want around the table to debate and review the legislation in two weeks!  [It seems hardest to find a plaintiff's bar lawyer to sit in with us, but we found a great one for our recent work on the Tennessee Business Corporation Act (TBCA).]  Our requests for more time to work on the proposed legislation were, however, rejected.

So, we set out to make a better sausage . . . .

Continue reading

April 15, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Haskell Murray, Joan Heminway, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Best Interest Contracts"--Proposed DOL Regulation of Retirement Brokers

In an earlier BLPB post, I wrote about President Obama's call for greater regulation of retirement investment brokers.  The proposed reforms focused on elevating the current standard that brokers' investment advice must be "suitable" to something closer to an enforceable fiduciary duty to counter financial incentives for some brokers to channel investors into higher-fee investment options.  

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Labor released new proposed rules (Proposed Rule), which would classify brokers as "fiduciaries" under ERISA but allow them to continue to receive brokerage commissions and fees (a practice that would otherwise violate ERISA conflict-of-interest rules) so long as the brokers and customers enter into a  "Best Interest Contract".

The exemption proposed in this notice (“the Best Interest Contract Exemption”) was developed to promote the provision of investment advice that is in the best interest of retail investors such as plan participants and beneficiaries, IRA owners, and small plans.  Proposed Rule at 4.

In 1975, the DOL issued rules defining investment advice for purposes of triggering fiduciary status under ERISA and the attended duties and conflict-of-interest prohibitions.  That 1975 definition is still in use, is narrow, and excludes much of paid-for investment advice, particularly that provided in the self-directed retirement space (i.e., 401(k) and IRA).  

The narrowness of the 1975 regulation allows advisers, brokers, consultants and valuation firms to play a central role in shaping plan investments, without ensuring the accountability ... [and] allows many advisers to avoid fiduciary status.... As a consequence, under ERISA and the Code, these advisers can steer customers to investments based on their own self-interest, give imprudent advice, and engage in transactions that would otherwise be prohibited by ERISA and the Code. Proposed Rule at 12.

The proposed rule expands the definition of investment advise (see Proposed Rule at 13) making brokers "fiduciaries" under ERISA, but then creates an exemption (which allows  for the continued collection of commissions and fees), requiring: 

the adviser and financial institution to contractually acknowledge fiduciary status, commit to adhere to basic standards of impartial conduct, warrant that they have adopted policies and procedures reasonably designed to mitigate any harmful impact of conflicts of interest, and disclose basic information on their conflicts of interest and on the cost of their advice. The adviser and firm must commit to fundamental obligations of fair dealing and fiduciary conduct – to give advice that is in the customer’s best interest; avoid misleading statements; receive no more than reasonable compensation; and comply with applicable federal and state laws governing advice. Proposed Rule at 6.

Under the proposed exemption, all participating financial institutions must provide notice to the U.S. DOL of their participation, as well as collect and report certain data. 

As justification for the proposed rules, the DOL asserted that:

In the absence of fiduciary status, the providers of investment advice are neither subject to ERISA’s fundamental fiduciary standards, nor accountable for imprudent, disloyal, or tainted advice under ERISA or the Code, no matter how egregious the misconduct or how substantial the losses. Retirement investors typically are not financial experts and consequently must rely on professional advice to make critical investment decisions. In the years since then, the significance of financial advice has become still greater with increased reliance on participant directed plans and IRAs for the provision of retirement benefits. Proposed Rule at 11.

Critics claim that these rules will limit small investors' access to sophisticated financial advice for investments, while proponents consider this a powerful tool against the eroding effects of high fees on long-term retirement savings.  

I think this is a symbolically important change.  It modernizes the regulatory framework to more closely reflect why many people invest in the stock market (as a tax incentivized alternative to pension plans), the purpose that these investments serves (long-term retirement savings) and the information asymmetries (born of financial illiteracy) confronting the average investor, as well as the changes to the financial services industry.  The enforcement mechanism is placed on the individual investor, who will have limited monitoring resources and and other disincentives to fiercely serve that role, which is why my initial reaction that this is a good "symbolic" measure that has potential to fulfill a more meaningful role.

-Anne Tucker

April 15, 2015 in Anne Tucker, Corporations, Financial Markets, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Green Energy is Energy

Energy is big business, and there is evidence that renewables are starting to play along with the more traditional big-time players.  The Economist recently published the article, Renewable Energy: Not a Toy, which reports that renewable energy installations are continuing to increase even as subsidies fall because prices are continuing to drop. The energy sector is likely to continue to diversify, in part because diversification is good for resilience and for financial management.  The Economist article notes:

Nearly half of last year’s investment was in developing countries, notably China, whose energy concerns have more to do with the near term than with future global warming. It worries about energy security, and it wants to clean up its cities’ air, made filthy partly by coal-burning power plants.

Sometimes lost in the discussion about cleaner energy is that climate concerns are not the only reasons to consider other resources. Cleaner air, more stable prices, and locally sourced energy can all be good reasons to consider renewable energy sources along side more traditional resources. Prices, are the big one, of course, but when it's close, other considerations can more easily be part of the analysis.  It appears we're approaching that point, which means more opportunity, along with more upheaval. That's why some of us like the energy business so much. If nothing else, it's usually interesting,  

April 14, 2015 in Current Affairs, Financial Markets, International Business, Joshua P. Fershee, Law and Economics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, April 13, 2015

Academic or Advocate? Evaluating Faculty Candidates

I may be hopelessly old-fashioned, but I believe academic scholarship demands evenhanded objectivity. An academic should present all sides of an issue fairly, weigh those arguments, and reach a conclusion that, to the extent humanly possible, is not merely a reflection of the academic’s predispositions. One must openly acknowledge the weaknesses of one’s conclusions as well as the strengths of the arguments against one’s conclusions.

An advocate also needs to deal with the opponents’ arguments, but the advocate begins with a pre-determined conclusion. In writing a brief, a lawyer is trying to convince the court to rule in favor of his or her client, not to weigh both sides evenhandedly and objectively.

Many faculty candidates are practicing lawyers or work for organizations that have a particular policy position. They’re advocates. In my experience, some candidates find it difficult to make the transition from advocacy to academic analysis, and their job talks (and their early scholarship) often reflect that.

Here’s a question to test that: “Make the strongest argument you can against your position.”

If a candidate can do that in a way that would satisfy those on the other side of the issue, that candidate is probably ready for the academic world. If the candidate can’t effectively do that, there are two possibilities. First, there may be no strong argument on the other side. But, if that’s the case, the candidate is dealing with a trivial issue that really isn’t worth talking about. If the issue is a debatable one and the candidate can't make a strong argument for the other side, then the candidate needs to work on academic analysis. And we on the hiring side have to think about whether the candidate, over the long run, is capable of doing that. I have met many people, including a few academics, who simply aren’t capable of seeing another side of issues they care about.

April 13, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (7)

Sunday, April 12, 2015

ICYMI: Tweets From the Week (April 12, 2015)

April 12, 2015 in Stefan J. Padfield | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Disclosure Strategies After Dura

In Dura Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. Broudo, 544 US 336 (2005), the Supreme Court held that to bring a fraud-on-the-market action under Section 10(b), shareholders would have to plead and prove the element of “loss causation,” namely, that disclosure of the fraud caused the company's stock price to drop, resulting in plaintiffs’ losses.

Since Dura was decided, there has been concern that companies might try to avoid liability by strategically disclosing information in a manner that would make it more difficult for plaintiffs to establish stock price effects.

In their new paper, Disclosure Strategies and Shareholder Litigation Risk, Michael Furchtgott and Frank Partnoy take significant steps toward establishing that these fears are well-grounded.

[More under the cut]

Continue reading

April 11, 2015 in Ann Lipton | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, April 10, 2015

Penn State Law Review Announces Spring Exclusive Submission Process

From the Faculty Lounge:

-------

This just in:

The Penn State Law Review is conducting an exclusive spring-cycle article review. Any article submitted to this exclusive review between now and April 19th will be evaluated by April 27th. If you have submitted an article to the Penn State Law Review previously, you must resubmit your article for consideration in the exclusive article review.

By submitting your article, you agree to accept an offer for publication, should one be extended. Any articles accepted will be published in Volume 120: Issue 1 or Issue 2 of this review—both of which are slated for publication in summer of 2015.

If you have an article that you would like to submit, please e-mail an attached copy of the article, along with your cv and cover letter, to esg5028@law.psu.edu . Please include “Exclusive Spring 2015 Article Review” in the subject line.

April 10, 2015 in Haskell Murray, Law Reviews, Law School | Permalink | Comments (0)

Conducting Empirical Legal Scholarship Workshop 2015

The following comes to us from Lee Epstein, Ethan A.H. Shepley Distinguished University Professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

The 14th annual workshop on Conducting Empirical Legal Scholarship, co-taught by Lee Epstein and Andrew D. Martin, will run from June 15-June 17 at Washington University in St. Louis. The workshop is for law school faculty, lawyers, political science faculty, and graduate students interested in learning about empirical research and how to evaluate empirical work. It provides the formal training necessary to design, conduct, and assess empirical studies, and to use statistical software (Stata) to analyze and manage data.

Participants need no background or knowledge of statistics to enroll in the workshop. Registration is here. For more information, please contact Lee Epstein.

I attended this workshop a few years ago, and thought it was excellent.

April 10, 2015 in Stefan J. Padfield | Permalink | Comments (0)

Legal Studies Professor Positions in Business Schools

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Would the world be a better place if law students were shareholders?

It’s that time of year again where I have my business associations students pretend to be shareholders and draft proposals. I blogged about this topic last semester here. Most of this semester’s proposals related to environmental, social and governance factors. In the real world, a record 433 ESG proposals have been filed this year, and the breakdown as of mid-February was as follows according to As You Sow:

Environment/Climate Change- 27%

Political Activity- 26%

Human Rights/Labor-15%

Sustainability-12%

Diversity-9%

Animals-2%

Summaries of some of the student proposals are below (my apologies if my truncated descriptions make their proposals less clear): 

1) Netflix-follow the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the core standards of the International Labour Organization

2) Luxottica- separate Chair and CEO

3) DineEquity- issue quarterly reports on efforts to combat childhood obesity and the links to financial risks to the company

4) Starbucks- provide additional disclosure of risks related to declines in consumer spending and decreases in wages

5) Chipotle- issue executive compensation/pay disparity report

6) Citrix Systems-add board diversity

7) Dunkin Donuts- eliminate the use of Styrofoam cups

8) Campbell Soup- issue sustainability report

9) Shake Shack- issue sustainability report

10) Starbucks- separate Chair and CEO

11) Hyatt Hotels- institute a tobacco-free workplace

12) Burger King- eliminate GMO in food

13) McDonalds- provide more transparency on menu changes

14) Google-disclose more on political expenditures

15) WWE- institute funding cap

One proposal that generated some discussion in class today related to a consumer products company. As I skimmed the first two lines of the proposal to end animal testing last night, I realized that one of my friends was in-house counsel at the company. I immediately reached out to her telling her that my students noted that the company used to be ”cruelty-free,” but now tested on animals in China.  She responded that the Chinese government required animal testing on these products, and thus they were complying with applicable regulations. My students, however, believed that the company should, like their competitors, work with the Chinese government to change the law or should pull out of China.  Are my students naïve? Do companies actually have the kind of leverage to cause the Chinese government to change their laws? Or would companies fail their shareholders by pulling out of a market with a billion potential customers? This led to a robust debate, which unfortunately we could not finish.

I look forward to Tuesday’s class when we will continue these discussions and I will show them the sobering statistics of how often these proposals tend to fail. Hopefully we can also touch on the Third Circuit decision, which may be out on the Wal-Mart/Trinity Church shareholder proposal issue.These are certainly exciting times to be teaching about business associations and corporate governance.

April 9, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Law School, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Media Coverage of Business Combinations

For thirty years, I have had a pet peeve about the media's routine reporting on mergers and acquisitions.  I have kept this to myself, for the most part, other than scattered comments to law practice colleagues and law students over the years.  Today, I go public with this veritable thorn in my side.

From many press reports (which commonly characterize business combinations as mergers), you would think that every business combination is structured as a merger.  I know I am being picky here (since there are both legal and non-legal common parlance definitions of the verb "merge").  But a merger, to a business lawyer, is a particular form of business combination, to be distinguished from a stock purchase, asset purchase, consolidation, or statutory share exchange transaction.

The distinction is meaningful to business lawyers for whom the implications of deal type are well known.  However, imho, it also can be meaningful to others with an interest in the transaction, assuming the implications of the deal structure are understood by the journalist and conveyed accurately to readers.  For instance, the existence (or lack) of shareholder approval requirements and appraisal rights, the need for contractual consents, permit or license transfers or applications, or regulatory approvals, the tax treatment, etc. may differ based on the transaction structure.

Continue reading

April 8, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Corporations, Joan Heminway, M&A, Securities Regulation, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (1)

Remote Tippees and *Civil* Insider Trading Liability

In December, 2014 the Second Circuit in US v. Newman addressed liability of remote tippees.  In Newman, a lawyer told a friend who told a roommate information regarding the sale of SPSS Inc. to IBM that found its way into later trades by a cohort of analysts at hedge funds and investment firms. (Op. at 5-7).  The Second Circuit in  Newman  vacated insider trading convictions and narrowed the standard for "improper benefit", reconsideration of which was denied last week, and thus stands pending review by the U.S. Supreme Court.  To qualify as an improper benefit under Newman, there must be proof of a meaningfully close relationship, where the "the personal benefit received in exchange for confidential information must be of some consequence." (Op. at 22).  Newman also made clear that liability standards are the same whether the tippee's liability arises under the classical or the misappropriate theories. (Op. at 11).

Judge Jed S. Rakoff, of Federal District Court in Manhattan, issued an order denying a motion to dismiss the SEC's civil charges against Daryl Payton and Benjamin Durrant III, defendants in Newman who received their information from the roommate of the friend of the lawyer.  This is the first case to examine the impact of the Newman opinion in the civil context.  Judge Rakoff wrote:

Significantly while a person is guilty of criminal insider trading only if that person committed the offense “willfully,” i.e., knowingly and purposely, a person may be civilly liable if that person committed the offense recklessly, that is, in heedless disregard of the probable consequences.  (Op. at 2)

 Judge Rakoff concluded that the SEC's "Amended Complaint more than sufficiently alleges that defendants knew or recklessly disregarded that Martin received a personal benefit in disclosing information to Conradt, and that Martin in doing so breached a duty of trust and confidence to the owner of the information. (Op. at 16).

Peter J. Henning, a professor at Wayne State University Law School, writes in his article in the DealB%k that:

Judge Rakoff’s analysis provides at least some guidance on how to assess the new landscape under the Newman opinion. Courts tend to apply securities law decisions interchangeably in criminal and civil cases, so the Justice Department can cite his opinion as a favorable precedent in other cases involving tippees. 

This and other insider trading enforcement actions by the SEC can be tracked here.

-Anne Tucker

April 8, 2015 in Anne Tucker, Corporate Governance, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Time to Grow Up: the Business of College Sports, Men's Basketball Edition

So, Duke is the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball champion. As a Michigan State basketball fan, this was at least mildly gratifying because the Spartans final losses the past two seasons have been to the eventual champion. (MSU's final two losses this season: Wisconsin and Duke.) Hardly the same as winning the whole thing, but after a loss, one takes what one can get. 

This semester I am teaching Sports Law for the first time, and it has been an interesting and rewarding experience. As our recent guest, Marc Edelman, recently noted, there is a lot going on right now in college sports (there probably always is), with questions about paying NCAA players and players' rights to unionize, among other things, leading the way.  

I am a big fan of college sports, and I generally prefer college sports to professional sports. I don't, however, have any illusion that big-time college sports are, in any real sense, pure or amateur. (For that matter, I don't know what "pure" means, but I hear complaints that colleges sports are "no longer pure," so it appears there is some benchmark somewhere.)  College sports are a modified form of professional sports or, as the term I used to hear from time to time in other contexts, semi-pro sports.

What College Sports Are

College sports, in the simplest sense, are highly talented young people competing on behalf of educational institutions in exchange for the opportunity to pursue a mostly funded college education, if they so choose and can make it fit in with their athletic obligations.  The athletes are compensated for their efforts with opportunities that are varied and wide ranging, depending on the athlete and the institution for which they compete.  

Obviously, the experience for the high-profile college athlete -- generally football and men's and women's basketball -- is different from that of the less-watched sports, such as gymnastics, track, and golf.  But in all instances, the athletes represent their institution on and off the field, and they all have significant obligations that come along with their participation on their team. (Not all athletes have full or even partial scholarships, which can vary the obligations, though often all athletes have similar requirements.)

(To read more, please click below)

Continue reading

April 7, 2015 in Current Affairs, Ethics, Joshua P. Fershee, Law and Economics, Sports | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, April 6, 2015

Understanding the Modern Company │ London │ May 9, 2015

Recently, I received the following conference announcement via e-mail:

-----------

Understanding the Modern Company

Organised by the Department of Law, Queen Mary University of London,

in cooperation with University College London

Saturday 9 May 2015, 09.00 to 17.00

Centre for Commercial Law Studies

Queen Mary University of London

67-69 Lincoln’s Inn Fields

London WC2A 3JB

From their origin in medieval times to their modern incarnation as transnational bodies that traverse nations, the company remains an important, yet highly misunderstood entity. It is perhaps not surprising then that understanding what a company is and to whom it is accountable remains a persistent and enduring debate across the globe.

Today, the company is viewed in a variety, and often contradictory, ways. Some see it as a public body; others view it as a system of private ordering, while still others see it as a hybrid between these two views. Companies have also been characterized as the property of their shareholders, a network, a team, and even akin to a natural person. Yet the precise nature of the company and its role in society remain a modern mystery.

This conference brings together a wealth of scholars from around the world to explore the nature and function of companies. By drawing from different backgrounds and perspectives, the aim of this conference is to develop a normative approach to understanding the modern company.

SPEAKERS

Professor William Bratton, University of Pennsylvania

Professor Christopher Bruner, Washington & Lee University

Professor Karin Buhmann, Roskilde University

Dr Barnali Choudhury, Queen Mary University of London

Professor Janet Dine, Queen Mary University of London

Professor Luca Enriques, University of Oxford

Professor Brandon Garrett, University of Virginia

Professor Martin Gelter, Fordham Law School

Professor Paddy Ireland, University of Bristol

Dr Dionysia Katelouzou, King’s College London

Professor Andrew Keay, University of Leeds

Professor Ian Lee, University of Toronto

Dr Marc Moore, University of Cambridge

Dr Martin Petrin, University College London

Professor Beate Sjåfjell, University of Oslo

Professor Lynn Stout, Cornell University

To register, please visit: www.bit.ly/QM-Modern-Company

April 6, 2015 in Business Associations, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Haskell Murray | Permalink | Comments (0)