Monday, December 15, 2014

Conflicts of Interest on the College Football Playoff Committee

Many people have been talking about the four teams chosen for the inaugural college football playoff. I, good business law blogger that I am, have been thinking about conflicts of interest on the selection committee.

If you’re a football fan, you know that this year, for the first time, the national champion in NCAA major college football will be chosen through a four-team playoff. The four teams selected—Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, and Ohio State—will participate in two semifinal games, with the two winners to play for the championship. (Yes, Art Briles, Baylor should be one of the four, but, no, Ohio State is not the team that shouldn’t be there.)

The four participating schools are chosen by a thirteen-person selection committee, although one of the members, Archie Manning, has taken a leave of absence this year for health reasons. The committee includes several people with current relationships to schools that play major college football, including the following athletic directors:  Jeff Long, Arkansas; Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin; Pat Haden, USC; Oliver Luck, West Virginia; and Dan Radakovich, Clemson.

The selection committee adopted a recusal policy that requires committee members to recuse themselves if the committee member or an immediate family member “(a) is compensated by a school, (b) provides professional services for a school, or (c) is on the coaching staff or administrative staff at a school or is a football student-athlete at a school.” A recused committee member may not participate in any votes involving that team or be present during any deliberations involving that team’s selection or seeding.

Under this policy, all of the athletic directors recused themselves from voting involving their schools. Others connected to particular schools also recused themselves: Condoleeza Rice, because she’s a professor at Stanford; Tom Osborne, because he’s still receiving payments as a former coach and athletic director at Nebraska; Mike Gould because he’s the Superintendent at Air Force.

As it turned out, none of the committee members were recused as to the six schools seriously considered for the final four—the four chosen, plus Baylor and TCU. But should they have been?

Consider Barry Alvarez, the athletic director at Wisconsin, a member of the Big Ten. The Big Ten schools share bowl revenues with other members of the conference. Thus, when Ohio State was chosen for the fourth spot over Baylor and TCU, Wisconsin became entitled to part of the $6 million paid to participants in the semifinal game (and additional money if Ohio State wins the semifinal and plays in the championship game). A vote for Ohio State directly benefitted the Wisconsin athletic department Alvarez heads.

The problem is not unique to Coach Alvarez. Other conferences also share bowl revenue, so Pat Haden (PAC-12), Jeff Long (SEC), and Dan Radakovich (ACC) also benefited when the representatives from their respective conferences were chosen. But those choices, unlike the choice of Ohio State over Baylor or TCU, were relatively uncontroversial. (The choice of Florida State over any of those schools should have been controversial, in my opinion, but it wasn’t.) Oliver Luck (Big 12) also had a financial incentive to vote for either Baylor or TCU, but, unfortunately for him and for his athletic department, neither of them was selected.

This conflict of interest may have been intentional. The committee appointments were carefully apportioned among the Power 5 conferences, and the expectation may have been that each of these athletic directors would vote for representatives of their respective conferences. (We don’t know if they actually did.) But no one is even talking about this clear conflict of interest, not even Art Briles, and that’s a little surprising.

December 15, 2014 in C. Steven Bradford, Corporate Governance, Sports | Permalink | Comments (6)

Monday, December 1, 2014

The MIT School of Law

I recently read a very interesting article on legal education, The MIT School of Law? A Perspective on Legal Education in the 21st Century, by Daniel Martin Katz, scheduled to appear in the 2014 U. Ill. L. Rev. 

Katz, an associate professor at Michigan State, considers the impact of the information revolution and changes in the market for legal services on legal education. He considers how a hypothetical law school might market itself and its students. The key, according to Katz, “is to stop trying to be the ‘50th or 100th best Harvard and Yale’ and instead to concentrate on outflanking these and other institutions by becoming leaders in law’s major emerging employment sectors.” Rather than consider how to incrementally change existing law schools, Katz tries to work backward from what he thinks the future market for lawyers will be like to how a law school should be structured to serve that market. Not surprisingly, Katz concludes that knowledge of technology, math, engineering and science will be important for future lawyers—thus, the MIT School of Law in the article’s title.

I’m a little late getting to this, but it’s a very interesting, provocative article—well worth reading. Katz’s article is part of the Illinois Law Review's  tribute to Larry Ribstein. That entire issue is worth a close look when it is available.

December 1, 2014 in C. Steven Bradford, Law School, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Should the Federal Government Subsidize Law School?

The federal government has a limited amount of money available for student financial aid. Many people believe the size of that financial aid pot should be increased. That may be true but, until that happens, the government should try to allocate the limited funds it has as efficiently as possible. So I ask, should the government be giving that money to law students?

I have great respect for my profession. I think lawyers serve an extremely important function. I’m a strong believer in individual liberty and many of our personal liberties have been preserved through the law and the efforts of lawyers. But it’s hard to argue that the most important issue in the United States today is a shortage of lawyers.

We need more scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and primary care physicians. So why is the government paying for students to major in fields like political science, sociology, and law, just to name a few? Wouldn’t we be better off allocating more money to math and the hard sciences, to give students an incentive to move into those areas? (Or, since many students aren’t prepared to move into those areas, perhaps some of that money needs to be used to improve primary and secondary education in science and math.)

I admit that I financed both my undergraduate political science degree and my law degree in part with federal funds. (When I went to college, I discovered that what I had always considered a liability—my family’s lack of money—was suddenly a benefit.) I was able to pursue my dream with the federal government’s help. But perhaps the government should have encouraged me to be a scientist or engineer. Or, if I really wanted to be a lawyer, to finance that dream myself.

There’s even less money available now than there was when I was a student, back in the days of Aristotle. (Not less in nominal dollars, but less as a percentage of the cost of a higher education.) Because of that, the need to allocate that financial aid money well is even stronger.

I’m a law professor, so even suggesting this is going against my own self-interest. But sometimes self-interest has to yield to national interest.

November 24, 2014 in C. Steven Bradford, Law School | Permalink | Comments (0)

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)

Monday, November 17, 2014

SEC Crowdfunding Regulations: Congress Should Stop the Current Exercise in Futility

Regular readers of this column know that I’m a strong supporter of a federal crowdfunding exemption, which would allow companies to sell securities online to ordinary investors without registration.

The SEC’s Foot-Dragging

The JOBS Act, passed in April 2012, included a crowdfunding exemption, but, 956 days later, the SEC still has not adopted rules to implement it. Last month, I complained about the SEC’s failure to adopt those rules. Now, I’m not so sure I want that to happen.

 A Little Legislative History

Why have I changed my mind? First, a little legislative history. The House originally passed a crowdfunding bill, sponsored by Representative Patrick McHenry, that was much less regulatory than the final law. Unfortunately, the Senate amended the JOBS Act to substitute the version that was eventually enacted into law. That final version is much more regulatory than Congressman McHenry’s version, and is riddled with errors and ambiguities. The House accepted that Senate substitution, probably because fighting would have risked everything else in the JOBS Act.

As I wrote shortly after the JOBS Act passed, the exemption that came out of the Senate is flawed and unlikely to be effective. If so, it’s not the SEC’s fault. The SEC has limited discretion to fix the problems in the statute.

A Better Way

Things have changed since my last post on crowdfunding. No, the SEC still has not acted. Things have changed in other ways.

The Republicans now control both houses of Congress, and the Republican-controlled Congress will undoubtedly be friendlier to small business and more concerned about the regulatory costs involved in raising capital. The new Congress is dominated by people like Congressman McHenry.

It might be better at this point to start over, instead of waiting for the SEC to finish its exercise in regulatory futility. And, this time, Congress shouldn’t wait for SEC action. It should put the final exemption in the statute itself, with SEC input. The SEC certainly can’t argue that they need more time to study the issue.

President Obama might threaten a veto and argue that we should wait to see if the existing provisions work. But keep in mind that the Obama administration endorsed the original House bill. Was that original endorsement mere political grandstanding, or does President Obama really want to provide an effective exemption?

Congress is unlikely to override a presidential veto, so if that happens, we’ll probably have to wait for a new President to get a workable crowdfunding exemption.

November 17, 2014 in C. Steven Bradford, Corporate Finance, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, November 14, 2014

SEC Pursues Foreign Crowdfunding Site

In a 2012 article on securities crowdfunding, I warned about the U.S. securities law issues raised by foreign crowdfunding sites selling securities to U.S. investors. I pointed out that “some of those foreign sites also sell to U.S. investors, and some of the investments they sell would almost certainly qualify as securities under U.S. law.”

A recent SEC consent order involving Eureeca Capital shows that the SEC is well aware of the issue and willing to go after foreign sites that sell to U.S. investors.

According to the consent order, Eureeca, based in the Cayman Islands, operates a global crowdfunding platform that connects non-U.S. issuers with investors interested in buying equity securities. Eureeca had a disclaimer on its website that the securities were not being offered to U.S. residents, but it nevertheless allowed U.S. residents to invest in some of the offerings. Eureeca apparently knew these investors were Americans; they provided copies of their passports and proof of U.S. addresses before investing.

The consent order finds that these unregistered sales of securities violated section 5 of the Securities Act and also that Eureeca was acting as an unregistered broker, in violation of section 15 of the Exchange Act. Eureeca is required to pay a $25,000 fine (a fairly significant fine considering that the total amount sold to the U.S. investors, according to the order, was only $20,000).

Given the plethora of international crowdfunding platforms, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more actions like this in the future.

November 14, 2014 in C. Steven Bradford, Corporate Finance, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (1)

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)

Monday, November 10, 2014

Nightmare in Law Review Land . . . .

As some of you know, I have been a defender (although perhaps not a staunch one) of student-edited law reviews as a good learning experience for students.  I have worked with students in ways that I really have enjoyed over the years.  I also have had some lousy experiences.  But even I admit that between the overwhelmingly negative blog commentary  (to which I now add), including posts here and here by Steve Bradford here on the BLPB, and the experiences I relate here, I am having trouble sustaining my support for student-edited journals . . . .

Continue reading

November 10, 2014 in C. Steven Bradford, Joan Heminway, Law School | Permalink | Comments (10)

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Unintended Consequences of Public Policies

Note to all legislators and regulators: don’t do anything until you’ve thought through all the consequences.

One of the most important things I learned as a student of public policy was the difference between static and dynamic analysis. Static analysis looks only at the immediate consequences of a change. Dynamic analysis looks at the long-term consequences of a change, taking into account how people will adjust to that change.

If I tell my students they must write a 50-page paper by Friday or fail, most of them will at least try to write the 50-page paper. That’s the static effect. But no one will ever take my Business Associations class again. That’s the dynamic effect.

For some people today, including an increasing number of politicians on both sides of the aisle, neither static nor dynamic effects matter. It’s enough just to have good intentions. “Don’t you care?”, those people ask. “We need to do something.”

Even when policy makers do consider the effects of their policy choices, many of them consider only the immediate effects—static analysis—and don’t think about the long-term consequences. That’s unfortunate, because legislation and regulation often have unintended consequences.

That’s the point of Thomas E. Hall’s new book, Aftermath: The Unintended Consequences of Public Policies. Hall, a professor of economics at Miami (Ohio), looks at the unintended consequences of four policies: (1) the federal income tax; (2) cigarette taxes; (3) minimum wage laws; and (4) Prohibition.

None of the evidence Hall lays out will surprise anyone familiar with these four policies, and the results are predictable to anyone familiar with economics. But the book is a great introduction to the idea of unintended consequences, and an illustration of the need for dynamic analysis (although Hall doesn’t use that term).

The book is short; it won’t take you long to read it. And Hall writes well, using non-technical language, so the book won’t put you to sleep. I recommend it to anyone interested in public policy—which should cover most of the readers of this blog.

November 3, 2014 in Books, C. Steven Bradford, Law and Economics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Friday, October 31, 2014

SEC Withholds Data from Columbia Researcher

Daniel Fisher at Forbes has posted an interesting story about Columbia Law Professor Robert Jackson's attempt to obtain information about investment advisors from the SEC. The SEC first denied they had the information, then said it would be too burdensome to produce the information. The kicker: an SEC economist has published a study using that very data. Fisher provides copies of Professor Jackson's persistent FOIA requests and the SEC's responses.

It's a fascinating study in bureaucratic favoritism and stubbornness. Not particularly surprising, but fascinating.

October 31, 2014 in C. Steven Bradford, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Administrative Law and the Suppression of Popular Power

A few weeks ago, I suggested the book Is Administrative Law Unlawful, by Philip Hamburger. I have now finished reading the book. It’s a tough read but, if you’re interested in constitutional history as it relates to administrative law, I strongly recommend it.

I was especially struck by the following argument about the connection between popular sovereignty and the growth of administrative rule:

The growth of administrative power in America has followed the expansion of suffrage—an expansion that increasingly has opened up voting to all the people. It therefore is necessary to consider whether there is a connection.

It would appear that the new, cosmopolitan, or knowledge class embraced popular suffrage with a profound caveat. They tended to favor popular participation in voting, but they also tended to support the removal of much legislative power from legislatures. The almost paradoxical result has been to agonize over voting rights while blithely shifting legislative power to unelected administrators.

. . . Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, reformers struggled for the people to have equal representation and thus to enjoy the power to govern themselves. The reformers told themselves that, if only the people had power, reasonable and righteous government would prevail. When the people gradually acquired this power, however, the results were disappointing for the knowledge class. The members of this class had established their status, influence, and sense of self-worth through their assiduous pursuit of rationality and specialized knowledge, and they were troubled that popularly elected legislatures did not operate in line with the qualities they so admired in themselves. . . . Administrative power . . . was one of the avenues for power by and on behalf of a class that understood authority not merely in terms of the equal rights of all the people, but more deeply in terms of their own rationality and specialized knowledge.

Democracies often make stupid choices. But I will take democracy over technocracy any day. Bureaucrats also make stupid choices, and bureaucrats are much less likely than democratic majorities to admit their mistakes and move on.

October 27, 2014 in Books, C. Steven Bradford, Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

If You Think You're Good at Multitasking, You're Probably Wrong

A while ago, I wrote a post decrying multitasking. Travis Bradberry at Forbes has an excellent post discussing some research of multitasking conducted at Stanford University. My favorite takeway: "They found that heavy multitaskers—those who multitask a lot and feel that it boosts their performance—were actually worse at multitasking than those who like to do a single thing at a time."

October 8, 2014 in C. Steven Bradford | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 29, 2014

Fair Price/Unfair Process: The New Delaware Chancery Court Case

The Delaware Supreme Court has held that fairness review in duty of loyalty cases has two elements: fair dealing and fair price. Weinberger v. UOP, Inc., 457 A.2d 701 (1983). Fair dealing focuses on process: questions such as “when the transaction was timed, how it was initiated, structured, negotiated, disclosed to the directors, and how the approvals of the directors and the stockholders were obtained.” 457 A.2d at 711. Fair price focuses on the consideration paid or received in the transaction.

Weinberger says that the two elements of fairness must be considered together, that “the test for fairness is not a bifurcated one between fair dealing and fair price.” Id. But, of course, damages will be measured against a fair price. If that’s the case, I ask my students, does fair dealing really make any difference as long as the price is fair?

A Delaware Court of Chancery opinion, In Re Nine Systems Corporation Shareholders Litigation,  (Del. Ch. Sept. 4, 2014), recently dealt with that issue.  Vice Chancellor Noble concluded that the procedure followed by the company was unfair, so the element of fair dealing was not met. He decided that the price was fair but, considering the two elements together, decided that the burden of proving fairness had not been met.

Because of his finding that the price was fair, the Vice Chancellor rejected the plaintiffs’ claim for damages. However, he concluded that the court could require the defendants to pay certain of the plaintiffs' attorneys' fees and costs.

I now have an answer for my students. Even if the price is fair, fair dealing can still make a difference. Of course, I’m not sure anyone other than the plaintiffs’ attorneys will be terribly happy with the result.

September 29, 2014 in Business Associations, C. Steven Bradford, Corporations, Delaware | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, September 22, 2014

More on the Irrelevance of Law Reviews

In July, I blogged about the irrelevance of law reviews. Here’s more evidence.

I spoke at a symposium on crowdfunding in late March and submitted my article, Shooting the Messenger: The Liability of Crowdfunding Intermediaries for the Fraud of Others, to the law review in late June. The editor-in-chief recently informed me that the edited article would be available for my review sometime in November, and that it should be published in March of 2015.

In the meantime, the article is accumulating downloads on SSRN, the Social Science Research Network. By the time it’s published, most of the people who are most interested in the topic will have already read it. The law review will provide a published archive that people can cite to, but that’s about it.

September 22, 2014 in C. Steven Bradford | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, September 15, 2014

I'm Done with ABA Accreditation

I was recently asked to serve on an ABA site team to reaccredit a law school. I have done this before; it’s hard work, but it’s fun. You get to see how another law school operates and meet many legal educators you might not otherwise meet.  But I turned this one down and I told the ABA to take me off their list of potential accreditors.

I have decided that I will no longer serve as an ABA accreditor. I see no evidence that ABA review is doing much to increase the quality of legal education. The accreditation rules stifle creativity, protect traditional law schools from competition, and increase the cost of legal education.

The newly revised ABA standards are better in some ways than the current standards. They accommodate some technological changes, although at least ten years too late. And I was happy to see that the restrictions on distance education were loosened a little. But the changes are too little, too late.

Ironically, the new ABA standards require law schools to justify their programs based on student outcomes, something the accreditation rules themselves have never done.

I’m not willing to play the game anymore. I’ll leave enforcement of the ABA rules to people who think they’re worth enforcing.

September 15, 2014 in C. Steven Bradford, Law School | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, August 25, 2014

Sex, Lies, and . . . Crowdfunding

This follows on Ann's post yesterday on Gender and Crowdfunding.  Ann, so glad you've joined me and Steve Bradford as securities crowdfunding watchers!  Delighted to have you in that informal, somewhat disgruntled "club."

I have been interested in whether securities crowdfunding will democratize business finance.  (I note here that Steve Bradford's comment to Ann's post raises the broader question of crowdfunding's ability to better engage underrepresented populations in general.)  My interest has, however, been more on the investor (backer) side of the crowdfunding equation than on the business (entrepreneur) side.  

As Ann notes, given the delay in the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rulemaking under Title III of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act, the information on gender and crowdfunding that we have so far comes from other types of crowdfunding.  This information may or may not map well to markets in securities crowdfunding.  But it's still worth reviewing the information that we do have.

Continue reading

August 25, 2014 in Ann Lipton, C. Steven Bradford, Entrepreneurship, Joan Heminway, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (1)

An Easy Way for Students to Improve Their Law School Performance: Stop Multitasking

Students often ask me how they can improve their performance in my classes. There’s one thing they can do that will increase their learning with no additional work on their part: stop multitasking.

Multitasking is bad. The research is clear: students, even today’s students who grew up multitasking, learn less when they’re doing other things at the same time. See, for example, here and here. It’s a very simple point: if you surf the Internet, email, text, instant message, talk on the phone, or watch TV while you’re studying (or in the classroom), you learn less. Effective study (and work) requires focus.

It's such an easy, effortless way to improve learning: just focus exclusively on what you’re reading, without any distractions. Turn off instant messaging. Close the web browser and the email program. Silence your phone. Turn off the TV.

I make that point to my students at the beginning of my classes.  but, for some of them, it just doesn’t sink in. I guess that shouldn't surprise me: people text while they're driving even as the casualties continue to mount.

I recently found an exercise on the Internet that illustrates the point in a straightforward, simple way. I’m going to distribute it to my students this year (with the author’s permission) and see if it helps. (For what it’s worth, it took me 34 seconds to complete the exercise without multitasking and 52 seconds to do it multitasking.)

August 25, 2014 in C. Steven Bradford, Law School, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 18, 2014

The North Dakota Economic Boom--From the Inside

I have read about the economic boom in North Dakota. The state has the highest economic growth rate and the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, primarily due to energy production using hydraulic fracking. But I didn’t really appreciate the statistics until I recently had an opportunity to see what that boom looks like “on the ground.”

Last week, my wife and I went to western North Dakota, the heart of the fracking industry, to backpack in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. When we weren’t backpacking, we got a chance to see the North Dakota economy first-hand. What we saw amazed us:

  • Motels in remote places like Dickinson and Watford City charging more than $200 a night. Not four-star hotels. Chains like AmericInn and La Quinta. And these are not prime tourist locations. Look for Watford City on a map; it’s in the middle of nowhere. (No disrespect intended to any North Dakota readers, but you have to admit that, but for the fracking boom, Watford City is not prime real estate.)
  • Temporary housing everywhere. One reason the hotel rates were high is that many of them are housing workers on a permanent basis. There is a serious housing shortage. We saw literally dozens of mobile home encampments, and apartment rents have skyrocketed.
  • Jobs begging for workers. Almost every business we visited had some sort of “jobs available” sign. We saw a sign at one hotel offering bonuses of $500 to $1000 for housekeepers.
  • Immigration. Not surprisingly, the low unemployment rate, the relatively high pay, and the available jobs have drawn people from outside the state. Many of the people we talked to were not natives and their time in the state was typically measured in months, and sometimes just weeks.
  • Construction everywhere—motels, apartment complexes, grocery stores, strip malls, and roads.
  • Thriving businesses. We visited a large grocery store in Watford City, a small town of a few thousand people. Although we were there at early afternoon on a Monday, we were surprised to see every check stand open, with three or four carts lined up for each checker. We asked a local why the store was so busy on a weekday afternoon and he told us it was always that busy.
  • Traffic, traffic, traffic. Because of the boom, the infrastructure has not always kept up with the economy. The roads in western North Dakota were packed with oil trucks, pickups, and almost every kind of business vehicle imaginable. At one rural highway intersection in the middle of the fracking area, we waited almost 20 minutes to get through the light.

It’s one thing to read about the boom; it’s another thing entirely to see it.

I don’t know what the effect of all this has been on business lawyers in North Dakota, but my guess is their practices are booming. Someone has to draft all the leases and employment contracts, and at least some of that work is being done within the state. And I suspect there’s a big boom for criminal lawyers as well. As one local told us, there’s a lot of testosterone (most of the oil workers are male) and a lot of liquor, and that’s not a good combination.


August 18, 2014 in C. Steven Bradford, Current Affairs, Entrepreneurship | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Emergency Sasquatch Ordinance

One of the blogs in last week’s list of blogs I follow was Lowering the Bar, a collection of humorous legal items edited by Kevin Underhill, a San Francisco lawyer.

Underhill recently released a book, The Emergency Sasquatch Ordinance. The book is a collection of silly, weird, and humorous laws, with commentary by Underhill. The title comes from an ordinance adopted by the board of commissioners of Skamania County, Washington that made it illegal to slay Bigfoot. Apparently, the threat was serious because the county commissioners designated it as an emergency ordinance so it could become immediately effective.

Both Underhill’s selection of laws and his commentary are a little uneven. Some of the laws he features are not that interesting (or funny). And Underhill’s commentary on the laws, while often quite funny, sometimes falls flat. I also wish Underhill would have provided more legislative history. He sometimes does, but not always, and it would be interesting to know what motivated some of these strange laws. But the book contains some real gems, and that alone makes it worth reading.

Some of the laws are funny because of their clear unconstitutionality. In 2011, for example, the Gould, Arkansas city council passed a law that (1) requires city council approval for the mayor or council members to participate in a meeting of any organization; (2) bans the Gould Citizens Advisory Council from doing business in the city; and (3) requires city council approval for any new organization in the city.

Some of them are just weird. A California law, for example, provides that

It is unlawful for any person to immerse or soak the carcass of any slaughtered rabbit in water for a period longer than necessary to eliminate the natural animal heat in the carcass and in no event for a period longer than 2 ½ hours.

Many of them make you wonder whether the legislative body didn’t have more important things to do. One Arkansas law, for instance, specifies how to pronounce Arkansas and another specifies the possessive form of Arkansas. (In case you were wondering, it’s pronounced “By Texas” and the possessive form is “Our’n.”) A Massachusetts statute that I’m sure my wife the law librarian will love makes it illegal to disturb people in a public library by making noise.

But my favorite law from the Underhill book confirms my view of tax law and tax lawyers. According to an Australian law, the tax commissioner may

  • Treat a particular event that actually happened as not having happened;
  • Treat a particular event that did not actually happen as having happened and, if appropriate, treat the event as having happened at a particular time and having involved particular action by a particular entity; or
  • Treat a particular event that actually happened as having happened at a time different from the time it actually happened, or having involved particular action by a particular entity (whether or not the event actually involved any action by that entity).

The Emergency Sasquatch Ordinance is an easy read and each law is in a separate chapter, so it’s easy to pick and choose. It’s worth a look.

August 11, 2014 in Books, C. Steven Bradford | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Crowdfunding: Are Crowds Wise or Idiots?

The new crowdfunding exemption in section 4(a)(6) of the Securities Act will, once the SEC adopts the rules required to implement it, allow ordinary investors to invest in unregistered securities offerings. Will those unsophisticated investors go down in flames or will they be able to make rational investment choices?

Some proponents of crowdfunding argue that crowdfunding benefits from the so-called “wisdom of the crowd": that the collective, consensus choice that results from crowdfunding is better than what any individual could do alone, and often as good as expert choices. A recent study seems to support that view.

Two business professors—Ethan R. Mollick at the Wharton School and Ramana Nanda at Harvard—looked at crowdfunding campaigns for theater projects. They submitted those projects to people with expertise in evaluating theater funding applications and compared the expert evaluations to the actual crowdfunding results.

Mollick and Nanda found a strong positive correlation between the projects funded by the crowd and those rated highly by the experts. In other words, crowds were more likely to fund the campaigns the experts preferred. In addition, projects funded by the crowd that were not rated highly by the experts did just as well as the projects chosen by the experts.

Of course, theater projects aren’t the same as securities, but this study should certainly be of interest to those following the securities crowdfunding debate. The full study (44 pages) is available here. If you don’t have time to read the full study, a summary is available here.

July 28, 2014 in C. Steven Bradford, Corporate Finance, Entrepreneurship, Financial Markets, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (2)