Friday, July 3, 2015

Amendments to Delaware PBC Law (“The Etsy Amendments”)

Among the DGCL amendments this year were a number of amendments to the Delaware Public Benefit Corporation (“PBC”) Law. 

I refer to the Delaware PBC amendments as “The Etsy Amendments” because I believe (without being sure) that a main motivation in passing these amendments was to make it easier for Etsy (among other companies) to become a Delaware PBC. These amendments are effective as of August 1, 2015.

As mentioned in a previous post, Etsy is a certified B corporation and a Delaware C-corporation. According to B Lab’s terms for certified B corporations, Etsy will have to convert to a Delaware PBC by August 1, 2017 or forfeit its certification. This assumes that B Lab will not change its requirements or make an exception for publicly-traded companies.

The amendments to the PBC law are summarized below:

  • Eliminates requirement of "PBC" or "Public Benefit Corporation" in the entity’s formal name. This amendment makes it easier and less costly for existing entities to convert, but the amendment also makes it more difficult for researchers (and the rest of the public) to track the PBCs. In addition to the cost of changing names, Rick Alexander notes in his article below that the previous naming requirement was causing issues when PBCs registered in other states because “[s]ome jurisdictions view the term as referring to nonprofit corporations. Other jurisdictions view the phrase ‘'PBC'’ as insufficient to signal corporate identity.”
  • Reduces amount of shareholders that must approve a conversion from a traditional corporation to a PBC from 90% to 2/3rds of shareholders. This amendment brings Delaware PBC law in line with most of the benefit corporation statutes and gives Etsy a more realistic shot at converting. The requirement in Delaware to convert from a PBC to a traditional corporation was already approval by 2/3rds of shareholders.
  • Provides a “market out” exception to appraisal rights when a corporation becomes a PBC. This amendment brings the Delaware PBC law in line with their general appraisal provision in DGCL 262. This amendment also means that Etsy shareholders would not receive appraisal rights if Etsy converts to a PBC.

Additional posts about the amendments are available below:

July 3, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Delaware, Haskell Murray, Legislation, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Greenfield & Winkler on Recent Supreme Court Cases & Corporate Personhood

Last week Kent Greenfield and Adam Winkler published "The U.S. Supreme Court's Cultivation of Corporate Personhood," in the Atlantic discussing two recent Supreme Court opinions.  Greenfield and Winkler covered the ruling in Horne v. Department of Agriculture  where the Court held  "a federal program requiring raisin growers to set aside a percentage of their crops for government redistribution was an unconstitutional 'taking' under the Fifth Amendment."  The second case addressed was Los Angeles v. Patel where the Court extended Fourth Amendment privacy protections "invalidating a city ordinance (similar to laws around the country) allowing police to search [hotel] guest registries without a warrant."

While they distinguish certain rights, like political speech, that are "more appropriate for people than for corporations," Greenfield and Winkler acknowledge that some constitutional protections should be extended to corporations.  

"A corporate right to be free from government takings, for example, makes sense both as a matter of constitutional law and of economics. Government overreach is problematic whether the raisin grower is a family farm or a business corporation. And corporations left exposed to government expropriation would find investors reluctant to take that risk, undermining the basic social purpose of the corporation, to make money." 

-Anne Tucker

July 1, 2015 in Anne Tucker, Business Associations, Constitutional Law, Corporate Personality | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Toward a Better Understanding of the Business Judgment Rule . . . .

I had the privilege of sitting in on a stimulating paper session on "Private Fiduciary Law" at the Law and Society Association conference in Seattle last month.  The program featured some super work by some great scholars.  My favorite piece from the session, however, is a draft book chapter written by Gordon Smith that he recently posted to SSRN.  Aptly entitled The Modern Business Judgment Rule, the chapter grapples with the current state of the business judgment rule in Delaware by tracing its development and reading the disparate doctrinal tea leaves.  Here is a summary of his "take," as excerpted from his abstract (spoiler alert!):  "The modern business judgment rule is not a one-size-fits-all doctrine, but rather a movable boundary, marking the shifting line between judicial scrutiny and judicial deference."

In the mere 18 pages of text he uses to engage his description, analysis, and conclusion, Gordon gives us all a great gift. His summary is useful, his language is clear, and his analysis and conclusions are incredibly useful, imho.  I am no soothsayer, but I predict that this will be a popular piece of work.

Gordon posted on his paper the other day on The Glom.  He is inviting comments, and I know him to be serious in wanting to receive and incorporate them.  So, have at it!

June 24, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Delaware, Joan Heminway | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, June 19, 2015

Summer Reading: Conscious Capitalism

Conscious

Recently, I finished reading Conscious Capitalism, written by Whole Foods Market co-CEO John Mackey and Babson College professor Raj Sisodia.

The book is much more “popular press” than academic, as should be clear from the splashy subtitle “liberating the heroic spirit of business.” There is a bit of academic influence in the appendix and notes, but it is mostly social business advocacy and story telling. In fact, the authors state that the primary purpose of the book “is to inspire the creation of more conscious businesses: businesses galvanized by higher purposes that serve and align the interests of all their major stakeholders.” (pg. 8). The book is interesting, passionate, and may accomplish its primary purpose.

The authors paint a compelling picture of Whole Foods Market and similar companies like Trader Joe's, The Container Store, Costco, and Southwest Airlines. These companies appear to take a long-term view and consider what is best for all their stakeholders. I would have appreciated, however, more attention to the struggles the companies must have faced in attempting to satisfy all of their stakeholders. After finishing the book, I was left wishing the authors would have spent more time discussing how to make decisions in situations where certain stakeholder interests irreconcilably conflict. 

I may have more to say about this book in future posts, but as someone who has been researching in the social business area for a few years, I continue to be amazed at the proliferation of terms. The authors describe four tenants of their term “conscious capitalism”: (1) Higher Purpose (beyond just generating profits); (2) Stakeholder Integration (“optimizing value creation for all of them”); (3) Conscious Leadership (leaders “motivated primarily by service to the firm’s higher purpose and creating and creating value for all stakeholders.”); (4) Conscious Culture and Management (culture and management centering around traits like “trust, accountability, transparency, integrity, loyalty, egalitarianism, fairness, personal growth, and love and care.)  (pg. 32-35)

The authors try to differentiate their term of “conscious capitalism” from similar terms, as discussed below. While some of the distinctions make sense, I wish that these various social business movements would agree on a common vocabulary and work together more consistently. Unfortunately and ironically, many associated with the social business movements seem especially territorial. Perhaps, the lack of focus on financial returns causes some to seek personal returns in the form of recognition and influence. Quotes in the bullet points below come from pages 38, 291-97 in the book.  

  • Corporate social responsibility. The authors note that CSR is often “grafted onto traditional business model, usually as a separate department or part of public relations," but for Conscious Capitalism “[s]ocial responsibility is at the core of the business.” The authors are not the first to note this difference between CSR and the more recent social business movements, and I think it is a fair distinction, at least in some cases.
  • Natural Capitalism. According to the authors, “Conscious Capitalism included the valuable insights that natural capitalism offers about the environment and transcends them with a more comprehensive view of the entire business and economic system.” The authors seem to suggest that their term is more holistic, not merely focused on the environment, and more focused on human ingenuity than simply preserving the environment.
  • Triple Bottom Line. The authors seem to think that Conscious Capitalism has a more inclusive view of stakeholders than TBL’s “people, profit, planet.” I don’t think the authors make their case for this distinction, failing to note stakeholders that don’t fall in one of TBL’s three buckets. The authors then note that their theory pays more attention to “purpose, leadership, management, and culture.” I also think this is stretching for distinctions; most of the TBL proponents I know recognize the importance of “purpose, leadership, management, and culture.” The authors admit that the TBL movement is "a fellow traveler," but I think TBL and Conscious Capitalism are roughly synonymous. 
  • Shared-Value Capitalism. SVC, championed by Michael Porter and Mark Kramer, focuses on creating economic value for shareholders and all of society. Conscious Capitalism, the authors claim, does not only focus on economic value like SVC, but expands to human values and includes “emotional and spiritual motivators” lacking with SVC. 
  • Creative Capitalism. Bill Gates popularized this term in 2008 at the World Economic Forum, claiming that certain companies can use variable pricing to make products affordable to those at the “base of the pyramid” and still make a profit. The authors claim Creative Capitalism seems like an “add on” similar to CSR, only applies certain companies, and over-focuses on the reputational benefits, rather than changing the core business purpose. 
  • B Corporations. The authors do not seem optimistic about “[certified] B corporations” which they unfortunately use interchangeably with “benefit corporations,” even though the two terms are distinct. The main reason the authors offer for their pessimism toward B corporations is that “B corporations appear to violate the important principle that owners [shareholders] should ultimately control the corporation.” Most legal readers will notice problems with that statement. First, shareholders don’t control corporations, boards of directors do (see, e.g., DGCL 141(a)). Second, to the extent the authors are talking about aspects of corporate governance like the shareholders’ ability to elect the directors and bring derivative suits, those powers remain for shareholders of both certified B corporations and benefit corporations. Giving the authors (neither of whom are legally trained) the benefit of the doubt – perhaps they are talking about the deprioritization of shareholders in the benefit corporation statutes (shareholders are simply one of many stakeholders that the board must consider in its decision making). The authors seem concerned that shareholders, the most vulnerable of the stakeholders (according to them), will be relatively unprotected. This is a fairly common concern, but the Conscious Capitalism model seems to deprioritize shareholders as well, and even in traditional corporate law, the business judgment rule provides significant protection to the board of directors. Delaware law does give shareholders more power in the M&A context, but benefit corporations and corporations committed to Conscious Capitalism that are incorporated in a constituency statute state seem like they would operate similarly, even in the M&A context. In short, the authors do not clearly express a strong grasp of the benefit corporation statutes, and throughout the book the authors actually seem to advocate operating corporations in line with the benefit corporation statutes (considering all stakeholders in decisions). 

While I am a bit critical in some of my comments above, I did appreciate learning more about Whole Foods Market and similar companies. The companies discussed are some of my favorite companies and are certainly making the world better for many of their stakeholders. The book also made a number of claims that spurred additional thinking, for which I am grateful, and which made reading the book worthwhile.   

June 19, 2015 in Books, Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Haskell Murray, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, June 15, 2015

Video of Fordham Law School Panel on "Fee Shifting in Shareholder Litigation"

On June 11, 2015, the Delaware House of Representatives joined the Delaware Senate in passing a bill that would prohibit fee-shifting bylaws by Delaware stock corporations. The bill awaits signature by Delaware Governor Jack Markell. Nonetheless, the panel provides a nice debate, between practicing attorneys, and is available here. The information from the Chancery Daily is below. 

Fordham Law School hosted a panel on Fee Shifting in Shareholder Litigation, featuring three members of the corporate law council of the Delaware State Bar Association, which submitted proposed amendments to the Delaware General Corporation Law that would preclude the adoption of fee-shifting provisions in corporate instruments, on Thursday, March 26, 2015.  A webcast video of the panel is now available online here.
 
Moderated by:

Professor Sean J. Griffith - Fordham Law School

Panelists:

Frederick Alexander - Morris Nichols Arsht & Tunnell
Chris Cernich - Institutional Shareholder Services
Kurt Heyman - Proctor Heyman Enerio
Mark Lebovitch - Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossman
Norman Monhait - Rosenthal Monhait & Goddess
Andrew Pincus - Mayer Brown

June 15, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Delaware, Haskell Murray | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 12, 2015

Oregon Benefit Companies - Online List

Oregon has done those interested in social enterprise a great service by posting a list of their benefit companies online. Oregon also has a nice page about becoming an Oregon benefit company.

By my count, the version updated 6/3/15, lists the following number of entities (for a total of 500 benefit companies):

  • 1 professional benefit corporation 
  • 74 benefit corporations 
  • 425 benefit LLCs

Oregon is one of a very few states that provides for the formation of benefit LLCs, in addition to benefit corporations. As you can see, the benefit LLCs are a good bit more popular than the benefit corporations, likely because most social enterprises are small, closely-held entities that should probably be LLCs instead of corporations.  

LLC law is generally flexible enough to allow a social purpose and Oregon's corporation law expressly allows corporations to be formed for a social purpose, so the main draw seems to be branding/signaling based rather than law based.

These are still relatively small numbers in the grand scheme, but it was a fairly short time ago that there were fewer than 500 total benefit companies nationwide.    

June 12, 2015 in Business Associations, Haskell Murray, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Cuba Conundrum- How Will US Companies Fare Doing Business in a Communist Country?- Part I

Cuba has been in the news a lot lately. I’ve just returned from ten days in Havana so I could see it first hand both as a person who writes on business and human rights and as an attorney who consults occasionally on corporate issues. The first part of the trip was with the International Law Section of the Florida Bar. The second was with a group of art lovers. I plan to write two or three blog posts about the prospects of doing business in Cuba if and when the embargo is lifted. Because I do some consulting work, I want to make clear that these views are my own as an academic and should not be attributed to anyone else.

In this post I will just briefly list some basic facts about Cuba and foreign investment. Next week I will talk a bit more about investment, introduce the Cuban legal system, and talk about some of the business and compliance challenges. That's the subject of my research this summer. The following week I will address human rights in Cuba and how various governments and businesses are addressing those issues, the subject of another article I am working on. 

Some Cuba basics:

  • The island has 11 million people
  • The average monthly wage is $25-45 per month
  • The government is just starting to develop a comprehensive tax code
  • The government is now allowing the sale of private property but the concept of mortgages is undeveloped
  • 86% of people work for the government in some form but the government is now allowing “self employment” and cooperatives (small private businesses such as agricultural farms, salons, and restaurants)
  • 5% of population has access to internet or a cell phone
  • The government is seeking foreign investment- except in health, education, or military sectors
  • Cuba is not an OECD member state. It does sit on the UN Human Rights Council
  • The GDP is 62.7 billion
  • The literacy rate is 99.8% and the country scores high on the human development index
  • The country is in the middle of the pack in terms of the Corruption Perception Index, which measures bribery
  • There are now over 60 bilateral investment treaties in place but they are not all in force
  • Most lawyers and law firms work for the Cuban government

There are now three possible methods of international investment:

1)  International Economic Association Contract (AEI). 49% of the companies in the 2015 registry are AEIs. This is a contract that does not create a new company and there is no sharing of profits. Certain changes of parties require government approval;

2) Full Foreign Capital Company. This is almost never approved but the foreign company has total control of the enterprise; and

3)  Joint venture with the Cuban government. These are 45% of the companies in the 2015 registry. Often the hotels and other EU businesses are JVs with the government.

In the preamble to Cuba’s 2014 Laws on Foreign Investment (LFI), the Cuban National Assembly makes clear that the underlying basis for the law is: “Cuba's need to provide greater incentives to attract foreign capital, new technologies, and know-how to increase domestic production and better position Cuba to export to international markets.”  The new law halves the profits tax from 30 to 15% and exempts investors from paying it for eight years. But the new law also appears to withhold many of the tax benefits from companies that are 100% foreign-owned.

Although Cuba changed its law last year, many people believe that Cuba is not ready for investment. Clearly rule of law concerns and the lack of infrastructure are real barriers. I’ll give more of my opinion on compliance and investment challenges and opportunities next week.

 

 

June 11, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Legislation, Marcia Narine, Travel | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Random Thoughts on the Beneficiaries of Corporate Board Decision Making

Last week, I attended the National Business Law Scholars Conference at Seton Hall University School of Law in Newark, NJ.  It was a great conference, featuring (among others) BLPB co-blogger Josh Fershee (who presented a paper on the business judgment rule and moderated a panel on business entity design) and BLPB guest blogger Todd Haugh (who presented a paper on Sarbanes-Oxley and over criminalization).  I presented a paper on curation in crowdfunding intermediation and moderated a panel on insider trading.  It was a full two days of business law immersion.

The keynote lunch speaker the second day of the conference was Kent Greenfield.  He compellingly argued for the promotion of corporate personhood, following up on comments he has made elsewhere (including here and here) in recent years.  In his remarks, he causally mentioned B corporations and social enterprise more generally.  I want to pick up on that thread to make a limited point here that follows up somewhat on my post on shareholder primacy and wealth maximization from last week.

Continue reading

June 10, 2015 in Business Associations, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Delaware, Joan Heminway, Litigation, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (6)

APDGE Conference │ Toulouse, France │ December 3-4, 2015

Recently, I received notice of the following call for papers from the French association of Law Professors in Business Schools – the Association des Professeurs de Droit des Grandes Ecoles (“APDGE”).  The theme of the conference is "Governance and Compliance in Companies: Constraints or Opportunities." Additional information is available below and at the conference website:

-------------------

TBS PDD

 3rd Conference of the Association of Law Professors of Les Grandes Ecoles/Business Schools, organized by Toulouse Business School

 

CALL FOR PAPERS

"Governance and Compliance in Companies: Constraints or Opportunities?"

December 3-4, 2015 – Toulouse Business School

Toulouse, France

Conference Website: http://www.tbs-education.fr/en/apdge-conference/

 

The taking into account of new legal rules (whether in Company Law, Banking Law, Tax Law, Environmental Law, Employment Law, Consumer Law, Digital Law, or in other fields of Law), involves increased attention to Governance and Compliance by companies, as well as by research professors.   The position of Chief Compliance Officer has become widespread within major companies, as have charters, codes of good conduct and codes of good governance.  Consequently, it is appropriate to look at Governance and Compliance in companies and to investigate whether or not they form constraints or opportunities for companies.    To what extent does the appearance of new legal and regulatory provisions represent new constraints for companies? On the contrary, may opportunities be detected in these practices in order to deal with upheavals in the Law?  What skills are necessary for lawyers in this new environment?  What are the roles of soft law and of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in this context?

These two research days propose to focus discussion on constraints and opportunities for companies in the development of the new rules and practices of Governance and Compliance.

This Call for Papers seeks to explore the following questions (as illustrations, not limitations):

  • The links between Governance and Compliance, on the one hand, and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), on the other hand;
  • Programs to be put in place for a better compliance;
  • The role of lawyers  in Governance and Compliance;
  • Opportunities for good Governance and proper Compliance  for companies;
  • The impact of foreign laws on Governance (for example, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act);
  • The legal risks in a breach of compliance;
  • Legal monitoring and anticipation of new legal and regulatory constraints;
  • Government procurement and a company's history of Compliance ;
  • The interface between internal control (internal auditing, reporting, etc.) and the Law;
  • The legal challenges of whistleblowing;
  • The strategic role of Compliance;
  • The interface between company lawyers, external advisors and operational staff in Governance and Compliance;
  • The theory of groups of parent companies or subsidiaries and Compliance;
  • Control of the chain of sub-contractors and subsidiaries and Compliance;
    • Analysis of the effectiveness of soft law in Compliance;
    • Investors and Governance;
    • The comparative study of Governance. 

A publication of the best papers is foreseen.

Key Dates

Proposals: June 30, 2015

Full Text: September 1, 2015

Author Notification by the Scientific Committee: October 12, 2015

[More information after the break]

Continue reading

June 10, 2015 in Business Associations, Business School, Call for Papers, Conferences, Haskell Murray | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 5, 2015

Evidence that Corporate Law Matters (!) (?)

This week, while preparing for and attending the National Business Law Scholars Conference, I have had to deal with a Tennessee corporate law "brushfire" of sorts generated by a Nashville Business Journal (NBJarticle published earlier this week.  The article, written by a Nashville lawyer, took a somewhat alarmist--and substantively inaccurate--view of a recent addition to the Tennessee Business Corporation Act drafted by the Business Entity Study Committee (BESC) of the Tennessee Bar Association, of which I am a member (and about which I have written here in the past, including here, here, and here).  Specifically, the author asserted that Tennessee's adoption of the text of Model Business Corporation Act Section 14.09 creates new liability for Tennessee corporate directors--especially directors of insolvent Tennessee corporations.  Somewhat predictably, calls and emails from directors, executives, and the Tennessee Secretary of State's office (which, itself, received many calls) ensued.

By design, and (we believe) by effect, the statutory section at issue clarifies the duties of directors of dissolved Tennessee corporations and establishes a safe harbor from liability.  Accordingly, the drafting team from the BESC (me included) believed we had to jump in and correct the mischaracterizations in the article, which the author apparently was unwilling to retract or self-correct.  The NBJ, greatly to its credit, understood our concerns and published a rebuttal from the BESC chair, which the BESC collaborated in drafting and co-signed.  In addition, the Chattanooga Times Free Press published an article that outlines the debate (in which the BESC chair and I am quoted).

So, folks do pay attention to corporate law--and they think it matters! Unfortunately, sometimes, they get it wrong. This leads to a number of lessons . . . .  Apropos of that thought, it's important that a lawyer measure twice and cut once, especially when writing a critical exposé intended and destined to receive attention from an important audience--one personally affected by the contents of the exposé.  Moreover, the need for experienced corporate legal counsel--lawyers steeped in the structure and function of corporate law--continues to be important in the drafting of, and public education regarding, complex corporate legal rules.

June 5, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Joan Heminway, Legislation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Anti-Consumerism as Corporate Strategy

The New Yorker recently ran an interesting article entitled Patagonia’s Anti-Growth Strategy. Patagonia is a certified B corporation and a California benefit corporation.

As a customer, Patagonia is my favorite company for casual/outdoor clothing, and one of my favorite companies in any industry. Initially, I thought Patagonia's clothes were insanely expensive, but their clothes have been much cheaper on a “cost-per-wear” basis than any other clothes I have bought. In an age of cheap products and rampant consumerism, Patagonia is striking a chord with those who wish to buy fewer, quality products.

A taste of the article follows, but go read the entire thing.

The company’s anti-materialistic stance ramped up on Black Friday, 2011, with a memorable full-page advertisement in the Times that read, “Don’t Buy This Jacket.” The ad’s text broke down the environmental costs of the company’s top-selling R2 fleece sweater and asked consumers to think twice before buying it or any other product. The attention the ad received helped to bump Patagonia’s 2012 sales significantly. . . . Patagonia is trying second-hand-clothing sales at its shop in Portland, Oregon, and has made product repair and recycling a growing part of its business model. It recently invested in Yerdle—a Web startup whose stated mission is to reduce new-product purchases by twenty-five per cent—as a way for people, and even the company itself, to swap or give away used Patagonia gear.

Despite being a customer for about two decades, I haven’t needed the Patagonia repair services yet, but I love the idea.  

As the article above mentions, “[a]ll of this would be jet fuel for the engines of modern cynicism, if not for the fact that Patagonia, a privately owned corporation now in its fifth decade, has a distinguished record of environmental philanthropy and investment.” Patagonia may eventually experience mission drift, but the trust they have created with their customers is invaluable. While Patagonia’s anti-consumerism stance may seem to be against the firm's self-interest, “anti-consumerism is clearly helping to build the Patagonia brand. Indeed, the company is seeing double-digit annual growth.”

Patagonia’s founder Yvon Chouinard has two books worth reading by those interested in social business: Let My People Go Surfing and The Responsible Company.

June 5, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Haskell Murray, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Southeastern Academy of Legal Studies in Business Annual Conference │ Atlanta, GA │ Nov. 12-14, 2015

I just signed up for the SEALSB Annual Conference, which will be held in Atlanta, GA from November 12 through 14. I have attended and presented at the SEALSB Annual Conference each of the past two years. Both years we had a good group of professors.

The paper presentations are not limited by legal subject area, and the presentations in past years have covered issues in corporate governance, constitutional law, employment law, international law, sports and the law, franchise law, and other areas.

The conference is intended for “teachers and scholars in the fields of business law, legal environment, and law-related courses outside of professional law schools.” Most participants teach legal studies in business schools. I am told that those who interested in or exploring teaching legal studies outside of a law school are also welcome.

Conference registration information is available here

June 4, 2015 in Business Associations, Business School, Conferences, Haskell Murray, Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Shareholder Primacy/Wealth Maximization

I just returned early Monday from this year's Law and Society Association conference.  I presented my paper on LLC operating agreements as contracts--about which I later will blog here--on a panel as part of a CRN (Collaborative Research Network) on corporate and securities law.  I enjoyed the conference and being in Seattle (a city I rarely get a chance to visit).

I noticed something in a number of the sessions I attended, however, that I want to share here.  A number of scholars referenced, in their presentations or in comments to the presentations of others, "shareholder primacy."  As I listened, it was clear these folks were referring to the prioritizing of shareholder interests--especially financial interests--ahead of the interests of other stakeholders in corporate decision-making, rather than the elements of corporate control (few as there are) enjoyed by shareholders.  As I began to recognize this, several things happened in rapid succession.

First, I remembered David Millon's recent paper on this subject, which (among other things) tells a history of the use of the "shareholder primacy" term.  It's well worth a read.  Or a re-read!

Second, I remembered Steve Bainbridge's earlier work on this same topic. Ditto on that paper; read it or re-read it.  His chart in Figure 1 of that paper is an amazing visual summary.

Third, and largely as a result of those two papers, I wondered why we use the same term for these two aspects of corporate modeling (whether you label them them radical versus traditional shareholder primacy, shareholder protection versus monitoring, corporate ends versus means, or anything else).  It's confusing!  I kept wanting to interrupt, as folks were using "shareholder primacy," to ask: "which kind?" to move my understanding and analysis further forward faster.

Here's my pitch.  I advocate moving away from using the term "shareholder primacy" when a more specific term is available.  In the alternative, I advise defining the use of "shareholder primacy" in context when it is used, whether orally or in writing.  Am I alone in being unsettled by this?   Am I being too pedantic or controlling in my advocated solution or advice?  I welcome your views.

June 3, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Joan Heminway | Permalink | Comments (5)

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Moultrie and Brooks on Defining a Proper Purpose for Books and Records Actions in Delaware

My former research assistant Sam Moultrie and his colleague Andrea Schoch Brooks have authored a short article entitled "Defining a Proper Purpose for Books and Records Actions in Delaware."

The article unpacks two recent Delaware books and records cases: AbbVie and Citigroup. Worthwhile reading for those who wish to stay current on this area of the law. 

May 21, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporations, Delaware, Haskell Murray | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 18, 2015

$2 Million in Attorneys' Fees for "No Quantifiable Benefit"

You may recall my blog post this fall about the Delaware Chancery Court opinion in In Re Nine Systems Corporation Shareholders Litigation. That case discusses what happens when a self-dealing transaction results in a fair price, thus causing no damage to the corporation, but the process followed was fair. The court held that the plaintiff could still recover attorneys' fees and costs. I noted that the only people likely to be satisfied with that result were plaintiffs' attorneys. (It makes no difference to the plaintiffs in the case because they had a contingent fee agreement with their attorneys-no recovery, no attorneys' fees to be paid.)

The Chancery Court just entered its order awarding plaintiffs' counsel, Jones Day, $2 million dollars in attorneys' fees and expenses. That's right, the attorneys get $2 million even though, as the Vice Chancellor notes, "the quantifiable benefit obtained in this litigation was $0." Thus, the defendants have to pay $2 million to counsel for helping the court determine that nothing they did harmed the corporation or its shareholders.

It could have been worse; plaintiffs' counsel asked for $11 million.

I'm afraid that this opinion will give plaintiffs' attorneys an incentive to search for problems with the process in conflict-of-interest cases just so they can get in on the Nine-Systems action and collect attorneys' fees. No harm to the corporation? No problem!

 

May 18, 2015 in Business Associations, C. Steven Bradford, Corporations | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, May 15, 2015

Providing Low-Wage Earners with Predictable Schedules

Recently, I have seen a fair bit written about states, the federal government, and individual firms raising or potentially raising the minimum wage for the lowest paid workers.

Low pay, however, is only one of many problems facing low-wage earners.

After hearing Charlotte Alexander (Georgia State) present on this co-authored paper - Stabilizing Low-Wage Work: Legal Remedies for Unpredictable Work Hours and Income Instability – I have become convinced that unpredictable work hours is a significant issue. The article is well worth reading. 

Unpredictable work hours can be problematic for many people – attorneys in BigLaw for example – but low-wage earners do not have disposable income to throw at the problem. Childcare and transportation, for example, become even more of a challenge when work hours are not stable and not set in advance.  Unpredictable, inconsistent work hours also hamper economic mobility by making it difficult or impossible to take classes or get a second job.    

For more on this issue, listen to MIT Operations Management Professor Zeynep Ton’s talk at the Aspen Institute. Her discussion of Mercadona, a low-cost supermarket based in Spain (discussion starts at 14:50), and QuickTrip, a convenience store with gas stations (discussion starts at 17:30) was quite interesting. Corporate social responsibility often seems dominated by high-end companies like Patagonia and Whole Foods. It is easier to be socially responsible when you are charging $700 for a jacket or 39% more on certain food items (according to one study in Boston). Mercadona, however, offers some of the lowest prices in Spain. Mercadona employees receive their schedules one month in advance and have stable schedules.  Mercadona also pays almost double the minimum wage (plus a bonus). As a result, Mercadona’s turnover is an extremely low 3.4%.  Likewise, QuickTrip seems to compete well on price, but also appears to take relatively good care of its employees.

Individual firms could and should address this issue of unpredictable work hours voluntarily, but the market may prove ineffective in this area and legislative action may be needed.

May 15, 2015 in Business Associations, CSR, Haskell Murray, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, May 8, 2015

8th Annual Bridge to Excellence Nonprofit Conference │ May 12, 2015 │ Nashville, TN

CNM

On May 12, 2015, I will present at a breakout session of the Center for Nonprofit Management's 8th Annual Bridge to Excellence Nonprofit Conference. My talk will focus on the legal issues facing entities with multiple bottom lines. 

If interested, you can register here.

As you can tell from the conference description, this conference is designed for nonprofit and community leaders. From the conference schedule, it appears that I will be the only professor presenter. While I enjoy academic conferences, and find them useful, I also think it is important for professors to engage with practitioners. Professors should share the knowledge they have uncovered and should also listen to the current, practical concerns. 

May 8, 2015 in Business Associations, Conferences, Entrepreneurship, Haskell Murray, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Is a national bar exam on the way?

I currently teach two classes that are on the bar exam—civil procedure and business associations. Many of my BA students are terrified of numbers and don’t know much about business and therefore likely would not take the course if it were not required. I know this because they admit that they take certain classes only because they are required or because they will be tested on the bar, and not because they genuinely have an interest in learning the subject. I went to Harvard for law school and although I had an outstanding education, I learned almost nothing that helped me for the NY, NJ, or FL bars (hopefully that has changed). I owe all of my bar passages to bar review courses so naturally (naively?), I think that almost any student can learn everything they need to know for the bar in a few short months assuming that they had some basic foundation in law school and have good study habits.

The pressure to ensure that my students pass the bar exam definitely informs the way I teach. Though there has only been one round of civil procedure testing on the multistate, this semester I found myself ensuring that I covered certain areas and glossed over others, even though I know having litigated for 20 years, that some subjects are more relevant in real life. Similarly, in BA, I had to make sure that I covered what will be on the Florida bar, while still ensuring that my students understand Delaware law and some basic finance and accounting, which isn't on the Florida bar, but which they need to know.

New York recently announced that it would join other states in adopting the uniform bar examination effective July 2016. The other states using the UBE include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. New York, as the largest adopter, hopes to inspire other states to do the same.

NY students would still have to take online courses and pass a 50-question test regarding specific NY laws, but the students would take the MBE, and MPT or multistate performance test. According to the National Conference of Bar Examiners, the two 90-minute MPT exercises are “designed to test an examinee’s ability to use fundamental lawyering skills in a realistic situation and complete a task that a beginning lawyer should be able to accomplish. The MPT is not a test of substantive knowledge. Rather, it is designed to evaluate certain fundamental skills lawyers are expected to demonstrate regardless of the area of law in which the skills arise.” The NY graduates will also no longer have to write on 6 NY-based essays, but will instead write the multistate essay examination. Students will have to write on topics including: Business Associations (Agency and Partnership; Corporations and Limited Liability Companies), Civil Procedure, Conflict of Laws, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law and Procedure, Evidence, Family Law, Real Property, Torts, Trusts and Estates (Decedents' Estates; Trusts and Future Interests), and Uniform Commercial Code (Secured Transactions).

In adopting the change, New York officials explained, a “significant advantage of adopting the UBE is that passage of the test would produce a portable score that could be used by the bar applicant to gain admission in other UBE states, assuming the applicant satisfies any other jurisdiction-specific requirements. This portability is crucial in a legal marketplace that is increasingly mobile and requires more and more attorneys to engage in multi-jurisdictional practice.”

I think this is sound reasoning. Many of today’s graduates do not know where they will end up, and I personally know that the thought of taking yet another bar exam was a reason that I decided to stay in Florida when I was in private practice. But the better reason to move to the UBE is the testing of the practical skills that lawyers say recent graduates lack. It won’t solve the problem of the lack of legal work, but it will make it easier for students who want to try to find work in other states. I doubt that Florida, which wants to make it as difficult as possible for snowbirds to set up practice here, will ever adopt the UBE but it should. Many oppose the adoption because schools may not have the faculty or resources to prepare students for the new test. But I welcome the change. Despite the pressure to prep my students for the bar, I have ensured that my students work on drafting client memos, discovery plans, markups of poorly written documents, and even emails to partners and clients so that they can be ready for the world that awaits them. If Florida joins the UBE bandwagon, they will be ready for the MPT too.

 

May 7, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporations, Current Affairs, Jobs, Law School, Marcia Narine, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Legal Issues in Impact Investing: At Home and Abroad │ May 11, 2015 │ Washington D.C.

This coming Monday, I will be presenting – virtually – at the above titled conference. My piece of the presentation will cover my recent research on benefit corporation reporting.

Further information is available here and reproduced below. Personally, I am looking forward to hearing from the many impressive speakers, including Sara Burgess, the Regulator of Community Interest Companies in the UK.

May 11, 2015

08:00 AM - 06:00 PM ET

 

Morgan Lewis, in conjunction with the Impact Investing Legal Working Group, invites you to join us for an exclusive all-day conference featuring panels of leading lawyers who work in the area of impact investing—in business, academia, government, multilateral development institutions, and nonprofit organizations and foundations.

 

Topics will include:

How are investors aggregating capital for impact investing?

What are the newest social finance innovations in impact investing?

How can we build a robust legal community of practice in impact investing?

How can we advance the development of regulatory regimes and government policies that promote impact investing?

 

Details

8:00 - 8:30 AM | Registration

8:30 - 6:00 PM | Program

6:00 PM | Networking reception

 

View the agenda >>

 

Credit

CLE credit in CA (1.25 hours), FL, IL, MA, NY, NJ, PA, VA, and TX is currently pending approval.

 

For more information/registration

Please contact Gail Sobha Lynes at +1.617.951.8607 or gail.sobhalynes@morganlewis.com.

 

May 7, 2015 in Business Associations, Conferences, Entrepreneurship, Haskell Murray, International Business, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Mergers & Acquisitions: Three Legal Perspectives

Monday, I had the privilege of moderating a discussion on structuring merger and acquisition transactions that I had organized as part of a continuing legal education program for the Tennessee Bar Association.  Rather than doing the typical comparison/contrast of different business combination structures (with charts, etc.), I organized the hour-long discussion around the banter that corporate/securities and tax folks have in structuring a transaction.  We used the terms of a proposed transaction (an LLC business being acquired by a public corporation) as a jumping-off point.

The idea for the format came from a water cooler conversation--literally--among me (in the role of a corporate/securities lawyer), one of my property lawyer colleagues, and one of my tax lawyer colleagues.  The conversation started with a question my property law colleague had about the conveyance of assets in a merger.   I told him that mergers are not asset conveyance transactions but, rather, statutory transactions that have the effects provided for in the statute, which include a vesting of assets in the surviving corporation.  I told him that I call this "merger magic."  I showed him Section 259(a) of the Delaware General Corporation Law:

When any merger or consolidation shall have become effective under this chapter, . . . all property, real, personal and mixed, and all debts due to any of said constituent corporations on whatever account, as well for stock subscriptions as all other things in action or belonging to each of such corporations shall be vested in the corporation surviving or resulting from such merger or consolidation . . . .

We discussed the possibility of an assignment/transfer of assets by operation of law under that provision and more generally under Delaware law in connection with different types of mergers, including recent case law regarding reverse triangular mergers.  Ultimately, my property law colleague decided that a direct merger involved an asset sale by the target entity and a purchase transaction by the surviving corporation, as a matter of property law, notwithstanding my "merger magic" explanation I was forwarding as a descriptor under state corporate law.

The tax guy thought all this (both descriptions of a merger) was balderdash.  These descriptions were too complex and stilted for his taste.  Not to be outdone, he offered that all merger and acquisition transactions are either asset sales or sales of equity.  At least, he allowed, that's how federal income tax law looks at them . . . .  I told him that asset and equity sale transactions are joined by mergers (direct, reverse triangular, and forward triangular) and share exchange transactions (which are also statutory transactions, available in Tennessee and other Model Business Corporation Act states, but not available in Delaware) in the corporate lawyer's business combination toolkit.  I also noted that federal securities law voting and reporting requirements work off these different corporate law descriptors.

Fascinating!  Three lawyers, three different conceptions of business combination transactions.  The moderated discussion on Monday was, in effect, an attempt by me to recreate, albeit in a different form, parts of that conversation.  The discussion was, in my view, decently successful in achieving its limited purpose in the program.  Nevertheless, I really wish I had a transcription of that original conversation by the water cooler.  That was truly priceless . . . .

May 6, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Corporations, Joan Heminway, M&A | Permalink | Comments (0)