Sunday, August 12, 2018

Why Lawyers, Law Professors, and Judges Should Care About Blockchain

We’re a month away from our second annual Business Law Professor Blog CLE, hosted at the University of Tennessee on Friday, September 14, 2018. We’ll discuss our latest research and receive comments from UT faculty and students. I’ve entitled my talk Beyond Bitcoin: Leveraging Blockchain for Corporate Governance, Corporate Social Responsibility, and Enterprise Risk Management, and will blog more about that after I finish the article. This is a really long post, but it’s chock full of helpful links for novices and experts alike and highlights some really interesting work from our colleagues at other law schools.

Two weeks ago, I posted some resources to help familiarize you with blockchain. Here’s a relatively simple definition from John Giordani at Forbes:

Blockchain is a public register in which transactions between two users belonging to the same network are stored in a secure, verifiable and permanent way. The data relating to the exchanges are saved inside cryptographic blocks, connected in a hierarchical manner to each other. This creates an endless chain of data blocks -- hence the name blockchain -- that allows you to trace and verify all the transactions you have ever made. The primary function of a blockchain is, therefore, to certify transactions between people. In the case of Bitcoin, the blockchain serves to verify the exchange of cryptocurrency between two users, but it is only one of the many possible uses of this technological structure. In other sectors, the blockchain can certify the exchange of shares and stocks, operate as if it were a notary and "validate" a contract or make the votes cast in online voting secure and impossible to alter. One of the greatest advantages of the blockchain is the high degree of security it guarantees. In fact, once a transaction is certified and saved within one of the chain blocks, it can no longer be modified or tampered with. Each block consists of a pointer that connects it to the previous block, a timestamp that certifies the time at which the event actually took place and the transaction data.

These three elements ensure that each element of the blockchain is unique and immutable -- any request to modify the timestamp or the content of the block would change all subsequent blocks. This is because the pointer is created based on the data in the previous block, triggering a real chain reaction. In order for any alterations to happen, it would be necessary for the 50%-plus-one of the network to approve the change: a possible but hardly feasible operation since the blockchain is distributed worldwide between millions of users.

In case that wasn’t clear enough, here are links to a few of my favorite videos for novices. These will help you understand the rest of this blog post.

To help prepare for my own talk in Tennessee, I attended a fascinating discussion at SEALS on Thursday moderated by Dean Jon Garon of Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad College of Law called Blockchain Technology and the Law.

For those of you who don’t know how blockchain technology can relate to your practice or teaching, I thought I would provide a few questions raised by some of the speakers. I’ve inserted some (oversimplified)links for definitions. The speakers did not include these links, so if I have used one that you believe is incomplete or inaccurate, do not attribute it to them.

Professor Del Wright, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law;

Del started the session by talking about the legal issues in blockchain consensus models. He described consensus models as the backbones for users because they: 1) allow users to interact with each other in a trustless manner; 2) ensure the integrity of the ledger in both normal and adversarial situations; and 3) create a “novel variety of networks with extraordinary potential” if implemented correctly. He discussed both permissioned (e.g. Ripple) and permissionless (Bitcoin) systems and how they differ. He then explained Proof of Work blockchains supported by miners (who solve problems to add blocks to the blockchain) and masternodes (who provide the backbone support to the blockchain). He pointed out how blockchains can reduce agency costs and problems of asymmetrical information and then focused on their utility in financial markets, securities regulation, and corporate governance. Del compared the issues related to off-chain governance, where decisionmaking first takes place on a social level and is then actively encoded into the protocol by the developers (used by Bitcoin and Ethereum) to on-chain governance, where developers broadcast their improvement protocols on-chain and then, once approved, those improvements are implemented into the code. He closed by listing a number of “big unanswered issues” related to regulatory guidance, liability for the performance of the technology and choice of consensus, global issues, and GDPR and other data privacy issues.

Professor Catherine Christopher, Texas Tech University School of Law;

Catherine wants to help judges think about smart contracts. She asked, among other things, how judges should address remedies, what counts as substantial performance, and how smart contract audits would work. She questioned whether judges should use a consumer protection approach or instead follow a draconian approach by embracing automation and enforcing smart contracts as drafted to discourage their adoption by those who are not sophisticated enough to understand how they work.

Professor Tonya Evans, University of New Hampshire School of Law (follow her on Twitter; see her blog on blockchain here);

Tonya focuses on blockchain and intellectual property. Her talked raised the issues of non-fungible tokens generated through smart contracts and the internet of value. She used the example of cryptokitties, where players have the chance to collect and breed digital cats. She also raised the question of what kind of technology can avoid infringement. For more on how blockchain can disrupt copyright law, read her post here.

Professor Rebecca Bratspies, CUNY School of Law;

In case you didn’t have enough trust issues with blockchain and cryptocurrency, Rebecca’s presentation focused on the “halo of immutability” and asked a few central questions: 1) why should we trust the miners not to collude for a 51% attack 2) why should we trust wallets, which aren’t as secure as people think; and 3) why should we trust the consensus mechanism? In response, some members of the audience noted that blockchain appeals to a libertarian element because of the removal of the government from the conversation.

Professor Carla Reyes, Michigan State University College of Law- follow her on Twitter at Carla Reyes (@Prof_CarlaReyes);

Carla talked about crypto corporate governance and the potential fiduciary duties that come out of thinking of blockchains as public trusts or corporations. She explained that governance happens on and off of the blockchain mechanisms through social media outlets such as Redditt. She further noted that many of those who call themselves “passive economic participants” are actually involved in governance because they comment on improvement processes. She also noted the paradox that off chain governance doesn’t always work very well because participants don’t always agree, but when they do agree, it often leads to controversial results like hard forks. Her upcoming article will outline potential fiduciaries (miner and masternode operators for example), their duties, and when they apply. She also asked the provocative question of whether a hard fork is like a Revlon event.

Professor Charlotte Tschider, William Mitchell College of Law (follow her on Twitter);

As a former chief privacy officer, I have to confess a bias toward Charlotte’s presentation. She talked about blockchain in healthcare focusing on these questions: will gains in cybersecurity protection outweigh specific issues for privacy or other legal issues (data ownership); what are the practical implications of implementing a private blockchain (consortium, patient-initiated, regulatory-approved); can this apply to other needed uses, including medical device applications; how might this technology work over geographically diverse regulatory structures; and are there better applications for this technology (e.g. connected health devices)? She posited that blockchain could work in healthcare because it is decentralized, has increased security, improves access controls, is more impervious to unauthorized change, could support availability goals for ransomware attacks and other issues, is potentially interoperable, could be less expensive, and could be controlled by regulatory branch, consortium, and the patient. She closed by raising potential legal issues related to broad data sharing, unanswered questions about private implementations, privacy requirements relating to the obligation of data deletion and correction (GDPR in the EU, China’s cybersecurity law, etc); and questions of data ownership in a contract.

Professor Eric Chason, William & Mary Marshall-Wythe School of Law;

Eric closed by discussing the potential tax issue for hard forks. He explained that after a hard fork, a new coin is created, and asked whether that creates income because the owner had one entitlement and now has two pieces of ownership. He then asked whether hard forks are more like corporate reorganizations or spinoffs (which already have statutory taxation provisions) or rather analogous to a change of wealth. Finally, he asked whether we should think about these transactions like a contingent right to do something in the future and how that should be valued.

Stay tuned for more on these and other projects related to blockchain. I will be sure to post them when they are done. But, ignore blockchain at your peril. There’s a reason that IBM, Microsoft, and the State Department are spending money on this technology. If you come to UT on September 15th, I’ll explain how other companies, the UN, NASDAQ, and nation states are using blockchain beyond the cryptocurrency arena.

 

August 12, 2018 in Commercial Law, Compliance, Conferences, Contracts, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Entrepreneurship, Human Rights, Law School, Lawyering, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Research/Scholarhip, Securities Regulation, Shareholders, Teaching, Technology, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 30, 2018

日本からのご挨拶 - My Japanese Adventure

Hello to all from Tokyo, Japan (Honshu).  I have been in Japan for almost a week to present at and attend the 20th General Congress of the International Academy of Comparative Law (IACL), which was held last week in Fukuoka, Japan (Kyushu).  By the time you read this, I will be on my way home.

Fukuoka(Me+Sign)

As it turns out, I was at the Congress with old business law friends Hannah Buxbaum (Indiana Maurer Law), Felix Chang (Cincinnati Law), and Frank Gevurtz (McGeorge Law), as well as erstwhile SEALS buddy Eugene Mazo (Rutgers Law).  I also met super new academic friends from all over the world, including several from the United States.  I attended all of the business law programs after my arrival (I missed the first day due to my travel schedule) and a number of sessions on general comparative and cross-border legal matters.  All of that is too much to write about here, but I will give you a slice.

I spoke on the legal regulation of crowdfunding as the National Rapporteur for the United States.  My written contribution to the project, which I am told will be part of a published volume, is on SSRN here.  The entire project consists of eighteen papers from around the world, each of which responded to the same series of prompts conveyed to us by the General Rapporteur for the project (in our case, Caroline Kleiner from the University of Strasbourg).  The General Rapporteur is charged with consolidating the information and observations from the national reports and synthesizing key take-aways.  I do not envy her job!  The importance of the U.S. law and market to the global phenomenon is well illustrated by this slide from Caroline's summary.

Fukuoka(GlobalCrowdfundingSlide)

The Congress was different from other international crowdfunding events at which I have presented my work.  The diversity of the audience--in terms of the number of countries and legal specialties represented--was significantly greater than in any other international academic forum at which I have presented.  Our panel of National Rapporteurs also was a bit more diverse and different than what I have experienced elsewhere, including panelists hailing from from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Poland, and Singapore (in addition to me).  At international conferences focusing on the microfinance aspects of crowdfunding, participants from India and Africa are more prominent.  I expect to say more about the individual national reports on crowdfunding in later posts, as the need or desire arises.

A few outtakes on other sessions follow.

Continue reading

July 30, 2018 in Conferences, Contracts, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Crowdfunding, Current Affairs, International Business, International Law, Joan Heminway, Research/Scholarhip, Securities Regulation, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 27, 2018

Beyond Bitcoin: Why You Should Care About Blockchain and Smart Contracts-Part 1

Pura vida from Costa Rica. Between recovery from carpal tunnel surgery a few weeks ago and an ATV flip two days ago, I don’t have much mental or physical energy to do a full post. I haven’t mastered dictation so I’m typing this on an iPad with one hand. Next week, I’ll provide more substance as well as a preview on my September talk at our second annual BPLB symposium at the University of Tennessee. Today, I want to pass on some resources for those who don’t know anything about blockchain. 

For those who want to provide resources for students, Walter Effross has put together a great site:

http://blockchainforlawstudents.com/

The following sources come from Professor Tonya Evans at UNH, who has developed an online curriculum on blockchain:

Use Cases: 

https://medium.com/fluree/blockchain-for-2018-and-beyond-a-growing-list-of-blockchain-use-cases-37db7c19fb99

https://www.mycryptopedia.com/16-promising-blockchain-use-cases/

Education:

https://medium.com/universablockchain/blockchain-in-education-49ad413b9e12

Blockchain + Law:

http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/lawyers_can_contribute_to_the_rise_of_blockchain_by_understanding_it

https://abovethelaw.com/2018/02/blockchain-can-smart-contracts-replace-lawyers/

https://www.mycase.com/blog/2017/09/bitcoin-blockchain-lawyers-need-know/

Next week, I’ll talk about my research into how blockchain is used in corporate governance, compliance, supply chain management, enterprise risk management, cybersexurity, and human rights. 

July 27, 2018 in Compliance, Conferences, Contracts, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Human Rights, Law School, Lawyering, Marcia Narine Weldon | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Sharfman on Dual Class Shares and Empty Voting

Bernard Sharfman has posted Dual Class Share Voting versus the “Empty Voting” of Mutual Fund Advisors’ and it is an interesting read.  He argues: 

Dual class shares (shares with unequal voting rights) arise when the board of directors of a company decides to raise capital through the sale of newly issued shares, but wants one or more insiders, who may be giving up economic control through the issuance of the shares, to retain voting control in the company.  Typically, this occurs in an initial public offering (IPO), but it can also occur before.  In an IPO, a company will usually issue a class of common stock to the public that carries one vote per share (ordinary shares), while reserving a separate class, a super-voting class, that provide insiders with at least 10 votes per share.  However, both types of shares will have equal rights to the cash flow of the company.  The issuance of dual class shares may create a wide gap between voting and cash flow rights over time, especially if the insiders periodically sell a significant amount of their ordinary shares.

But this is the critical point.  A dual class share structure cannot exist without the permission of those shareholders who are purchasing the ordinary shares at the price offered.  The bargaining process that leads to the issuance of dual class shares is referred to as “private ordering.”  . . . .

. . . 

By contrast, the empty voting of mutual fund advisors is not a firm specific corporate governance arrangement that results from private ordering.  It is the consequence of the industry practice of centralizing the voting of mutual funds into the hands of their advisor’s corporate governance department.  As a result of this delegation of voting authority, mutual fund advisors have the voting power, but not the economic interest in the shares that they vote. 

I am not evangelical about dual-class shares, but I do appreciate his point on private-ordering, which is similar (as I have noted before) to my take in many circumstances. His distinction between dual-class shares and empty voting for mutual fund advisors is a compelling one, and I recommend checking out the whole post. 

July 3, 2018 in Contracts, Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 1, 2018

Does Every Law Student Need to Learn Transactional Lawyering Skills?

Greetings from Atlanta, Georgia, site of the Emory Transactional Law & Skills Conference. After only a few hours of presentations, I'm already inspired to make some changes in my new transactional lawyering class. I will write about some of the lessons learned next week. Today, I want to share some of Tina Stark's remarks from the conference dinner that ended moments ago. Although she initially teased the audience by stating that she would make "subversive" statements, nothing that she said would scandalize most law students or surprise practicing lawyers.

Her "radical" proposal entailed having transactional skills education be a part of every law student's curriculum. In support, she cited ABA Standard 301(a), which states:

OBJECTIVES OF PROGRAM OF LEGAL EDUCATION (a) A law school shall maintain a rigorous program of legal education that prepares its students, upon graduation, for admission to the bar and for effective, ethical, and responsible participation as members of the legal profession.

She argued that for the academy to meet this standard, schools must go beyond a narrow reading of ABA rules and provide every student with the foundation to practice transactional law, particularly because half of graduates will practice in that area even if they don't know it while they are in law school. She also referenced ABA Standard 302, which states in part:

LEARNING OUTCOMES A law school shall establish learning outcomes that shall, at a minimum, include competency in the following: (a) Knowledge and understanding of substantive and procedural law; (b) Legal analysis and reasoning, legal research, problem-solving, and written and oral communication in the legal context.

Stark correctly observed that notwithstanding the litigation focus in law school, lawyers write more than predictive memos and briefs. She emphasized that competency in oral and communication skills is particularly important for deal lawyers.

If she came even close to being "radical," (and I don't think she did), it's because she went beyond calling on more schools to offer, much less require drafting courses. Instead, she recommended that schools add at least one credit to the first year contracts course so that students can learn the structure of contracts and build a foundation for more advanced work. She likened law students failing to learn the parts of a contract to medical students studying anatomy without doing dissections. 

She anticipated the argument that schools do not have enough time to add an extra credit to the basic contracts course by countering that another first year course could be moved to the second year. This would allow professors to spend the first part of the semester teaching 1Ls to read and analyze a contract so that they can understand business drivers when reading cases in contracts and property class. 

Although some in the academy might resist the proposal, I believe that members of the bar and business community would applaud this move. If the long waiting list for my transactional lawyering course and similar ones around the country are any indication, law students would appreciate more balance in the curriculum as well. 

 

 

June 1, 2018 in Conferences, Contracts, Corporations, Law School, Lawyering, Marcia Narine Weldon, Teaching, Writing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, April 23, 2018

AALS 2019 - Section on Business Associations Call for Papers

Call for Papers for the

Section on Business Associations Program on

Contractual Governance: the Role of Private Ordering

at the 2019 Association of American Law Schools Annual Meeting

The AALS Section on Business Associations is pleased to announce a Call for Papers from which up to two additional presenters will be selected for the section’s program to be held during the AALS 2019 Annual Meeting in New Orleans on Contractual Governance: the Role of Private Ordering.  The program will explore the use of contracts to define and modify the governance structure of business entities, whether through corporate charters and bylaws, LLC operating agreements, or other private equity agreements.  From venture capital preferred stock provisions, to shareholder involvement in approval procedures, to forum selection and arbitration, is the contract king in establishing the corporate governance contours of firms?  In addition to paper presenters, the program will feature prominent panelists, including SEC Commissioner Hester Peirce and Professor Jill E. Fisch of the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Our Section is proud to partner with the following co-sponsoring sections: Agency, Partnership, LLC's and Unincorporated Associations; Contracts; Securities Regulation; and Transactional Law & Skills.

Submission Information:

Please submit an abstract or draft of an unpublished paper to Anne Tucker, amtucker@gsu.edu on or before August 1, 2018.  Please remove the author’s name and identifying information from the submission. Please include the author’s name and contact information in the submission email.

Papers will be selected after review by members of the Executive Committee of the Section. Authors of selected papers will be notified by August 25, 2018. The Call for Papers presenters will be responsible for paying their registration fee, hotel, and travel expenses.

Any inquiries about the Call for Papers should be submitted to: Anne Tucker, Georgia State University College of Law, amtucker@gsu.edu or (404) 413.9179.

+++++

[Editorial note: As some may recall, the BLPB hosted a micro-symposium on aspects of this issue in the limited liability company context in anticipation of a program held at the 2016 AALS annual meeting.  The initial post for that micro-symposium is here, and the wrap-up post is here.  This area--especially as writ broadly in this proposal--remains a fascinating topic for study and commentary.]

April 23, 2018 in Anne Tucker, Business Associations, Call for Papers, Conferences, Contracts, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Joan Heminway, LLCs, Nonprofits, Partnership | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Can Contract Clauses Stop Human Trafficking?

Last week, I blogged blogged about lawsuits against chocolate makers alleging unfair and deceptive trade practices for failure to disclose that the companies may have used child slaves to harvest their products. Today, I want to discuss steps that the Business Law Section of the American Bar Association is taking to provide more transparency in supply chain practices.

In 2014, the ABA House of Delegates adopted Model Principles on Labor Trafficking and Child Labor developed by over 50 judges, in-house counsel, outside counsel, academics, and NGOs. The Model Principles address the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and other hard and soft law regimes. At last week’s ABA Business Law Spring Meeting, academics David Snyder and Jennifer Martin presented on human rights issues in supply chains alongside practicing lawyers and in-house executives. Many of them (and several others) had formed a Working Group to Draft Human Rights Protections in Supply Contracts. The Group aims to provide contract clauses that are “legally effective” and “operationally likely.”

As a former Deputy GC for a supply chain management company, I can attest that the ABA’s focus is timely as companies answer questions from customers, regulators, shareholders, and other stakeholders. Human rights issues play out in dozens of regulations, including, but not limited to: the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, Trafficking Victims Protection Act, Dodd-Frank Conflict Minerals Act, California Transparency in Supply Chains Act, the UK Modern Slavery Act, the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act, and the updated Federal Acquisition Regulations. Australia and at least seven EU countries are currently working on their own regulations. Savvy lawyers have use the Alien Tort Statute, RICO, negligence, and false advertising allegations to state claims, with varying success.

The following statistics may provide some context. Thanks to e. Christopher Johnson, Jr., CEO of the Center for Justice, Rights, and Dignity.
- there are 21 million victims of human trafficking
- Human trafficking provides $150 billion in profit
- Women and girls are 55% of the victims, and children 17 and under are 26%

To help companies mitigate their supply chain risks, the Business Law and UC Article 1 and Article 2 Committees have drafted more specific model clauses to incorporate human rights provisions in certain contracts. The Committees are also establishing an information exchange with NGOs and developing a Toolkit for Canadian lawyers.

One of the most practical features of the Group’s work is Schedule P, the warranties and remedies to protect human rights in the supply chain. The Working Group’s Report provides guidance on how to use the clauses as well as potential limitations. It’s a long read but I recommend that you look at the report and consider whether the model clauses and Schedule P, an appendix to supplier agreements, will help in the fight to combat human trafficking and forced labor. 

April 21, 2018 in Compliance, Contracts, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Human Rights, Marcia Narine Weldon | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 9, 2018

Seeking Advice on Transactional Drafting Summer Course

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 mweldon@law.miami.edu.

 

March 9, 2018 in Contracts, Law School, Marcia Narine Weldon, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 15, 2017

Doping, Russia, and Morality Clauses

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.  

December 15, 2017 in Contracts, Current Affairs, Haskell Murray, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Boycott Issue Hits America's Favorite Sport

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.

 

 

September 27, 2017 in Contracts, Corporate Personality, Current Affairs, Marcia Narine Weldon, Sports | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Professor Leahy on "Loftium Unwittingly Forms General Partnerships with Homebuyers"

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. 

----------

Yesterday, the New York Times trumpeted a new internet company, Loftium, and its interesting, new-economy business model (which, for the time being, operates only in Seattle):

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”).

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September 20, 2017 in Business Associations, Contracts, Current Affairs, Haskell Murray, Partnership, Real Property, Technology | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Just Because You Can, Doesn't Mean You Should, Detroit Lions Edition

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.  

May 23, 2017 in ADR, Compensation, Contracts, Corporate Personality, Current Affairs, Joshua P. Fershee, Lawyering, Sports | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, April 28, 2017

Full Expectation Damages

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.

April 28, 2017 in Contracts, Haskell Murray, Litigation | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

NFL's Business Judgment Rules: Will Raiders' Move To Vegas Harm the League?

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.  

March 28, 2017 in Contracts, CSR, Joshua P. Fershee, Sports | Permalink | Comments (2)