Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Writing (and grading) Exam Questions

This is the time of year when we craft exam questions and grading grids in anticipation of exams.

Aside from Teaching Law by Design (a fabulous resource that I recommend for all new teachers as a great continuing resource for even those grizzled from years in the trenches), I have used few formal resources to guide my exam writing and grading process. Fortunately, I work with creative, collaborative and generous colleagues who all shared lots of samples and tips when I first started writing exams.  Before committing myself to my Corporations exam this year, I decided to see what is out there to guide exam construction and grading. Finding little that was useful on SSRN or Westlaw, I turned to a broader search, which brought me to a general test instruction guideline produced by Indiana University, aptly titled: How to Write Better Tests.  It had the following information regarding essay exams that serve as a useful reminder about why we are so meticulous in constructing our grading rubrics and creating grading schemes that, to the greatest extent possible, reduce our individual biases.

Consider the limitations of the limitations of essay questions:

1. Because of the time required to answer each question, essay items sample less of the content.

2. They require a long time to read and score.

3. They are difficult to score objectively and reliably. Research shows that a number of factors can bias the scoring:

A) Different scores may be assigned by different readers or by the same reader at different times

B) A context effect may operate; an essay preceded by a top quality essay receives     lower marks than when preceded by a poor quality essay.

C) The higher the essay is in the stack of papers, the higher the score assigned.

D) Papers that have strong answers to items appearing early in the test and weaker answers later will fare better than papers with the weaker answers appearing first.

To combat these common issues the guidelines recommend:

  • anonymous grading (check)
  • grading all responses to question 1 before moving on to question 2, and so on (check)
  • reorganizing the order of exams between questions (check)
  • deciding in advance how to handle ambiguous issues (check, thanks to my grading rubric)
  • be on the alert for bluffing (CHECK!)

If anyone has found a particularly useful resource regarding exam construction and grading, please share in the comments. I am sure everyone would benefit.

Happy Thanksgiving BLPB readers!

-AT

November 26, 2014 in Business Associations, Anne Tucker, Law School, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Giving Thanks for Motivated and Motivating Students

Turkey_0

Happy Thanksgiving you all!  With my co-blogger colleagues here on the BLPB writing various Thanksgiving posts on retail-related and other holiday-oriented business law issues (here and here), I find myself in a Thanksgiving-kind-of-mood.  I honestly have so much to be thankful for, it's hard to know where to start . . . .  But apropos of the business law focus of this blog, I am choosing today to be thankful for my students.  They make my job really special.

This semester, I have been teaching Business Associations in a new three-credit-hour format (challenging and stressful, but I have wanted to teach Business Associations in this format for fifteen years) and Corporate Finance (which I teach as a planning and drafting seminar).  I have 69 students in Business Associations and ten in Corporate Finance.  I have two class meetings left in each course.

The 69 students in Business Associations have been among the most intellectually and doctrinally curious folks to which I have taught this material.  I have talked to a lot of them after class about the law and its application in specific contexts.  Two stayed after class the other day to discuss statutory interpretation rules with me in the context of some problems I gave them.  This large group also includes a number of students who have great senses of humor, offering us some real fun on occasion in class meetings and on the class TWEN site.  They are not always as prepared as I would like (and, in fact, some of the students have expressed to me their disappointment in their colleagues' lack of preparedness and participation), but they pick up after each other when one of them leaves a mess in his or her wake (volunteering to be "co-counsel" for a colleague--a concept I introduce in class early in the semester).  I enjoy getting up on Monday mornings to teach them at 9:00 am.

Corporate Finance includes a more narrow self-selected group.  Almost all of these students have or are actively seeking a job in transactional or advocacy-oriented business law.  They handed in their principal planning and drafting projects a bit over a week ago, projects that they spend much of the semester working on.  (These substantial written projects are described further in this transcribed presentation.)  Now, each student is reviewing and commenting on a project drafted by a fellow student.  Both the project and the review are constructed in a circumscribed format that I define.  I am excited to read their work on these projects, given the great conversations I have had with a number of them over the course of the semester as they puzzled through financial covenants, indemnification provisions, antidilution adjustments, and the like.  Great stuff.  I teach this class from 1:00 pm to 2:15 pm two days a week--a time in the day when I generally am most sleepy/least enthusiastic to teach.  But these folks ask good questions and seem to genuinely enjoy talking about corporate finance instruments and transactions, making the experience much more worthwhile.

So, I am very thankful for each and all of these 79 students.  I may not feel that way after I finish all the grading I have to do, but for now, I am both grateful and content.  And I didn't consume a single calorie getting there (which is more than I will be able to say Thursday night . . .).  Just looking at the picture at the top of this post makes my stomach feel full and me feel heavier.  Ugh.

November 24, 2014 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Joan Heminway, Law School, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Prices versus Process

PP

Whole Foods recently launched its first national advertising campaign around the theme “Values Matter.” Some outlets claim that the campaign is a response to weak comparable store sales. Supposedly, Whole Foods is spending between $15 million and $20 million on this campaign in an attempt to convince customers that “value and values go hand in hand.” You can see some of the videos here.

Whole Foods has long been known for its high prices and healthy food. Whole Foods has been actively fighting the high price reputation, but at least in the places I have lived, Whole Foods is usually close to the richest neighborhoods, is entirely absent in less affluent areas, and still seems to have higher prices than most competitors. Whole Foods seems to use a premium product, sold mostly to the upper-class, to fund its commitment to employees, its purchasing from smaller local vendors, and its care for the environment.

Whole Foods seems to focus on impacting society and the environment mostly through the process by which they sell their products and distribute the profits to stakeholders.

Walmart seems to have a very different model. Walmart seems to care much more about low prices than about treating their non-customer stakeholders well. Walmart’s extreme pressuring of suppliers, often contentious relationships with the communities around its stores, and low wages/limited benefits for many of its employees [updated] has been widely reported. Walmart seems to be trying to fight its reputation, and it has certainly engaged in some positive activities for society, but its reputation remains.

In contrast to Whole Foods, Walmarts can be found in rural and less affluent areas, and Super-Walmarts are bringing fresh produce to former food deserts at prices that appear to be more affordable. Walmart could argue that it makes a positive impact on society through its low prices.

In short, Whole Food’s strategy seems to be – proper process, high prices – while Walmart may allow a poor process to obtain low prices. 

Should corporate law, especially social enterprise law such as the recent benefit corporation law, encourage one strategy over the other?  The benefit corporation laws appear flexible enough to embrace either, though a more traditional understanding of social enterprise might exclude both on the ground that the companies’ primary purpose does not seem to be producing products that serve the disadvantaged. Social enterprise’s definition, however, has become much broader over time, though there is currently no consensus.    

This struggle with process and prices can be a difficult one, and I am just glad more companies are attempting to find appropriate solutions. 

November 21, 2014 in Business Associations, Current Affairs, Haskell Murray, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (6)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Bainbridge on Fee-Shifting Bylaws

Steve Bainbridge at ProfessorBainbridge.com has posted a couple of discussions of fee-shifting bylaws.

As many of you know, last spring, in the ATP Tour case, the Delaware Supreme Court upheld a bylaw requiring the losing party in shareholder litigation to pay the other side's attorneys' fees. The case involved a non-stock membership corporation, but there's no relevant distinction between non-stock corporations and ordinary corporations in either the opinion or the statute. A bill was introduced in the Delaware legislature to amend the statute to overturn the ATP Tour decision, but the legislature deferred any action pending further study.

Professor Bainbridge argues in favor of the ATP Tour result. His first post is here. The second post is here.

November 18, 2014 in Business Associations, C. Steven Bradford | Permalink | Comments (0)

Good Grief! Courts Can Only Get So Much Right on LLC Law

I’m starting to think that courts are playing the role of Lucy to my Charlie Brown, and proper description of LLCs is the football.  In follow up to my post last Friday, I went looking for a case that makes clear that an LLC’s status as a disregarded entity for IRS tax purposes is insufficient to support veil piercing.  And I found one.  The case explains:

Plaintiff . . . failed to provide any case law supporting his theory of attributing liability to Aegis LLC because of the existence of a pass-through tax structure of a disregarded entity. Pl.'s Opp'n. [50]. Between 2006 and 2008, when 100% of Aegis LLC's shares were owned by Aegis UK, Aegis LLC was treated as a disregarded entity by the IRS and the taxable income earned by Aegis LLC was reflected in federal and District of Columbia tax returns filed by Aegis UK. Day Decl. Oct. 2012 [48–1] at ¶ 37. In the case of a limited liability corporation with only one owner, the limited liability corporation must be classified as a disregarded entity. 26 C.F.R. § 301.7701–2(c)(2). Instead of filing a separate tax return for the limited liability corporation, the owner would report the income of the disregarded entity directly on the owner's tax return. Id. Moreover, determining whether corporate formalities have been disregarded requires more than just recognizing the tax arrangements between a corporation and its shareholders. See United States v. Acambaro Mexican Restaurant, Inc., 631 F.3d 880, 883 (8th Cir.2011). Given the above analysis, the undersigned finds that there is no unity of ownership and interest between Aegis UK and Aegis LLC.

Alkanani v. Aegis Def. Servs., LLC, 976 F. Supp. 2d 1, 9-10 (D.D.C. 2013).

 As Charlie Brown would say, "Aaugh!

So the case makes clear, as I was hoping, that it is not appropriate to use pass-through tax status to find a unity of interest and ownership in a way that will support veil piercing.  But the court then screws up the description of the very nature of LLCs.  This is not a “case of a limited liability corporation!” It's a case of a limited liability company, which is a not a corporation. 

Moreover, to use the court’s language, while it is true that “determining whether corporate formalities have been disregarded requires more than just recognizing the tax arrangements between a corporation and its shareholders,” the premise of the case has to do with an LLC’s status. Thus, the court should, at a minimum, make clear it knows the difference.  The statement, then, would go something like this:  "Determining whether LLC formalities have been disregarded requires more than just recognizing the tax arrangements between an LLC and its members.” 

It’s worth noting the entity formalities for LLCs are significantly less that those of corporations, so the formalities portion of LLC veil piecing test should be minimal, but that's a different issue.

Anyway, like Charlie Brown, I will keep kicking at that football, expecting, despite substantial evidence to the contrary, that one day it will be there for me to kick. At least I don't have to go it alone.  

November 18, 2014 in Business Associations, Corporations, Delaware, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

What do lawyers and judges need to know about LLCs?

Understandably, business law professors get upset when people who should know better- judges for example- mischaracterize LLCs. I say we should be even more angry at the law clerks drafting the opinions. Many judges had no exposure to LLCs in law school but clerks graduating today certainly have. 
 
Given the ubiquity of LLCs now, I was surprised to learn that among the many outstanding CALI (Computer-Aided Legal Instruction) lessons, there are none on LLCs. (Hat tip to co-blogger Steve Bradford- my students love him now). I have volunteered to work on at least one and maybe more in the coming months. I canvassed some colleagues for their must-haves for these LLC lessons. In no particular order, here's the current list:
 

1) Difference between LLCs, corporations and partnerships 

2) Del. and ULLCA coverage of fiduciary duties, and especially the issue of contractual waiver and default 

3) Ease of formation
 
4) Expense of formation
 
5) Ease of maintenance    
 
6) Expense of maintenance
 
7) Restrictions re. business purpose or activity
 
8) Continuity of life/limitations on existence
 
9) Label for/characteristics (incl. transferability) of ownership interests
 
10) Restrictions re. owners (number, type, or other)
 
11) Authority to bind/create liability for the firm
 
12) Personal liability of owners to outsiders
 
13) Form of management/rights to manage
 
14) Existence/characteristics of monitoring managers/board of directors
 
15) Other (additional governance rules, rights, obligations, etc.)
 
16) Entitlement to income and assets
 
17) Liability for taxes and other governmental obligations
 
18) How investors can get money OUT of an LLC
 

19) No right to distributions, and no right to vote for distributions if manager-managed

20) No right to salary or employment

21)  Taxable liability for LLC membership

22) Exit rights—voluntary withdrawals vs. restricted withdrawals, and whether or not that comes with the ability to force the return of an investment or a new status as a creditor of the LLC

23) Liability for improper distributions

24) Veil piercing, particularly given the lack of corporate formalities

I would love some feedback from practitioners as well. What do law students and practicing lawyers need to know about LLCs? What's missing from this list? What should I get rid of? Please feel free to comment below or to email your thoughts to mnarine@stu.edu

 

 

 

November 13, 2014 in Business Associations, C. Steven Bradford, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Delaware, Law School, LLCs, Marcia Narine, Partnership, Teaching, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Why is Steve Bainbridge So Angry?

I have previously blogged about Institutional Shareholder Services’ policy survey and noted that a number of business groups, including the Chamber of Commerce, had significant concerns. In case you haven’t read Steve Bainbridge’s posts on the matter, he’s not a fan either. 

Calling the ISS consultation period “a decision in search of a process,” the Chamber released its comment letter to ISS last week, and it cited Bainbridge's comment letter liberally. Some quotable quotes from the Chamber include:

Under ISS’ revised policy, according to the Consultation, “any single factor that may have previously resulted in a ‘For’ or ‘Against’ recommendation may be mitigated by other positive or negative aspects, respectively.” Of course, there is no delineation of what these “other positive or negative aspects” may be, how they would be weighted, or how they would be applied. This leaves public companies as well as ISS’ clients at sea as to what prompted a determination that previously would have seen ISS oppose more of these proposals. This is a change that would, if enacted, fly in the face of explicit SEC Staff Guidance on the obligations to verify the accuracy and current nature of information utilized in formulating voting recommendations.

The proposed new policy—as yet undefined and undisclosed—is also lacking in any foundation of empirical support… Indeed, a number of studies confirm that there is no empirical support for or against the proposition ISS seems eager to adopt.

[Regarding equity plan scorecards] there is no clear indication on the part of ISS as to what weight it will assign to each category of assessment—cost of plan, plan features, and company grant practices…  this approach benefits ISS (and in particular its’ consulting operations), but does nothing to advance either corporate or shareholder interests or benefits. The Consultation also makes clear that, for all ISS’ purported interest in creating a more “nuanced” approach, in fact the proposed policy fosters a one-size-fits-all system that fails to take into account the different unique needs of companies and their investors.

Proxy votes cast in reliance on proxy voting policies based upon this Consultation cannot—by definition—be reasonably designed to further shareholder values.

ISS had a number of other recommendations but they didn’t raise the ire of Bainbridge and the Chamber. For the record, Steve is angry about the independent chair shareholder proposals, but please read his well-documented posts and judge for yourself whether ISS missed the mark. The ISS’ 2015 US Proxy Voting Guidelines were released today. Personally, I plan to raise some of the Guidelines discussing fee-shifting bylaws and exclusive venue provisions in both my Civil Procedure and Business Associations classes.

Let’s see how the Guidelines affect the next proxy season—the recommendations from the two-week comment period go into effect in February. 

November 6, 2014 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 3, 2014

Preventative Lawyering and Succession Planning

On Monday, The University of Tennessee (UT) College of Law hosted Larry Cunningham to talk about his book, Berkshire Beyond Buffett: The Enduring Value of Values, which he previewed with us here on the BLPB a few months ago in a series of posts (here, here, and here).  As you may recall, the book focuses on corporate culture and succession planning at Berkshire Hathaway.  Joining Larry at the book session was UT College of Law alumnus James L. (Jim) Clayton, Chairman and principal shareholder of Clayton Bank and the founder of Clayton Homes, one of the Berkshire Hathaway subsidiaries featured in the book.  The impromptu conversation between Larry and Jim was an incredible part of the event (although Larry's prepared presentation on the book also was great).

As part of the event, Larry and Jim answered a variety of  audience questions.  Included among them was a question from UT College of Law Dean Doug Blaze on the role of lawyers in management,  transactions, and entrepreneurialism.  As part of Jim Clayton's response, he noted the value of preventative lawyering--advising businesses to keep them out of trouble.  I was so glad, as a business law advisor, to hear him say that! 

Following on that, given that (a) Larry's book focuses on the factors influencing succession planning,  (b) I am teaching the Disney case to my Business Associations students this week, and (c) the Disney case is about . . . well . . . failed succession and executive compensation, I asked about management compensation in the context of succession planning at Berkshire Hathaway.  Both Larry and Jim (whose son Kevin is President and Chief Executive Officer of Clayton Homes) were clear that Warren Buffett is an exacting manager, but that he believes in paying his portfolio company managers well.  Of course, the precise nature of the compensation arrangements of those portfolio firm executives (unlike Michael Ovitz's compensation arrangements at issue in the Disney case) are not a matter of public record.  But given the markedly different contexts, I assume the arrangements are very different . . . .

As I approach discussing the Disney case once again in the classroom, I am (as always) looking for new angles, new insights to share with the class (in addition to the core fiduciary duty doctrine).  One I will share this year is Jim Clayton's advice about preventative lawyering.  What could lawyers have done to reduce the likelihood of controversy and litigation?  I have some thoughts and will develop others in the next 24 hours.  Leave your thoughts here, if you have any . . . .

November 3, 2014 in Business Associations, Books, Compensation, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Delaware, Joan Heminway | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Johnson et al "Comments on the HHS' Flawed Post-Hobby Lobby Rules"

In addition to the two letters Anne Tucker mentioned earlier, Lyman Johnson (Washington & Lee and University of St. Thomas) has now organized another group of legal scholars to respond to the HHS post-Hobby Lobby Rules. The Johnson letter is available here.

As Stephen Bainbridge (one of the authors) notes, Lyman Johnson brought together a group of scholars with diverse views for this letter. The letter is worth reading and the abstract is provide below.

In late August 2014, after suffering a defeat in the Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision when the Court held that business corporations are "persons" that can "exercise religion," the Department of Health and Human Services ("HHS") proposed new rules defining "eligible organizations." Purportedly designed to accommodate the Hobby Lobby ruling, the proposed rules do not comport with the reasoning of that important decision and they unjustifiably seek to permit only a small group of business corporations to be exempt from providing contraceptive coverage on religious grounds. This comment letter to the HHS about its proposed rules makes several theoretical and practical points about the Hobby Lobby holding and how the proposed rules fail to reflect the Court’s reasoning. The letter also addresses other approaches to avoid in the rulemaking process and argues for rules that, unlike what the HHS has proposed, align with the Supreme Court’s reasoning while being consonant with generally applicable precepts of state law and principles of federalism.

October 27, 2014 in Business Associations, Corporations, Haskell Murray, Religion, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 24, 2014

Ello and Social Enterprise

My co-blogger Stefan Padfield passed along this article from The New York Times Dealbook on the social network Ello.

Ello is a Delaware public benefit corporation. The social enterprise terminology is proving difficult, even for sophisticated authors at the New York Times Dealbook. The article calls Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s public benefit corporations. Patagonia, however, is a California benefit corporation. I wrote about the differences between public benefit corporations and benefit corporations here. Ben & Jerry’s is a certified B corporation, but, as far as I know, Ben & Jerry’s has not yet made the legal change to convert to any of the social enterprise forms. I wrote about the differences between benefit corporations and certified B corporations here and here. Just as my co-blogger Joshua Fershee remains vigilant at pointing out the differences between LLCs and corporations, so I will remain vigilant on the social enterprise distinctions. 

Besides my nitpicking on the use of social enterprise terminology, there are a few other things I want to say about this article.     

First, Ello raised $5.5 million dollars, which is not that much money in the financial world, but puts Ello in pretty rare company in the U.S. social enterprise world. The vast majority of U.S. social enterprises are owned by a single individual or family; some social enterprises have raised outside capital, but not many. The increasing presence of outside investors in social enterprise means two main things to me: (1) the social enterprise concept is starting to gain some traction with previously skeptical investors, and (2) we may see a shareholder derivative lawsuit in the near future, which would give us all more to write about. 

Second, Ello included a clause in its charter that “forbids the company from using ads or selling user data to make money.” This provision seems a direct response to the eBay v. Newmark case. The business judgment rule provides significant protection to directors and, at least theoretically, should calm many of the fears of social entrepreneurs. But risk adverse individuals may seek additional layers of protection.

Third, Ello claims that their charter provision “basically means no investor can force us to take a really good financial deal if it forces us to take advertising.” This seems overstated.  Charters can be amended, but at least the charter puts outside investors on notice. This provision in the charter does not, however, protect against a change of heart by the founders and a selling of the company (such as in the case of Ben & Jerry’s sale to Unilever).

Fourth, this October 4, 2014 article claims that Ello is pre-revenue. The NYT Dealbook article notes that “[u]sers will eventually be able to download widgets and modifications, paying a few dollars for each purchase.” (emphasis added). Ello seems to be one of the growing number of technology companies that are being valued by number of users rather than by revenues or profits. Ello “grew from an initial 90 users on Aug. 7 to over a million now, with a waiting list of about 3 million.”

Fifth, even if traditional investors are (somewhat) warming up to social enterprises, social entrepreneurs still seem to be a bit skeptical of traditional investors. When raising money, Ello "drew the attention of the usual giants in the venture capital world. . . . But Mr. Budnitz said he instead turned to investors whom he could trust to back the start-up’s mission, including the Foundry Group, whom he came to know when he lived in the firm’s hometown, Boulder, Colo.” There are increasing sources of capital for social enterprises from investors who also have a stated social goal (See, e.g., JP Morgan’s May 2014 survey of impact investors).

Some in the academic world have wondered if social enterprise is just a fad. While I am confident that the space will and must continue to evolve, if it is a fad, it has already been a long-running one. The names and details of the statutes may change, but I see a growing interest in marrying profit and social purpose, and I think that interest is likely to continue in some form.     

Cross-posted at SocEntLaw.

October 24, 2014 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Delaware, Haskell Murray, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

Manesh on Johnson & Ricca on Revlon

Mohsen Manesh (Oregon) has posted a new article entitled Nearing 30, Is Revlon Showing Its Age?  I have read a fair number of Mohsen’s articles and am consistently impressed.

The abstract reads:

Nearly thirty years ago, in Revlon, Inc. v. MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings, Inc., the Delaware Supreme Court famously dictated that in certain transactions involving a “sale or change in control,” the fiduciary obligation of a corporation’s board of directors is simply to “get[] the best price for the stockholders.” Applying a novel remedial perspective to this iconic doctrine, in The Dwindling of Revlon, Professor Lyman Johnson and Robert Ricca argue that Revlon is today of diminishing significance. In the three decades since, the coauthors observe, corporate law has evolved around Revlon, dramatically limiting the remedial clout of the doctrine. In this Essay, I show how two recent Delaware Chancery Court decisions — Chen v. Howard-Andersen and In re Rural Metro — underscore the expansive reach of Revlon and, therefore, the limits of Johnson and Ricca’s thesis. Instead, I suggest the dwindling of Revlon, if it is indeed dwindling, may be best observed from what is happening outside the pressed edges of corporate law, where other competing bodies of business law have emerged rejecting Revlon’s fiduciary mandate.

The article is a nice response to a thoughtful article by Lyman Johnson and Rob Ricca entitled The Dwindling of Revlon.

Both articles are highly recommended.

In addition, Stephen Bainbridge, Christopher Bruner, Franklin Gevurtz, and Vice Chancellor Travis Laster have all weighed in with interesting articles on Revlon over the last few years.

October 24, 2014 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Delaware, Haskell Murray | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Law and Ethics of Big Data│Bloomington, IN│April 17-18, 2015

Below is a call for papers that I received by e-mail earlier today.  

RESEARCH COLLOQUIUM: CALL FOR PAPERS

Law and Ethics of Big Data

April 17 & 18, 2015

Indiana University- Bloomington, IN.

Abstract Submission Deadline: January 17, 2015

A research colloquium, “Law and Ethics of Big Data,” co-hosted by Professor Angie Raymond of Indiana University and Janine Hiller of Virginia Tech, is sponsored by the Center for Business Intelligence and Analytics in the Pamplin College of Business, Virginia Tech; the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University; and the Poynter Center for the Study of Ethics and American Institutions at Indiana University.

Up to six invitations for research presentation slots will be extended based on this call for papers. In order to receive consideration, researchers are invited to submit an abstract by January 17, 2015.

Continue reading

October 21, 2014 in Business Associations, Call for Papers, Conferences, Ethics, Haskell Murray | Permalink | Comments (0)

Remaining Vigilant: Getting Courts to Recognize LLCs Aren't Corporations

In Business Organizations today, I spent some time reviewing the differences between varying entity types.  I made the point that courts often make mistakes on this front, especially with LLCs and corporations, and it reminded me I needed to follow up on my own pet LLC protection project. 

Over the years, I have taken more than a passing interest in how often courts refer to (and ultimately treat) LLCs. I have this thing where I think LLCs are not treated as well doctrinally as they should. In February of this month, I made the argument,  Courts Should Get the Doctrinal Distinction Between LLCs and Corporations, and I have made other similar arguments (herehere, and here).  

As part of this I committed to noting when courts refer to LLCs as "limited liability corporations" and not "limited liability companies," as they should.  Almost one year ago, I noted this continuing theme, repeating the search I did for a 2011 article, where I found in a May 2011 search of Westlaw’s “ALLCASES” database that there were 2,773 documents with the phrase “limited liability corporation," in describing an LLC. (That article is here.)  Things are not getting much better.  Since Oct. 15, 2013, there have been 410 more cases making that same mistake. Just since my February 4, 2014 post, reference above, there have been 300 of those cases.  

As I read through some of these cases, many of which don't seem to turn on whether the entity is a limited liability company or a corporation, I have noticed that some of the cases may have an entity structure issue that no one is raising.  That's a failure of at least one of the parties, and potentially the court.  I plan to follow up with a few example of such cases, but for now, I'll part with my familiar refrain: as long as courts keeping describing limited liability companies as corporations, I'll keep pointing it out.

 

October 21, 2014 in Business Associations, Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Comment from the Student Archives- the Real Housewives Make an Appearance in Business Associations

I plan to write a more traditional blog post later if I have time, but I am in the midst of midterm grading hell. I was amused today in class when a student compared the drama of the Francis v. United Jersey Bank case with the bankruptcy, bank, and mortgage fraud convictions of husband and wife Joe and Teresa Guidice from the reality TV hit the Real Housewives of New Jersey.

I had provided some color commentary courtesy of Reinier Kraakman and Jay Kesten’s The Story of Francis v. United Jersey Bank: When a Good Story Makes Bad Law, and apparently Mrs. Pritchard’s defenses reminded the student of Teresa Guidice’s pleas of ignorance. Other than being stories about New Jersey fraudsters, there aren’t a lot of similarities between the cases. Based on my quick skim of the indictment I don’t think that Teresa served on the board of any of the companies at issue--Joe apparently had an LLC and was the sole member, and the vast majority of the counts against the couple relate to their individual criminal conduct. In addition, Teresa is also going to jail, and no one suffered that fate in United Jersey. But luckily, she may see a big payday from a purported book deal and reality TV show spinoff after she’s out, possibly disproving the adage that crime doesn’t pay.

 

October 16, 2014 in Business Associations, Corporations, Current Affairs, Ethics, Law School, LLCs, Marcia Narine, Teaching, Television | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Insider Trading

Whether you are teaching insider trading as part of a corporations or a securities regulation course, you practice in the area, or you like these cases because they contain some of the most interesting fact patterns..... I have a couple of gems for you.

First, the on line edition of the New Yorker features two great stories on insider trading.  The first story, The Empire of Edge written by Patrick Radden Keefe, focuses on the conviction of a trader at S.A.C. capital for trades made 10 days before the release of results from clinical trials on an alzheimer's medication. The hedge fund reversed its $.785B position in two companies testing the drug and took a short position against the companies earning the fund $275M. In classic long-form journalism at its best, the story is riveting as it unfolds.  The second story, A Dirty Business by George Packer, tells the story of Raj Rajaratnam, head of the Galleon hedge fund at the heart of the 2009 informant ring scandal, the prosecution and the SEC's stance on enforcement.  

For those of you who are interested, the SEC posted a running list of insider trading enforcement actions here.

-Anne Tucker

October 15, 2014 in Business Associations, Corporations, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Economics in Business Law: Regulatory Capture and The Nobel Laureate

To be clear, I'm not an economist. I do, however, have an interest in economics, economic theory, and especially behavioral economics.  I incorporate basic concepts of economics into my courses, especially Business Organizations and Energy Law.   This week's announcement of  Jean Tirole as the 2014 Nobel Laureate in economics thus caught my eye.  

I admit I did not much about Tirole before the announcement, and after just a little reading, it's clear to me that I need to know more.  A nice summary of Tirole's work (written by Tyler Cowen) can be found here. Cowen introduces the announcement and Tirole this way:

A theory prize!  A rigor prize!  I would say it is about principal-agent theory and the increasing mathematization of formal propositions as a way of understanding economics.  He has been a leading figure in formalizing propositions in many distinct areas of microeconomics, most of all industrial organization but also finance and financial regulation and behavioral economics and even some public choice too.  He is a broader economist than many of his fans realize.

Tirole is a Frenchman, he teaches at Toulouse, and his key papers start in the 1980s.  In industrial organization, you can think of him as extending the earlier work of Ronald Coase and Oliver Williamson with regard to opportunism and recontracting, but applying more sophisticated and more mathematical forms of game theory.  Tirole also has been a central figure in procurement theory and optimal contracts when there is asymmetric information about costs.  The idea of mechanism design runs throughout his papers in many different guises.  Many of his papers show “it’s complicated,” rather than presenting easily summarizable, intuitive solutions which make for good blog posts.  That is one reason why his ideas do not show up so often in blogs and the popular press, but they nonetheless have been extremely influential in the economics profession.  He has shown a remarkable breadth and depth over the course of the last thirty or so years.

Cowen then summarizes (or at least introduces) much of Tirole's work. I am now working my through a paper Tirole wrote with Jean-Jacques Laffont that discusses when regulatory capture is likely to happen. (Cowen notes, " I have yet to see the insights of this paper incorporated into the rest of the literature adequately.") 

The papers is called The Politics of Government Decision-Making: A Theory of Regulatory Capture. Two of my favorite lines:

  • "The assumption that Congress is a benevolent maximizer of a social welfare function is clearly an oversimplification, as its members are themselves subject to interest-group influence."
  • "In contrast with the conventional wisdom on interest-group politics, an interest group may be hurt by its own power."

Here's the abstract (paper available on JSTOR):

The paper develops an agency-theoretic approach to interest-group politics and shows the following: (1) the organizational response to the possibility of regulatory agency politics is to reduce the stakes interest groups have in regulation. (2) The threat of producer protection leads to low-powered incentive schemes for regulated firms. (3) Consumer politics may induce uniform pricing by a multiproduct firm. (4) An interest group has more power when its interest lies in inefficient rather than efficient regulation, where inefficiency is measured by the degree of informational asymmetry between the regulated industry and the political principal (Congress).

It's worth a read, even if the math part is a little beyond some of us. 

H/T: Geoffrey Manne

October 14, 2014 in Business Associations, Current Affairs, Joshua P. Fershee, Law and Economics, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, October 13, 2014

More from the Student Comment Archives . . . . Swiss Vereins?!

OK.  I cannot compete with the brevity or humor of the student comment Steve Bradford posted earlier today.  [sigh]  But my post today does relate to a student comment/question--one from my Business Associations course earlier this semester.  Specifically, a student posted the following on our class discussion board under the title "Swiss Vereins and piercing the veil":

I was curious about Swiss Vereins and how that works when trying to pierce the veil since a Swiss Verein consists of independent offices that have limited liability amongst them. Would it have been beneficial for Westin [referring to the Gardemal v. Westin Hotel Co. case] to have used such a structure instead of having Westin Mexico be a subsidiary? It seems that most Swiss Vereins are large law firms, such as DLA Piper and Baker & McKenzie or accounting firms, such as Deloitte. 

This is the first time a student has asked me about the Swiss verein structure in my almost fifteen years of teaching.  My familiarity with Swiss vereins comes solely from what I have read and heard over the years.  I never advised a firm in setting one up (or deciding not to).  Here is the core substance of my response:

Thanks for asking about this.  Swiss vereins . . . are non-entity structures, blessed under the laws of Switzerland, for conducting business through a formal association of multiple firms.  The firms collectively agree to a set of bylaws that govern their joint management/operations through a management board.  In this way, a Swiss verein functions like a corporate group without a separate entity (parent/holding company) owning all of the businesses at the top. So, you can see how it might be an advantage when it comes to veil piercing--although there have been cases in which judges have blessed what I think of as sideways veil piercing in the United States, in which a sister firm is held liable for the obligations of her brother, so to speak.  Bottom line?  The Swiss verein provides a flexible framework for doing business jointly among many firms.
 
Why not use this structure in lieu of creating a corporate family?  I have spent some time thinking about it.  I am no expert on this way of doing business.
 
I suppose the main reasons are the flip side of the coin form the advantages of the Swiss verein.  Corporate structures provide off-the-shelf rules for management and control and cost-sharing and all that.  In a Swiss verein, all of that needs to be scripted out in significant detail in the verein's bylaws, since there is no statutory default rule to fall back on.  So, they are expensive to set up and maintain.  Also, this often means that participants in the verein are more loosely tied together in terms of the norms of their joint operations.  Each firm in the verein is more siloed--autonomously managed and its own profit center.  This can have advantages and disadvantages, but may be less desirable in businesses that desire uniform operations and good employee morale as among all of the constituent firms (which may be harder to achieve in a verein).  Also, the perceptions of outsiders may be an issue, based on what I have read.  People are just not as familiar with the verein structure, and they don't understand it, which may make them more hesitant to do business with it.  And finally, there is no guarantee that the veil of limited liability available under Swiss law in the verein structure, which generally is deemed to be strong, will not be pierced in a judicial proceeding.
 
I am sure some of you are more familiar with the actual operation of Swiss vereins in context and may have some valuable insights.  If so, have at it and share them here.  I just thought it was a provocative question and would love to get my student and her colleagues the best answer . . . .

October 13, 2014 in Business Associations, Corporations, Joan Heminway | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Alibaba Presents "Current Events" Illustration of Corporate Law Principles

Alibaba dominated the September business press coverage with its record-breaking IPO last month, and news of its stock price, trading at a 30% premium, continues to dominate coverage.  I have been using the headline-hogging IPO in my corporations class to discuss raising capital, which I am sure many of you are doing as well.  Here are a few creative uses for the class-friendly headlines:

  • I used coverage of the IPO and its short-lived halo effect on other tech IPO's as a companion to the E-bay stock spinning case (taught under director fiduciary duties).  

As we move into securities next week,

Please add to the list of uses in the comments section if you have any new ideas or suggestions.

-Anne Tucker

October 8, 2014 in Business Associations, Anne Tucker, Corporate Finance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Internal Affairs Doctrine, State Power, and Citizens United

Maryland State Senator and American University Washington College of Law professor Jamie B. Raskin recently wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post, A shareholder solution to ‘Citizens United’. In the piece, he explains that 

Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s majority opinion in Citizens United essentially invites a shareholder solution. The premise of the decision was that government cannot block corporate political spending because a corporation is simply an association of citizens with free-speech rights, “an association that has taken on the corporate form,” as Kennedy put it. But if that is true, it follows that corporate managers should not spend citizen-shareholders’ money on political campaigns without their consent.

Senator Raskin further notes that the Congress doesn't appear interested in moving forward with the Disclose Act, and the Securities and Exchange Commission has not pursued requiring campaign spending disclosures.  In response, the senator has a proposal:

Our best hope for change is with the state governments that regulate corporate entities throughout the year and receive regular filings from them. I am introducing legislation in January that will require managers of Maryland-registered corporations who wish to engage in political spending for their shareholders to post all political expenditures on company Web sites within 48 hours and confirm that any political spending fairly reflects the explicit preference of shareholders owning a majority interest in the company.

Further, if no “majority will” of the shareholders can form to spend money for political candidates — because most shares are owned by institutions forbidden to participate in partisan campaigns — then the corporation will be prohibited from using its resources on political campaigns.

Back in early 2010, as a guest blogger here, I wrote a post, Citizens United: States, where I noted my reaction to the case, which was that I wondered how states would react and that the case made the issue "an internal governance issue, which is a state-level issue." (Please click below to read more.)

Continue reading

October 7, 2014 in Business Associations, Constitutional Law, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Current Affairs, Joshua P. Fershee | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, October 2, 2014

What Would Business Associations Students Do If They Were Shareholders?

For the second time, I have assigned my BA students to write their own shareholder proposals so that they can better understand the mechanics and the substance behind Rule 14-a8. As samples, I provided a link to over 500 proposals for the 2014 proxy season. We also went through the Apple Proxy Statement as a way to review corporate governance, the roles of the committees, and some other concepts we had discussed. As I reviewed the proposals this morning, I noticed that the student proposals varied widely with most relating to human rights, genetically modified food, environmental protection, online privacy, and other social factors. A few related to cumulative voting, split of the chair and CEO, poison pills, political spending, pay ratio, equity plans, and other executive compensation factors.

After they take their midterm next week, I will show them how well these proposals tend to do in the real world. Environmental, social, and governance factors (political spending and lobbying are included) constituted almost 42% of proposals, up from 36% in 2013, according to Equilar. Of note, 45% of proposals calling for a declassified board passed, with an average of 89% support, while only two proposals for the separation of chair and CEO passed. Astonishingly, Proxy Monitor, which looked at the 250 largest publicly-traded American companies, reports that just three people and their family members filed one third of all proposals. Only 4% of shareholder proposals were supported by a majority of voting shareholders.  Only one of the 136 proposals related to social policy concerns in the Proxy Monitor data set passed, and that was an animal welfare proposal that the company actually supported.

I plan to use two of the student proposals verbatim on the final exam to test their ability to assess whether a company would be successful in an SEC No-Action letter process. Many of the students thought the exercise was helpful, although one of the students who was most meticulous with the assignment is now even more adamant that she does not want to do transactional law. Too bad, because she would make a great corporate lawyer. I have 7 weeks to convince her to change her mind. 

October 2, 2014 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Law School, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)