Monday, July 27, 2015
As the summer progresses, I have been slowly catching up on all the giant electronic reading pile I slowly built up during the school year. I recently read a very interesting article on personal jurisdiction, of all things. It’s Tanya J. Monestier, Registration Statutes, General Jurisdiction, and the Fallacy of Consent, 36 Cardozo L. Rev. 1343 (2015), available on SSRN here. It's definitely worth reading, whether you're a corporate litigator or just interested in corporate law.
Here’s the abstract, which explains the article much better than I could:
In early 2014, the Supreme Court issued a game-changing decision that will likely put corporate registration as a basis for personal jurisdiction center stage in the years to come. In Daimler AG v. Bauman, the Court dramatically reined in general jurisdiction for corporations. The Court in Daimler held that a corporation is subject to general jurisdiction only in situations where it has continuous and systematic general business contacts with the forum such that it is “at home” there. Except in rare circumstances, a corporation is “at home” only in its state of incorporation and the state of its principal place of business. Plaintiffs who are foreclosed by Daimler from arguing continuous and systematic contacts with the forum as a basis for jurisdiction will now look to registration statutes to provide the relevant hook to ground personal jurisdiction over corporations.
Each of the fifty states has a registration statute that requires a corporation doing business in the state to register with the state and appoint an agent for service of process. A considerable number of states interpret their registration statutes as conferring general, or all-purpose, jurisdiction over any corporation that has registered to do business under the state statute. Those states that regard registration as permitting the exercise of general jurisdiction usually justify the assertion of jurisdiction on the basis of consent. That is, by knowingly and voluntarily registering to do business in a state, a corporation has consented to the exercise of all-purpose jurisdiction over it.
Registration to do business as a basis for general jurisdiction, however, rests on dubious constitutional footing. Commentators have approached the analysis from a variety of perspectives over the years. The analysis tends to focus on how courts have misread historical precedent and failed to account for the modernization of jurisdictional theory post-International Shoe Co. v. Washington. Largely unexplored, however, is the premise underlying registration-based general jurisdiction: that registration equals consent. In this Article, I argue that general jurisdiction based on registration to do business violates the Due Process Clause because such registration does not actually amount to “consent” as that term is understood in personal jurisdiction jurisprudence. I comprehensively explore why it is that registration cannot fairly be regarded as express (or even implied) consent to personal jurisdiction. First, I look at other forms of consent in the jurisdictional context — forum selection clauses and submission — and analyze the salient differences between these and registration. Second, I examine the nature of the consent that is said to form the basis for general jurisdiction and argue that it is essentially coercive or extorted. Coerced consent, an oxymoron, cannot legitimately form the basis for the assertion of general jurisdiction over a corporation. From there, I situate registration statutes in a larger conversation about general jurisdiction. I maintain that registration-based jurisdiction does not fit well into the landscape of general jurisdiction: it could eliminate the need for minimum contacts altogether; it results in universal and exorbitant jurisdiction; it is conceptually misaligned with doing business as a ground for jurisdiction; and it promotes forum shopping.
The subject is not one that I would be naturally attracted to. I don’t teach civil procedure and I don’t spend a lot of my professional time focusing on litigation issues. But I found Professor Monestier’s article very interesting and enjoyable. Even if you, like me, aren't a civil procedure junkie, it's worth checking out.
Friday, July 24, 2015
Cynthia Bond, a professor at John Marshall Law School, is surveying law professors on their use of popular culture in teaching. Here's Professor Bond's call for participants:
Greetings Law Teacher Colleagues:
I am working on an article this summer on uses of popular culture in the law school classroom. I am defining popular culture broadly to include mass culture texts like movies, TV shows, popular music, images which circulate on the internet, etc, and also any current events that you may reference in the classroom which are not purely legal in nature (i.e. not simply a recent court decision).
To support this article, I am doing a rather unscientific survey to get a sense of what law professors are doing in this area. If you are a law professor and you use popular culture in your class, I would be most grateful if you could answer this quick, anonymous survey I have put together:
Thanks in advance for your time and have a wonderful rest of summer!
The John Marshall Law School
The survey only takes a few minutes, so, if you're a law professor, it won't take much time to support a colleague's research.
Monday, July 20, 2015
The people at New Media Rights, a non-profit affiliated with the California Western School of Law, have developed an interesting new legal app called The Fair Use App. It is designed to help filmmakers and video editors understand the fair use doctrine in U.S. copyright law. The app runs users through a series of questions about their use of others’ content and explains how their answers to each question affect the availability of the fair use doctrine. In effect, it’s a digital flowchart.
Fair use is a complicated, multi-factor analysis, so there is no final yes-no answer. But this app would be a good start for a filmmaker trying to understand the law.
The app’s not perfect. For example, at one point, it asks if the content being used is in the public domain, with no explanation of what that means. I doubt most lay people would know exactly what that means. And I’m not a copyright expert, so I can’t say whether it’s substantively correct on all points. But, assuming it is, it’s a good tool. Consulting with an experienced copyright lawyer would be better, but most of the people using this app wouldn’t consult a lawyer anyway because they can’t afford a lawyer. This app is better than their alternative—no help at all.
I think there should be more tools like this, aimed at people who can’t afford lawyers. For some time, I have been thinking about developing something similar to explain the Securities Act registration requirements and exemptions to startup entrepreneurs raising capital. Many of those people start raising funds without consulting a securities lawyer, and many of them inadvertently violate the law (one reason I think there should be an unconditional de minimis exemption for offerings below a certain amount). An app like this could at least warn them of the dangers.
Legislators and regulators often forget that there is a tier of regulated people out there who can’t afford counsel and won’t understand the regulations. Thanks to people like New Media Rights for doing something to serve those people.
It doesn't take long to run through the app. If you're interested, it's available here.
Monday, July 13, 2015
Hi, my name is Steve, and I'm an academic.
I'm paid to express my opinions. The more I publish, the greater the rewards: tenure, promotion, raises, summer research grants, chaired professorships, conference invitations.
My situation isn't unique. The reward structure is the same at most law schools and in the rest of higher education. The more you write, the more you get.
I once asked a dean (who shall remain nameless) what would happen if a faculty member received a summer research grant and the research didn't pan out, didn't produce anything worth publishing. The dean said that never happens because you can find an outlet to publish almost anything.
But do we really need all that "scholarship"? Would the world be any worse if I and other academics spent more time thinking and crafting a few high-quality articles that really added to the discussion, instead of trying to keep up the stream of constant publication? Would law and legal education suffer if we cut the number of law review articles in half?
Incentives are part of the problem. I have been in law teaching for 29 years, and my sense is that the pressure to publish is increasing. Quantity is surpassing quality as the prime criterion. When I entered legal education, two good articles was probably sufficient for tenure. Now, many untenured professors tell me they feel pressured to produce at least one article every year.
Another part of the problem is us. Sometimes, you don't have anything worthwhile to say. Sometimes, you realize you don't have anything worthwhile to say. Unfortunately, academics have big egos and, for many of us, the latter set is much smaller than the former, as illustrated by this Venn diagram.
And maybe part of the problem is generational. (WARNING: OLD FART ABOUT TO RANT ABOUT THE YOUNGSTERS) In a world where everything immediately goes to Facebook or Twitter, constant publication of low-quality material has become the norm. But, in defense of younger academics, the problem may be getting worse, but it's not new.
For whatever reason, we're overindulging in scholarship. Perhaps we need an Academics Anonymous, with a sponsor to call every time we're about to add more fodder to law reviews. "Hi, my name is Steve, and I'm an academic."
Monday, July 6, 2015
I have been reading Paul Mahoney’s brilliant new book, Wasting a Crisis: Why Securities Regulation Fails (University of Chicago Press 2015). You should too.
Mahoney attacks the traditional market failure rationale for our federal securities laws. He argues that contrary to the traditional narrative, market manipulation was not rampant prior to 1933 and the securities markets were operating reasonably well. Mahoney concludes that “‘lax’ regulation was not a substantial cause of the financial problems accompanying the Great Depression and . . . most (although not all) of the subsequent regulatory changes were largely ineffective and in some cases counterproductive.”
Mahoney looks at state blue sky laws, the Securities Act, the Exchange Act, the Public Utility Holding Company Act, and, regrettably only briefly, the Investment Company Act. He concludes by discussing the Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank Acts. He discusses the rationales for each regulation and whether those rationales are supported by the facts. Mahoney backs up his argument with a great deal of empirical research, some of which has appeared in earlier articles. Warning: Some of that discussion may be a little difficult for those without a background in regression analysis or financial economics, but you can follow Mahoney’s conclusions without understanding all of the analytical detail.
Mahoney’s work is a nice counterpoint to the narrative that prevails in most securities treatises and casebooks. Every law library should have a copy. Everyone interested in securities regulation policy, and certainly everyone who teaches a securities law course, should read this book. Whether or not you ultimately agree with Mahoney (as it happens, I generally do), his arguments must be dealt with.
Monday, June 8, 2015
I was reading an article on securities crowdfunding in China and came across this description of Chinese practice:
Generally, in China, equity-based crowdfunding capital-seekers rely on the strength of experienced, leading investors to advise “follow-up” investors in locating investment projects. Leading investors are usually professionals with rich experience in private offerings and label themselves as holding innovative techniques in investment strategies and possessing sound insights. On the contrary, follow-up investors usually do not have even basic financial skills, but they do ordinarily control certain financial resources for investment. When a leading investor selects a target investment project through an equity-based crowdfunding platform, the leading investor usually invests personal funds into the project. Crowdfunding capital- seekers then take advantage of the leading investor’s funds to market the project to follow-up investors.
(This is from a recent article by Tianlong Hu and Dong Yang, The People’s Funding of China: Legal Developments of Equity Crowdfunding-Progress, Proposals, and Prospects, 83 U. CIN. L. REV. 445 (2014).)
This is not unique to China. Private offerings to accredited investors in the United States often follow a similar path. Smaller investors are more likely to commit once a well-known, sophisticated investor has made a commitment. But the article made me wonder if we could use that structure to create a new securities offering exemption—one that responds to some of the policy concerns people have about the existing exemptions.
Most unregistered primary offerings of securities in the United States are pursuant to Rule 506 of Regulation D, the regulatory safe harbor for the private offering exemption in the Securities Act. Offerings pursuant to Rule 506, either by law [Rule 506(c)] or for practical reasons [Rule 506(b)], are limited to “accredited investors,” a defined term.
Many people have argued that the definition of accredited investor in Regulation D is too broad. Some of the investors covered by the definition are sophisticated institutional investors who clearly can fend for themselves. But the definition also includes many unsophisticated individuals who meet relatively low net worth and income requirements. Many of these investors, it is argued, cannot adequately evaluate the merits and risks of Rule 506 private offerings.
On the other hand, some people have complained that limiting these offerings to accredited investors privileges wealthy people at the expense of “ordinary” investors. Rich people have the opportunity to participate in these sometimes-lucrative offerings, but the rest of us cannot. That was one of the arguments for the not-yet-implemented section 4(a)(6) crowdfunding exemption added by the JOBS Act.
One way to resolve the tension between these two arguments, and deal with both concerns, would be to allow unsophisticated investors to invest in an offering only after a sophisticated investor has made a commitment. Ordinary investors might not be able to protect themselves, but they could free ride on the sophisticated investor’s evaluation of the offering.
We could create a new category of super-accredited investors, consisting only of institutions or individuals who clearly have the sophistication to protect themselves. Once one of those investors purchases a significant stake in an offering, other investors could purchase on the same terms.
For example, if Startup Corporation wanted to raise $50 million in an unregistered offering, it could first sell $10 million of the securities to a large venture capital firm. After that, it would be free to sell the remaining $40 million on the same terms to any investor, accredited or non-accredited, wealthy or not.
The lead investor’s evaluation of the offering wouldn’t completely protect the other investors. In particular, the lead investor’s tolerance for risk might be much higher than most ordinary investors’. But lead investor's evaluation would help protect against fraud and overreaching by the issuer.
The exemption would have to include some additional requirements to make sure that the other investors can reasonably rely on the lead investor’s decision to invest:
1. No conflicts of interest. The lead investor could not have a relationship to the issuer. Otherwise, the lead investor’s decision to invest might be due to that relationship, not because it believes the investment is a good one.
2. Minimum Investment. There should be a minimum investment requirement for the lead investor, to give the lead investor sufficient incentive to review the deal. To take an extreme example, a lead investor’s decision to invest $1 in a $50 million offering tells us little about the quality of the deal.
3. Same Terms. The lead investor must be investing on the same terms as the subsequent investors. The lead investor’s decision that an investment is worthwhile offers no protection at all to subsequent investors if those subsequent investors are getting a materially different deal.
4. Exit. If the lead investor’s decision to invest provides a signal to the other investors, so does the lead investor’s decision to exit the investment. At a minimum, the lead investor should have to disclose to the other investors when it sells. And, if the issuer is repurchasing the lead investor’s securities, we might want to impose a requirement that the issuer also offer to repurchase the securities of the other investors who purchased in the exempted offering.
This is just a sketch of what such an exemption would look like, about as far as one can go in a blog post. The proposed exemption would not be perfect. It wouldn’t guarantee that investors were getting a good deal, or even that the offering was not fraudulent. But even registration can’t do that. And I think the proposal is a nice compromise between investor protection and capital formation concerns.
Monday, June 1, 2015
I just read an interesting essay on the debate about creating “practice-ready” graduates: Robert J. Condlin, “Practice Ready Graduates”: A Millennialist Fantasy, 31 TOURO L. REV. 75 (2014), available on SSRN here.
Condlin rejects the notion of making law school graduates practice-ready. He argues that the practice-ready movement is a mistaken response to the downturn in the market for lawyers and that law schools cannot and should not make law students practice-ready. Regardless of your position on this issue, Condlin’s article is definitely worth reading.
Friday, May 29, 2015
A while ago, I noted a New York Times article about the effect of SEC Chair Mary Jo White's recusals from cases because of her husband's work at Cravath. The Times has a follow-up today. Apparently, the 2-2 split that results when Ms. White recuses herself is causing some real enforcement headaches, including missing a statute-of-limitations deadline.
Monday, May 25, 2015
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
-John McCrae, In Flanders Fields
Today is Memorial Day. Before you run to the beach or the park, or wherever you’re spending the holiday, take a moment to remember those dear soldiers who have fallen. They won’t be going to the beach or park today. They gave their lives so you could live.
You may think, as I do, that some of our more recent battles were better not fought, but that doesn’t make the sacrifices of the soldiers who fought in them any less noble or honorable. The loss of life is even more tragic or regrettable when stupid politicians needlessly send young men and women off to die.
To those of you who have lost loved ones in battle, my heartfelt condolences. To those who have fallen, my eternal gratitude for your sacrifice.
Monday, May 18, 2015
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!
Thursday, May 7, 2015
Last year, I blogged about a Fourth Circuit case, Prousalis v. Moore, which held that the Janus Capital definition of “maker” in Rule 10b-5 did not apply in criminal cases. For those who are interested, a short article on wrote on that topic, “Make” Means “Make”: Rejecting the Fourth Circuit’s Two-Headed Interpretation of Janus Capital, is now available on SSRN.
The paper is to be included in a symposium honoring the late Alan Bromberg, an outstanding securities scholar, as well as a mentor and friend.
Monday, May 4, 2015
In some European countries, bank interest rates have dropped below zero. (See here and here.) That’s right; it actually costs you to put your money in the bank. You put $1,000 in a savings account and the bank promises to pay you, say, $999, in a year.
I came of age in the Gerald Ford/Jimmy Carter years, when annual inflation rates were in the double digits. Whip Inflation Now! (Yes, children, I’m ancient.) I find it almost unbelievable that nominal interest rate (and bond yields) could drop below zero.
That hasn’t happened in the United States (yet), but what if it did? Set aside the huge macroeconomic issues, and let’s focus on a topic of greater interest to the readers of this blog—the effect on federal securities law, particularly the core notion of what constitutes a security.
The most important case in defining the scope of federal securities law is probably SEC v. W.J. Howey Co., 328 U.S. 293 (1946). Howey says that an investment is an investment contract, and therefore a security, if people invest money in a common enterprise with an expectation of profits coming from the efforts of others.
The “expectation of profits” part of the Howey test is the problem in a negative-interest-rate economy. Assume, for example, that an entrepreneur asks people for money to start a business and promises to return that money, without interest, in two years. In other words, you put in $1,000 and he’ll pay you back $1,000 in two years.
That investment would not ordinarily be treated as a security because there’s no profit. That’s how the Kiva crowdfunding site, which is based on no-interest lending, can avoid federal securities law. But, in a negative-interest world, a mere return of your principal is, in effect, profitable. Considering your opportunity cost, you come out ahead.
If we ever have negative interest rates and the courts hold that no-interest investments are securities, remember that you read it here first.
Monday, April 27, 2015
Many of you have probably heard of bitcoin, the private digital currency that some mainstream merchants are now accepting. (Rand Paul recently became the first presidential candidate to accept donations in bitcoin.)
Bitcoin was developed by a software programmer who used the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto. It is built on cryptography software known as the blockchain, which both issues the currency and authenticates transactions using it.
If you haven’t heard of bitcoin or you don’t know much about it, I strongly recommend an interesting, informative new book : The Age of Cryptocurrency: How Bitcoin and Digital Money are Challenging the Global Economic Order, by Paul Vigna and Michael J. Casey.
Vigna and Casey are reporters for the Wall Street Journal. I think they're a little too optimistic about the future of digital currency, but their book is an excellent non-technical introduction to the bitcoin phenomenon and the blockchain software that underlies it. The book isn’t limited to bitcoin; Vigna and Casey talk about other digital currency. They also discuss other potential applications for the blockchain software, such as gambling, self-enforcing “smart” contracts, and currency exchange.
The book’s discussion of regulatory issues is limited. If you’re looking for a discussion of the legal issues, I suggest you look elsewhere. But the book is a very good introduction to digital currency and how it works.
Monday, April 6, 2015
Yesterday was the third anniversary of the JOBS Act. President Obama signed it into law on April 5, 2012. The JOBS Act, as regular readers of this blog know, requires the SEC to adopt rules to enact an exemption for crowdfunded securities offerings. The statutory deadline for the SEC to do so was December 31, 2012. The SEC proposed the required rules on October 23, 2013, but it still has not adopted them.
It is now
- 1096 days since Congress passed the JOBS Act
- 826 days since the deadline for the SEC to adopt the required rules
- 530 days since the SEC proposed the rules
. . . and still no crowdfunding exemption.
If I treated my tax returns like the SEC has treated the crowdfunding rules, I would be in jail.
SEC Chair Mary Jo White has recently said that the SEC hopes to finalize the rules by the end of the year. I certainly hope so.
Monday, March 23, 2015
The JOBS Act requires the SEC to create an exemption for small, crowdfunded offerings of securities. That exemption, if the SEC ever enacts it, will allow issuers to raise up to $1 million a year in sales of securities to the general public. (Don’t confuse this exemption with Rule 506(c) sales to accredited investors, which is sometimes called crowdfunding, but really isn’t.)
The crowdfunding exemption restricts resales of the crowdfunded securities. Crowdfunding purchasers may not, with limited exceptions, resell the securities they purchase for a year. Securities Act sec. 4A(e); Proposed Rule 501, in SEC, Crowdfunding, Securities Act Release No. 9470 (Oct. 23, 2013). Unlike the resale restrictions in some of the other federal registration exemptions, the crowdfunding resale restriction serves no useful purpose. All it does is to increase the risk of what is already a very risky investment by reducing the liquidity of that investment.
Enforcing the “Come to Rest” Idea
Some of the resale restrictions in other exemptions are designed to enforce the requirement that the securities sold “come to rest” in the hands of purchasers who qualify for the exemption.
Rule 147, the safe harbor for the intrastate offering exemption in section 3(a)(11) of the Securities Act, is a good example. To qualify for the intrastate offering exemption, the securities must be offered and sold only to purchasers who reside in the same state as the issuer. Securities Act sec. 3(a)(11); Rule 147(d). This requirement would be totally illusory if an issuer could sell to a resident of its state and that resident could immediately resell outside the state. Therefore, Rule 147(e) prohibits resales outside the state for nine months.
The resale restrictions applicable to the Rule 505 and 506 exemptions have a similar effect. Rule 506 only allows sales to accredited investors or, in the case of Rule 506(b), non-accredited, sophisticated investors. Rules 506(b)(2)(ii), 506(c)(2)(i). These requirements would be eviscerated if an accredited or sophisticated purchaser could immediately resell to someone who does not qualify.
Rule 505 does not limit who may purchase but, like Rule 506, it does limit the number of non-accredited investors to 35. Rules 505(b)(2)(ii), 501(e)(1)(iv). If an issuer could sell to a single purchaser who immediately resold to dozens of others, the 35-purchaser limitation would be meaningless.
To enforce the requirements of the Rule 505 and 506 exemptions, Rule 502(d) restricts resales in both types of offering.
Preventing an Information-less Resale Market
Rule 504 also includes a resale restriction, Rule 502(d), even though it does not impose any restrictions on the nature or number of purchasers. A resale would not, therefore, be inconsistent with any restrictions imposed on the issuer’s offering.
However, Rule 504 does not impose any disclosure requirements on issuers. See Rule 502(b)(1). Because of that, people purchasing in a resale market would not have ready access to information about the issuer. But the Rule 504 resale restriction does not apply if the offering is registered in states that require the public filing and delivery to investors of a disclosure document. Rules 502(d), 504(b)(1). In that case, information about the issuer is publicly available and there’s no need to restrict resales. People purchasing in the resale market would have access to information to inform their purchases.
The resale restrictions in Rule 505 and 506 offerings could also be justified in part on this basis. If issuers sell only to accredited investors in those offerings, there is no disclosure requirement. If they sell to non-accredited investors, disclosure is mandated, but even then there’s no obligation to make that disclosure public. See Rule 502(b). People purchasing in the resale market therefore would not have ready access to public information about the issuer.
This lack-of-information justification is consistent with the lack of resale restrictions in Regulation A. To use the Regulation A exemption, an issuer must file with the SEC and furnish to investors a detailed disclosure document. Rules 251(d), 252. Because of that, information about the issuer and the security will be publicly available to purchasers in the resale market.
The Crowdfunding Exemption
Neither of these justifications for resale restrictions applies to offerings pursuant to the forthcoming (some day?) crowdfunding exemption.
The come-to-rest rationale does not apply. The crowdfunding exemption does not limit the type or number of purchasers. An issuer may offer and sell to anyone, anywhere, so no resale restriction is necessary to avoid circumvention of the requirements of the exemption.
The information argument also does not apply. A crowdfunding issuer is required to provide a great deal of disclosure about the company and the offering—as I have argued elsewhere, probably too much to make the exemption viable. See Securities Act sec. 4A(b)(1); Proposed Rule 201 and Form C. The issuer is also obligated to file annual reports with updated information. Securities Act sec. 4A(b)(4); Proposed Rule 202. All of that information will be publicly available. Even if one contends that the information required to be disclosed is inadequate, it will be no more adequate a year after the offering, when crowdfunding purchasers are free to resell. Securities Act sec. 4A(e); Proposed Rule 501.
Some people, including Tom Hazen and my co-blogger Joan Heminway, have argued that resale restrictions may be necessary to avoid a repeat of the pump-and-dump frauds that occurred under Rule 504 when Rule 504 was not subject to any resale restrictions. As I have explained, Rule 504, which requires no public disclosure of information, fits within the information rationale. Such fraud is much less likely where detailed disclosure is required. There will undoubtedly be some fraud in the resale market no matter what the rules are, but public crowdfunding will be much less susceptible to such fraud than the private Rule 504 sales in which the pump-and-dump frauds occurred.
The resale restrictions are consistent with neither the come-to-rest rationale nor the information rationale for resale restrictions Forcing crowdfunding purchasers to wait a year before reselling therefore serves no real purpose. The only real effect of those resale restrictions is to make an already-risky investment even riskier by reducing liquidity.
Monday, March 16, 2015
The depth of everyone's knowledge varies from subject to subject. I have a deep understanding of many areas of securities law, but a very shallow understanding of physics. (I’m not even in the wading pool.) But, even in subjects I teach—business associations, securities law, accounting for lawyers—the depth of my knowledge varies from topic to topic.
When I’m teaching the Securities Act registration exemptions, my knowledge base is very deep. I research and write primarily in that area. I know the law. I know the lore. I know the policy.
In other areas, my knowledge is much shallower. In some cases, I know just enough to teach the class. My business associations class sometimes touches on entity taxation issues, but I’m far from an expert on entity taxation. (My tax colleagues would say “far, far, far.”)
One’s knowledge deepens over time, of course. That’s one of the great joys of becoming an expert, whether you’re a law professor or a practitioner. I know more now about every topic I teach (including entity taxation) than I knew when I began teaching 27 years ago.
Several years ago, I decided to teach a course on investment companies and investment advisers. I started from scratch. I had no such class in law school and I didn’t practice in that area, so I had to learn the details myself before teaching the class. Now, having taught the class many times and having written two articles that deal with issues in the area, my knowledge base is much deeper.
All law professors have shallow and deep areas of knowledge. Over time, all of us should try to deepen our knowledge in the shallower areas. This improves our teaching and, less obviously, improves our scholarship. I tell my students that a broad education benefits the specialist, and my own experience confirms that. I have often drawn on what I learned in one of my shallower areas while writing an article in a deep area.
Professors also need to be careful that our teaching isn’t negatively affected by our shallow and deep areas.
- Be sure your course coverage (and your exam coverage) is based on the importance and relevance of the topics and the needs of the students, not on your knowledge base. There’s a natural psychological tendency to focus on what we know best, which is usually also what we’re most interested in. Don’t minimize a topic just because your knowledge of the topic is shallow. Don’t stress a topic just because your knowledge is deep. I would like to spend my entire securities regulation course talking about Securities Act exemptions, but I don’t.
- Be careful to maintain the same classroom atmosphere in shallow and deep areas. When I’m teaching in a deep knowledge area, I’m often just scratching the surface of what I know. I sometimes have to fight to stay excited about the material and avoid going on autopilot. When I’m teaching in a shallow area, the discussion is fresher and more exciting to me. I’m more likely to learn from my students and I can empathize with their struggles to master the material. The key is to keep an even keel—to keep the discussion equally fresh and exciting, no matter how deep or shallow your knowledge.
- Don’t overwhelm the students with your deep knowledge. They need to spend some time in the shallow end before you can take them into the depths. It’s taken you years to develop your deep knowledge; you can’t replicate that for your students in an hour or two.
- Admit when your knowledge is shallow. “I don’t know” is a perfectly appropriate response even when your knowledge is deep, even more so when your knowledge is shallow. And “I don’t know” is much better for you and your students than trying to fake it. Use these opportunities to deepen your knowledge and get back to the students with your answer. I can’t count how many times in my career I have faced situations like that.
I apologize for disillusioning any readers who, based on this blog, believed I was omniscient and had deep knowledge of everything.
Monday, March 2, 2015
As many of you know, both I and my co-blogger Joan Heminway have written several articles on crowdfunding. My articles are available here and Joan’s are available here. I think that a properly structured crowdfunding exemption (unfortunately, not the exemption Congress authorized in Title III of the JOBS Act) could revolutionize the finance of very small businesses.
Professor Darian M. Ibrahim, of William & Mary Law School, has posted an interesting and important new paper on crowdfunding, Equity Crowdfunding: A Market for Lemons? It’s available here.
Professor Ibrahim discusses two types of “crowdfunding” approved by the JOBS Act: (1) sales to accredited investors pursuant to SEC Rule 506(c), adopted pursuant to Title II of the JOBS Act; and (2) sales to any investors pursuant to the crowdfunding exemption authorized by Title III of the JOBS Act, but not yet implemented by the SEC. I don’t think the former should be called crowdfunding, but many people call it that, so I’ll excuse Professor Ibrahim.
Title II “Crowdfunding”
Professor Ibrahim points out that traditional investing by venture capitalists and angel investors is characterized by contractual controls and direct personal attention to the business by the investors. This allows the investors to monitor the investment and control misbehavior, and the investors’ participation and advice also provides a benefit to the business.
Ibrahim argues that Title II (506(c)) “crowdfunding” has been successful because it mimics what angel investors have been doing all along. It’s not really revolutionary, just making the existing model of angel investing more efficient by moving it to the Internet.
Title III Crowdfunding
Title III crowdfunding, on the other hand, is revolutionary; it doesn’t resemble anything that currently exists in the United States. If the SEC ever adopts the required rules, issuers will be selling to unaccredited investors who lack the knowledge and sophistication of venture capitalists and angel investors. It’s less obvious how they will judge among the various offerings and protect themselves from misbehavior by the entrepreneur.
Some have argued that the new crowdfunding exemption will appeal only to those companies that are too low quality to obtain traditional VC or angel funding, leaving unaccredited investors with the bottom of the barrel. Ibrahim disagrees, arguing that Title III crowdfunding will appeal to some high-quality entrepreneurs—those who need less cash for their businesses or are unwilling to share control with VCs or angel investors.
But how are we to avoid a “lemons” problem if the unsophisticated investors likely to participate in crowdfunding cannot distinguish good companies from bad? Ibrahim poses two possible answers. The first is the “wisdom of crowds,” the idea that the collective decision-making of a large crowd can approximate or even exceed expert judgments. Possibly, although I’m not completely sure. Collective judgments by non-experts can equal or surpass the judgments of experts, but I'm still unsure that the necessary conditions for that to happen are met on crowdfunding platforms. At best, I think the wisdom of the crowd is only a partial answer.
Ibrahim’s second answer is for the funding portals who host crowdfunding offers to curate the offerings—investigate the quality of the offerings and either provide ratings or limit their sites to higher-quality offerings. I think this is a good idea, but, unfortunately, the SEC’s proposed regulations would prohibit funding portals from doing this. Funding portals required to check for fraud, but that’s all they can do. Any attempt to exclude entrepreneurs for reasons other thanfraud or to provide ratings would go beyond what the proposed regulations allow and subject the portals to regulation under the Investment Advisers Act. Ibrahim has the right solution, but it’s going to require congressional action to get there.
Abstract of the Paper
Here’s the full abstract of Professor Ibrahim’s article:
Angel investors and venture capitalists (VCs) have funded Google, Facebook, and virtually every technological success of the last thirty years. These investors operate in tight geographic networks which mitigates uncertainty, information asymmetry, and agency costs both pre- and post-investment. It follows, then, that a major concern with equity crowdfunding is that the very thing touted about it – the democratization of investing through the Internet – also eliminates the tight knit geographic communities that have made angels and VCs successful.
Despite this foundational concern, entrepreneurial finance’s move to cyberspace is inevitable. This Article examines online investing both descriptively and normatively by tackling Titles II and III of the JOBS Act of 2012 in turn. Title II allows startups to generally solicit accredited investors for the first time; Title III will allow for full-blown equity crowdfunding to unaccredited investors when implemented.
I first show that Title II is proving successful because it more closely resembles traditional angel investing than some new paradigm of entrepreneurial finance. Title II platforms are simply taking advantage of the Internet to reduce the transaction costs of traditional angel operations and add passive angels to their networks at a low cost.
Title III, on the other hand, will represent a true equity crowdfunding situation and thus a paradigm shift in entrepreneurial finance. Despite initial concerns that only low-quality startups and investors will use Title III, I argue that there are good reasons why Title III could attract high-quality participants as well. The key question will be whether high-quality startups can signal themselves as such to avoid the classic “lemons” problem. I contend that harnessing the wisdom of crowds and redefining Title III”s “funding portals” to serve as reputational intermediaries are two ways to avoid the lemons problem.
It’s definitely worth reading.
Andrew Schwartz at the University of Colorado is also working on a paper that addresses the problems of uncertainty, information asymmetry, and agency costs in Title III crowdfunding. I have read the draft and it’s also very good, but it’s not yet publicly available. I will let you know when it is.
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
The New York Times has an interesting article today about SEC Chair Mary Jo White. Her husband is a partner at Cravath, Swaine, & Moore, so she has to recuse herself from any cases, enforcement actions, or investigations involving the firm's clients. The Times claims that the resulting 2-2 split has given the Republican commissioners a little more control over some settlements than they otherwise would have had.
Monday, February 23, 2015
I’m a big fan of Ernest Hemingway. I love his writing style. I’m currently rereading all of his novels, and I ran across a quote that I think every lawyer and law professor should read and take to heart.
I don’t think Hemingway was a fan of lawyers. The only lengthy portrayal of a lawyer in his fiction is in To Have and Have Not, and that lawyer is a crooked, double-crossing sleaze. I’m reasonably sure he never wrote or said anything specifically about legal writing. But the following passage from The Garden of Eden captures the essence of good legal writing:
Be careful, he said to himself, it is all very well for you to write simply and the simpler the better. But do not start to think so damned simply. Know how complicated it is and then state it simply.
No legal writing instructor could have said it better than Papa.
Monday, February 16, 2015
Happy Presidents’ Day.
Sometimes, this holiday gets overlooked. In fact, it’s not even treated as a holiday by my university. Originally the Washington’s Birthday holiday, it was renamed and broadened to include other Presidents, primarily Lincoln, who also has a February birthday. This isn’t business law, but I think it’s important to remember the greatness of those two men. Compared to many of today’s politicians, their intelligence and integrity is astounding. Their voices remain relevant today.
Here, for your enjoyment, quotes from Washington and Lincoln:
If benefits have resulted to our country from these services, let it always be remembered to your praise, and as an instructive example in our annals, that under circumstances in which the passions, agitated in every direction, were liable to mislead, amidst appearances sometimes dubious, vicissitudes of fortune often discouraging, in situations in which not unfrequently want of success has countenanced the spirit of criticism, the constancy of your support was the essential prop of the efforts, and a guarantee of the plans by which they were effected. Profoundly penetrated with this idea, I shall carry it with me to my grave, as a strong incitement to unceasing vows that heaven may continue to you the choicest tokens of its beneficence; that your union and brotherly affection may be perpetual; that the free Constitution, which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained; that its administration in every department may be stamped with wisdom and virtue; that, in fine, the happiness of the people of these States, under the auspices of liberty, may be made complete by so careful a preservation and so prudent a use of this blessing as will acquire to them the glory of recommending it to the applause, the affection, and adoption of every nation which is yet a stranger to it.
This is from Washington’s Farewell Address. The full text is available here.
The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
This is from the Gettysburg Address. The full text (in its many versions) is available here.