Friday, March 9, 2018
I love teaching courses that develop practical skills. This summer, I am teaching a 2-credit transactional drafting course for the first time. In the past, I have taught 2-credit skills courses that had a drafting element, but the students enrolled in those courses typically had taken business associations, and therefore we could do entity selection exercises, portions of bylaws, operating agreements, asset purchase agreements, NDAs, and employment agreement clauses. This time, BA will not be a prerequisite, and I am likely to have a number of rising 2Ls enroll.
I have a pile of proposed textbooks that I'm looking to for inspiration (and to select for the course), but I'm specifically seeking tips and best practices for teaching these skills to students who are fresh off of their 1L year. I plan to have a number of practicing lawyers speak to the students about common pitfalls in negotiating and drafting because I have the luxury of one three-hour block of time per week. At a minimum, students will draft, edit, and redline (where appropriate) a retainer letter, time sheets, a nondisclosure agreement, an independent contractor or employment agreement, and a license or settlement agreement. The goal is to have them draft some documents from scratch, some from forms, learn interviewing and negotiation techniques, and apply some business judgment to address client concerns.
What has worked (or bombed) when you've taught a transactional drafting class, especially to those who have not taken BA? For the practicing attorneys, what would you want your interns or junior associates to have worked on prior to joining you? Inquiring minds want to know. Please comment below or feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday, December 15, 2017
Recently, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that Russia will be banned from the 2018 Winter Games for systemic doping.
If you have not watched Icarus (on Netflix) on this topic, I recommend it. The documentary starts slowly, and the story-line is a bit disjointed, but the information uncovered about state-sponsored doping in Russia is fascinating and depressing. Even if you are not a sports fan, you may be interested in the parts in the documentary related to the alleged involvement of the Russian government.
It has been a busy semester, but I am working (slowly) on a journal article on morality clauses in sports contracts. Doping is often specifically mentioned in these contracts, and doping is a sad reality in many sports. Doping also betrays, I think, improper prioritization. While we are starting to see more attention paid to courage and compassion in sports, "winning" has often been promoted as the top priority. Hopefully we will see more people (and countries) who compete with passion, but also with integrity.
Wednesday, September 27, 2017
You couldn't pay me enough to be the owner of an NFL team right now. I almost feel sorry for them. Even if you're not a fan, by now you've heard about the controversy surrounding NFL free agent Colin Kaepernick, and his decision to kneel during the national anthem last year. You've also probably heard about the President's call for NFL owners to fire players who don't stand while the anthem is played and his prediction of the league's demise if the protests continue. Surprisingly, last Sunday and Monday, some of the same owners who made a business decision to take a pass on Kaepernick despite his quarterback stats (citing among other things, the potential reactions of their fans) have now themselves made it a point to show solidarity with their players during the anthem. The owners are locking arms with players, some of whom are now protesting for the first time.
Football is big business, earning $13 billion last year, and the owners are sophisticated businessmen with franchises that are worth on average $2.5 billion dollars each. They care about their fans of course, and I'm sure that they monitor the various boycotts. They are also reading about lawmakers calling for funding cuts for teams that boycott. But they also care about their sponsors. Fortunately for the NFL (and for the players who have lucrative deals), most sponsors that have made statements have walked a fine line between supporting both the flag and free speech. The question is, how long will all of this solidarity last? There is no clear correlation between the rating shifts and the protests but as soon as there is definitive proof or sponsors start to pull out, I predict the owners will do a difficult cost-benefit analysis. Most teams aren't like the Green Bay Packers, which has no "owner," but instead has over 100,000 shareholders. Most teams don't have boards of directors or shareholders to answer to. Most of these owners used their own money or have very few business partners.
The NFL teams owners' decision to maintain support of the players will likely be more difficult than those of the many CEOs who have expressed their disagreement with the President over race-related matters by quitting his advisory boards (see my previous post ). Those CEOs could point to their own corporate codes of conduct or social responsibility statements. Those CEOs considered the reputational ramifications with their employees and their consumers, and the choice was relatively straightforward, especially because there was a more unified public outrage. The NFL owners, on the other hand, have highly skilled "employees" from a finite pool of talent who have been called SOBs by the President but who are also being booed by the fans, their consumers. The owners can't be fired, and it's very difficult to remove them. Should the owners stick with the players (some of whom are brand new to the protest scene) or should they wait to see the latest polls about what fans think about the leadership of America's favorite sport? Should they fire players, as they probably could under their contracts? The big test may come during a planned boycott by veterans during Veteran's Day Weekend. Perhaps I will be proven wrong, and maybe boycotts will have an effect on what the NFL owners and players do, but I predict the players and owners will want to get back to the business of playing football sooner rather than later. I'll keep monitoring the situation this Sunday and for the rest of the season.
Wednesday, September 20, 2017
Friend of the blog and South Texas College of Law (Houston) Professor Joe Leahy sent over the following post he authored. It is cross-posted at UberLaw.Net and Medium. Embarrassingly, I had not heard about Loftium before reading this post, though at least I know of and have used Airbnb. Joe has some interesting thoughts, and I am happy to include his post on this blog.
Loftium will provide prospective homebuyers with up to $50,000 for a down payment, as long as they are willing to continuously list an extra bedroom on Airbnb for one to three years and share most of the income with Loftium over that time.
At first glance, the arrangement between Loftium and participating homebuyers might sound like a loan. (Indeed, the Times even describes it as such in an infographic.) But upon a closer look, the arrangement that Loftium contemplates with homebuyers clearly is not a loan. First of all, Loftium says it is not a loan; rather, according to Loftium, the down payment assistance it provides to homebuyers is “a part of a services agreement” lasting 12-36 months. Second, and more important, the arrangement between Loftium and homebuyers has none of the characteristics of a traditional (term) loan. There is no “principal” amount that the homebuyer is required to repay in a set period of time, and Loftium does not charge the homeowner any “interest.” In fact, the homebuyer is not required to make anypayments to Loftium in return for the company’s cash (unless the homeowner breaches the parties’ agreement and stops renting on Airbnb before the term expires).
All the homebuyer must do in exchange for Loftium’s money is (1) list her spare room on Airbnb continuously through the term of her agreement with Loftium, (2) be a decent host (i.e., “not be rude to guests”) and (3) split her Airbnb rental revenue with Loftium (with two-thirds going to the company.) If, at the end of the term, Loftium has not been repaid its initial investment, the homeowner is not required to repay Loftium’s initial contribution. Hence, if renting out the homeowner’s spare room is not profitable during the term of the parties’ agreement, “Loftium takes full responsibility for that loss.”
Of course, Loftium expects that the total income from renting out a homeowner’s spare room will greatly exceed the amount that it originally provided to the homebuyer, so that both will profit. If Loftium makes more in rental income than it pays towards the homeowner’s down payment, Loftium will make a profit.
Further, by all appearances, there is no cap on Loftium’s potential profit is its business arrangement with homebuyers. In fact, Loftium makes clear that it wants to maximize the income that it splits with homebuyers: Loftium promises that it will work with them “to increase monthly bookings as much as possible, so both sides can benefit from the additional income.” To that end, Loftium provides homebuyers with some start-up supplies for their spare bedroom (and a keyless entry lock), access to advice and know-how regarding how to rent an Airbnb room, and online tools to help maximize their rental income.
So, if the business arrangement between Loftium and homeowners is not a loan, what is it? It is almost certainly a general partnership for a term (i.e., a “joint venture”).
[Post continues after the page break]
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
Last weekend, retired NFL receiver Calvin Johnson made news when he revealed that he was not pleased with the Detroit Lions and how they handled his retirement. Johnson is apparently frustrated that the Lions required him to pay back about 10% of the unearned $3.2 million remaining on his $16 million signing bonus from his 2012 contract. This is apparently a thing for the Lions, who sought all of the unearned signing bonus money remaining on Barry Sanders' contract when he abruptly retired in 1999.
This is in contrast to Tony Romo's retirement, in which the Dallas Cowboys released him, making the $5 million remaining on the signing bonus Romo's. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he was following the “Do Right Rule” when he allowed the team to release him. The Seattle Seahawks made a similar decision with Marshawn Lynch.
Some have argued that Johnson is being "pettier" than the Lions in this spat. Mike Florio, a sports writer and graduate of WVU College of Law, where I teach, argued that "while Johnson has every right to be miffed at the Lions, Johnson also should be miffed at himself. Or at whoever advised him to retire instead of biding his time until the Lions would have released him." Florio correctly notes that Johnson had a big cap number likely to come due had he not retired or accepted a restructured deal, so he was coming from a position of power in negotiating, which would have likely forced the Lions to cut him. Still, that doesn't mean Johnson is wrong to be frustrated.
Perhaps Johnson didn't ever want to be cut in his career, even at that point in his carerr. Maybe he just wanted to retire. The Lions were worried, perhaps about "precedent" that other players could use to walk away without paying back the bonus, though there is already such precedent out there, as discussed above, and the Lions have non-binding precedent already in the Barry Sanders case, where an arbitrator said Sanders had to pay back some of his signing bonus. Beyond that, the response to most players would simply be, "I know we didn't ask Calvin Johnson for any money back. You're not Calvin Johnson."
It is true that the Lions could seek money from Johnson, and that Johnson almost certainly, from a legal sense, owed the money. But having a legal right to something doesn't always mean it is a good idea. And that is important for lawyers to remember. The question I would have asked the Lions front office is this: "Is it really worth $320,000 when it is possible that one of your greatest players will feel disrespected by the process? Especially when you already created a rift with one of you other greatest players fifteen years ago?"
Maybe it was asked, and the answer was yes, but I just don't see the upside. My guess is that the Lions asked for a lot more and the two sides negotiated to this figure. But that process, not the payment, is likely what irked Johnson. Why does it matter? Because it tells future people the team wants, especially coaches and free agents, how the Lions do business. And when choosing between two similar offers, that could very well lead one to choose the other team.
I often use these kinds of issues facing a business when teaching the importance of the business judgment rule and allowing a board of directors not to pursue claims it can win (as long as there is no fraud or self dealing). Sometimes, it is better for the entity to let a claim go than to extend a bad story or scare off potential talent. Back in 2007, for example, Billy Donovan was hired to leave his head coaching job at the University of Florida to lead the NBA's Orlando Magic. Just days later, Donovan decided he did not want to leave Florida, and asked the Magic to let him return to the college game. The Magic decided to let him do so without any financial penalty, though they did ask him to agree not to coach in the NBA for five years.
Why let Donovan back out and return to Florida without a payment? For one, the Magic needed to hire a new coach, and you want to send a message that you are a good employer. Second, Donovan was beloved in Florida. He had won two NCAA championships in a key market for the team. Don't irritate your prime audience is always a good bit of advice. There was little upside to being difficult. The team was almost certainly irritated, but there is little value in letting that lead to bad publicity and unnecessary public spats. This principle extends well beyond the sports realm, but it is especially important in any area where employers fight for talent, which is common in the sports and entertainment areas.
In assessing the legal (and business) options for the Calvin Johnson situation, good lawyering requires a recognition that key issues were likely related to perception and respect, not money. As such, the fact that there was an argument about repayment at all was the issue that made Johnson frustrated (and now could have repercussions in the future free agent market). It is certainly possible the Lions assessed this risk and decided it was worth it. I disagree that it was worth it, but that would be a reasonable decision. (As a life-long Lions fan, I will need more evidence the problem was properly assessed, though I do hold out hope for the new front office.)
Such decisions, if made simply on the legal merits (e.g., Would I win in court?), run the risk of what Jeff Lipshaw calls "pure lawyering," which is essentially legal reasoning without context or assessment of non-legal impacts or opportunities. As Lipshaw explains in the preface to his book, Beyond Legal Reasoning, A Critique of Pure Lawyering:
Legal reasoning is merely one way of creating meaning out of circumstances in the real world. In its pure form, it does nothing more than convert a real-world narrative to a set of legal conclusions that have no necessary connection either to truth or morality.
Or the ability to recruit free agents.
Friday, April 28, 2017
We are in the middle of the final exam period, so this post will be short.
A friend of mine recently told me about a situation where he had been cheated out of a few thousand dollars. A clear contract was involved, and based on the facts I was told, the other party seems obviously in the wrong.
These situations, even if clear from the legal side, are often not worth pursuing through litigation in our current U.S. system. As most readers surely know, in the U.S. parties generally have to pay their own lawyers regardless of the outcome. In some situations, the lawyers may take the case on contingency, but most lawyers I know will not take a contingency case where the maximum recovery is a few thousand dollars. Maybe small claims court would be appropriate, but the learning and time costs involved may outweigh the potential recovery.
Perhaps this is as it should be. Perhaps we want parties to settle these smaller disputes outside the courts.
But, especially when the party in the wrong is much larger, and especially when the wrong is quite clear, it seems like we might want the courts involved to prevent this type of bad action from going without a remedy. Of course, class actions may be possible in some, though certainly not all, circumstances.
The law could make these situations more worthy of pursuit. Full expectation damages, that would put the harmed party where she would have been if the contract had been properly carried out, should consider not only legal fees but also the time and emotional energy expended to bring the claim. I do know that courts sometimes shift legal fees in egregious situations, but I think this is pretty rare, and I don't think I have ever heard of a situation where the plaintiff was reimbursed for her time and emotional energy expended in bringing the case. However, isn't that what true expectation damages would require? Without the breach, the plaintiff would not have spent time, energy, and money pursuing the claim. Recovery for this type of damage would also discourage breach, as the defendant would stand to lose significantly more than if he just carried out the contract as agreed.
That said, I do see how this could be abused by overeager attorneys, so I imagine it would have to be used somewhat sparingly and only in clear cases.
Tuesday, March 28, 2017
The Oakland/Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders are soon to become the Las Vegas Raiders. This has fans in an uproar, with some saying the move is like losing "family." Moves of sports teams are rarely well received in the place the team leaves, and this move is no different.
Teams move for a variety of reasons, though the primary reason comes down to money. And there's nothing wrong with that. Although it is a loss for long-time fans, the team will get new fans in the locations (if history is any indication), and it's certainly the right of the business owners to decide what is best for their business. In the judgment of Raiders' ownership, it's time for Vegas Baby.
The structure of the NFL is such that team owners need approval of the league to make such a move, which makes sense because a sports league is necessarily dependent on other teams. As such, the teams have created some obligations to one another and agreed to give up some level of control for the good of the league. All but one team voted to support the move to Vegas (the Miami Dolphins dissented), giving the Raiders 31 votes, when they only needed 24. Thus, it means the other league owners (sans the Dolphins' owners) thought the move was in their best interest, too.
This makes three recently announced NFL team moves. In addition to the Raiders, the former St. Louis Rams returned to Los Angeles, and the former San Diego Chargers are now a second L.A.-based team. This means the super majority of NFL owners feel all of these moves are in the best interest of the league, or are at least neutral to the moves. This makes some sense, as there had been relative stability for the league teams, with the last move before these three taking place in 1997, when the Houston Oilers left for Tennessee (Memphis temporarily, then Nashville in 1999).
Moving forward, though, how much will fans take? If several more teams make a move in the next few years, will it upset fans to the point that they stop watching? Hard to say, but the league will be able to put a stop to it if they are concerned. There are a number of older stadiums in the league, so there may be more moves to come. There will almost certainly be threats to move, even if teams end up staying put.
If teams keep moving, it's possible the league could be hurt, but that would require the NFL fans in the old league cities to stop watching the NFL. That could happen, but it seems unlikely. Either way, it probably won't be a move that tells us the league is being harmed. Instead, it will probably be when teams without a lease don't get a lucrative offer to move another city.