Thursday, February 26, 2015

Markets and Boycotts Part 2

Last week, I posted about Walmart’s ballyhooed wage hike and asked whether boycotts and activism actually work. Apparently, the President was so impressed that he called the company’s CEO to thank him. Some Walmart workers, however, aren’t as pleased because without more hours, they still can’t make ends meet. Nonetheless, TJX, the parent company of retailers TJ Maxx and Home Goods announced yesterday that its employees would also receive a pay raise. Is this altruism? Have the retail giants caved to pressure?

As some commented on the blog last week and to me privately, it’s more likely that these megaretailers have implemented these “pro-employee” moves to reduce turnover, raise morale, and most important compete in a tightening job market. But one LinkedIn commenter from Australia believes that boycotts in general can work, stating:

My experience with having organised boycotts is that they work, but they take time. They create the conditions for public awareness of corporate activities, and put pressure on the company to change. They are effectively the 'bad cop' of civil society pressure. Consequently, they do not work on their own, requiring also the 'good cop' - civil society organisations and market conditions that allow the subject of the boycott to shift behaviour. Market conditions include a broader 'meta boycott' in which companies needing access to supply chains must change because supply chains have changed, only accepting product that is acceptable to CSOs (the 'good' CSOs, who have certification programmes, and other initiatives for the company to opt for. If you are looking for a case study of these conditions, I suggest you follow the Tasmanian forest industry debate in Australia. Here, an entire industry was worn down after years of boycotts, market campaigns, and demands from purchasers for FSC certified product only. The fascinating addendum to this case study is the state government (and the Federal government, unsuccessfully), are still advocating behaviours that not even the companies want. They want to sign the 'peace deal' and the government(s) are trying to prolong the 'war' - for political, election-related issues. All this indicates that boycotts do not work in isolation, and if they do they are less likely to work. 

Investors too are putting pressure on companies. Just yesterday, a group of 60 investors with four trillion in assets under management called for companies to do more for workers' human rights, including wages. Because I study business and human rights with a special emphasis on labor issues, I will wait to see what happens with all of this pressure. I will also monitor the share price, shareholder proposals, and whether there is any evidence that consumers reward Walmart and TJX for their better treatment of workers.  

February 26, 2015 in Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Proposed Fiduciary Duties for Retirement Investment Advisers and Brokers

On Monday the White House released a report on The Effects of Conflicted Investment Advise on Retirement Savings which highlights the unique constraints of many retirement investors.  The current "suitable" investment advise standard leaves room for financial service provides to channel retirement investors into investments with higher fees paid by the investor but higher commissions earned by the professional.  Higher fees paid on investments can reduce the return on savings an average of 12% over the life of the retirement account.  In other words, paying less in fees could mean that retirement savings could last an average of an additional 5 years.  This has major implications for individual financial stability as well as our national retirement policy, which is increasingly dependent upon self-directed retirement savings in the form of 401(k)s and IRAs.

To reduce the conflict of interest and lessen the likelihood that retirement investors will "select" higher-fee investment vehicles based on the self-interested advise of financial services providers, the White House is asking the Department of Labor to impose a fiduciary duty standard requiring the advise provided to be consistent with the best interests of the investor.  This is such an intuitive position that many investors think that financial advisers and brokers are already subject to this requirement.  The proposal would bring the legal reality and enforceable duty in line with the public perspective.  This is not to say that there won't be significant opposition from financial services providers who argue that the industry is already highly regulated.

The announcement and the focus on both retirement investors and the impact of fees on retirement savings is of particular interest to me.  I have written three law review articles on related topics.  

  • Citizen Shareholders and Modernizing the Agency Paradigm (2012) articulates the ways in which retirement investors (I call them Citizen Shareholders) are different from traditional corporate law shareholders;
  • The Retirement Revolution (2013) describes how the fundamental shift in the retirement landscape imposed additional risks onto the retirement investors; and 
  • The Outside Investor (2014) explores how the intersection of corporate law and ERISA standards leave many retirement investors exposed to additional market risks rather than intuitive guess that these investors would be more protected.

-Anne Tucker

February 24, 2015 in Business Associations, Anne Tucker, Corporations, Financial Markets | Permalink | Comments (0)

Breaking News: Obama Vetoes Keystone XL

President Obama just vetoed the bill approving construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.  The President has said the veto is not about the value of the pipeline, but that it represents the President's view the pipeline should not go around the State Department evaluation process. 

The veto comes at a time when oil transportation is a increasingly an area of concern, especially in light of recent rail accidents in Quebec and West Virginia.  I was recently part of a news story discussing the rail safety concerns in my part of country -- here -- and pipeline transportation tends to be much safer for human safety, though it raises other environmental concerns.

It's not clear whether Keystone XL would be built any time soon, in light of low oil prices, but the veto will certainly keep people talking.  More on this soon.  

February 24, 2015 in Corporations, Current Affairs, Joshua P. Fershee, Law and Economics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Benefit Corporations: What am I Missing--Seriously?

I serve on the Tennessee Bar Association Business Entity Study Committee (BESC) and Business Law Section Executive Committee (mouthfuls, but accurately descriptive).  The BESC was originated to vet proposed changes to business entity statutes in Tennessee.  It was initially populated by members of the Business Law Section and the Tax Law Section, although it's evolved to mostly include members of the former with help from the latter.  The Executive Committee of the Business Law Section reviews the work of the BESC before Tennessee Bar Association leadership takes action.

Just about every legislative session of late, these committees of the Tennessee Bar Association have been asked to review proposed legislation on benefit corporations (termed variously depending on the sponsors).  A review request for a bill proposed for adoption for this session recently came in.  Since I serve on both committees, I get to see these proposed bills all the time.  So far, the proposals have pretty much tracked the B Lab model from a substantive perspective, as tailored to Tennessee law.  To date, we have advised the Tennessee Bar Association that we do not favor this proposed legislation.  Set forth below is a summary of the rationale I usually give.

Continue reading

February 23, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Entrepreneurship, Haskell Murray, Joan Heminway, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (12)

Friday, February 20, 2015

Did Wal-Mart Prove Me Wrong? Do Boycotts Work?

I have just finished a draft of an article arguing that disclosures don’t work because consumers and investors don’t read them, can’t understand them, don't take any real action when they do pay attention to them, and fail to change corporate behavior when they do threaten boycott. I specifically pointed out the relative lack of success of consumer protests over the years. I also noted that Wal-Mart continues to get bad press for how it treats its employees despite the fact the Norwegian Pension Fund divested hundreds of millions of dollars due to the company’s labor practices, prompting other governments and cities to follow. My thesis—it takes a lot more than divestment and threats of boycott to change company behavior. But perhaps I’m wrong. Yesterday, Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon announced a significant wage increase declaring:

We’re strengthening investments in our people to engage and inspire them to deliver superior customer experiences… We will earn the trust of all Walmart stakeholders by operating great retail businesses, ensuring world-class compliance, and doing good in the world through social and environmental programs in our communities.

The letter to Wal-Mart associates is here. I don’t know which was more striking, the $1 billion dollar move to $9 and then eventually $10 per hour or the fact that he used the word “stakeholders.” Wal-Mart also announced changes that would affect health insurance and shift scheduling, but the main headline concerned the wage hike. Main Street may be happy but Wall Street was not, and the stock price fell after the announcement. Others pointed out that the pay raise is still not enough to pull workers out of poverty.

Does this move mean that boycotts and advocacy really do work and that we will see more of them? Do I have to edit my article or will this be an anomaly? Will other big retailers or fast food chains follow? Will socially responsible investors reinvest in Wal-Mart? Is Wal-Mart trying to pre-empt government regulation on the minimum wage? Is Wal-Mart signaling to regulators in foreign countries that it cares about workers so should be allowed to operate there more freely? 

I will be teaching a course in transnational business and international human rights in the Fall and Wal-Mart will be a case study. A few years ago, I used the company’s CSR report in my corporate governance, compliance, and social responsibility seminar.  I asked the students to consider why Wal-Mart’s report looked and felt so different from Target’s, which essentially has many of the same labor issues. I wanted them to think about the marketing behind CSR from a reputational and regulatory perspective. I posited that Wal-Mart’s CSR report was written for regulators. Two weeks later, the company announced its massive and still ongoing bribery investigation. I’m happy for the workers but a bit curious as to what caused the company to make this announcement now. In the meantime, I will be watching the reaction from advocates, the markets, and other companies closely.  

February 20, 2015 in Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, International Business, Marcia Narine, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

“We Just Can’t Get Enough of Business Associations”

My seventy business associations students work in law firms on group projects. Law students, unlike business students, don’t particularly like group work at first, even though it requires them to use the skills they will need most as lawyers—the abilities to negotiate, influence, listen, and compromise. Today, as they were doing their group work on buy-sell agreements for an LLC, I started drafting today’s blog post in which I intended to comment on co-blogger Joan Heminway’s post earlier this week about our presentation at Emory on teaching transactional law.

While I was drafting the post, I saw, ironically, an article featuring Professor Michelle Harner, the author of the very exercise that my students were working on. The article discussed various law school programs that were attempting to instill business skills in today’s law students. Most of the schools were training “practice ready” lawyers for big law firms and corporations. I have a different goal. My students will be like most US law school graduates and will work in firms of ten lawyers or less. If they do transactional work, it will likely be for small businesses.  Accordingly, despite my BigLaw and in-house background, I try to focus a lot of the class discussion and group work on what they will see in their real world.

I realized midway through the time allotted in today’s class that the students were spending so much time parsing through the Delaware LLC statute and arguing about proposed changes to the operating agreement in the exercise that they would never finish in time. I announced to the class that they could leave 10 minutes early because they would need to spend at least another hour over the next day finishing their work. Instead most of the class stayed well past the end of class time arguing about provisions, thinking about negotiation tactics with the various members of the LLC, and figuring out which rules were mandatory and which were default. When I told them that they actually needed to vacate the room so another class could enter, a student said, “we just can’t get enough of business associations.” While this comment was meant to be a joke, I couldn’t help but be gratified by the passion that the students displayed while doing this in-class project.  I have always believed that students learn best by doing something related to the statutes rather than reading the dry words crafted by legislators.  My civil procedure students have told me that they feel “advanced” now that they have drafted complaints, answers, and client memos about Rule 15 amendments.

I am certainly no expert on how to engage law students, but I do recommend reading the article that Joan posted, and indeed the whole journal (15 Transactions: Tenn. J. Bus. L. 547 (2014). Finally, please share any ideas you have on keeping students interested in the classroom and prepared for the clients that await them. 

 

February 12, 2015 in Business Associations, Business School, Conferences, Corporations, Delaware, Joan Heminway, Law School, LLCs, Marcia Narine, Negotiation, Teaching, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Proxy Season: A Gendered View & A Book Recommendation

Andrew Ross Sorkin at the DealBook in his column, Do Activist Investors Target Women C.E.O.'s?, asked earlier this week  if the gender of the CEO influences the target of activist shareholders.  

Only 23 women lead companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index. Yet at least a quarter of them have fallen into the cross hairs of activist investors.

The article references Patricia Sellers observations in Fortune last month regarding corporate raider Nelson Peltz and his targeted attacks on PepsiCo lead by Indra Nooyi and Mondelez International lead by CEO Irene Rosenfeld as well as his current demands on DuPont, with Ellen Kullman as chairman and CEO.

In the absence of correlating data about female CEO's and weaker company performance, the question lingers is there something besides performance that prompts the targeting of these companies?  To explain the question the article references several studies that report perception differences in competence, risk and performance based solely on gender, with, women on the losing end of these perception biases.

As I think is a common tendency, I gravitate towards information that relates to what I am personally thinking about, experiencing or interested in at the moment.  Earlier on this blog, I wrote about gender issues in the classroom.  On my current reading list, is the book What Works for Women at Work written by Joan Williams and Rachel Dempsey, that (1) reviews the existing literature about pervasive gender bias, (2) articulates how unconscious bias influences outcomes (acknowledging that for the most part society has moved past explicit and overt gender discrimination), (3) identifies four patterns where these biases consistently emerge based in part on her interviews with 127 "successful" women, and (4) discusses how the workplace (meaning men and women) can move beyond the limitations of these implicit biases.  Several colleagues and friends are reading this book along with me as well.  And the best part:  not everyone reading the book is (and not everyone should be) a women.  

-Anne Tucker

February 11, 2015 in Anne Tucker, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, February 9, 2015

Hot Off the Press: Heminway and Narine on Teaching Business Law!

With Marcia's blessing, I am promoting a recently published transcript of a conference panel on which she and I presented last spring.  The title of the published transcript?  "Representing Entities: The Value of Teaching Students How to Draft Board Resolutions and Other Similar Documentation."  Here's the top line from the SSRN abstract:

This edited transcript comprises a panel presentation and related Q&A at "Educating the Transactional Lawyer of Tomorrow," Emory University School of Law's biennial transactional law conference held June 6-7, 2014. The transcript includes Professor Heminway's talk and a separate presentation by Professor Marcia Narine on "How to Make Transactional Law Less Terrifying and a Bit More Interesting." The panel, "Transactional Drafting: Beyond Contracts," features approaches to teaching transactional business law courses. 

Enjoy!

February 9, 2015 in Business Associations, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Joan Heminway, Marcia Narine | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The SEC's Inaction on No Action

Many corporate governance professionals have been scratching their heads lately. In November, a federal judge in Delaware ruled that Wal-Mart had wrongfully excluded a shareholder proposal by Trinity Wall Street Church regarding the sale of guns and other products. Specifically, the proposal requested amendment of one of the Board Committee Charters to:

27. Provid[e] oversight concerning the formulation and implementation of, and the public reporting of the formulation and implementation of, policies and standards that determine whether or not the Company [i.e., Wal-Mart] should sell a product that:

1) especially endangers public safety and wellbeing;

2) has the substantial potential to impair the reputation of the Company; and/or

3) would reasonably be considered by many offensive to the family and community values integral to the Company's promotion of its brand. 

Wal-Mart filed with the SEC under Rule 14a-8 indicating that it planned to exclude the proposal under the ordinary business operations exclusion. The SEC agreed that there was a basis for exclusion under 14a-8(i)(7), but the District Court thought otherwise because the proposal related to a “sufficiently significant social policy.” In mid-January Wal-Mart appealed to the Third Circuit arguing among other things that the district court should have deferred to the SEC’s precedents and guidance over the past forty years on these issues.

In an unrelated but relevant matter in December 2014, the SEC issued a no action letter to Whole Foods stating:

You represent that matters to be voted on at the upcoming stockholders' meeting include a proposal sponsored by Whole Foods Market to amend Whole Foods Market's bylaws to allow any shareholder owning 9% or more of Whole Foods Market's common stock for five years to nominate candidates for election to the board and require Whole Foods Market to list such nominees with the board's nominees in Whole Foods Market's proxy statement. You indicate that the proposal and the proposal sponsored by Whole Foods Market directly conflict. You also indicate that inclusion of both proposals would present alternative and conflicting decisions for the stockholders and would create the potential for inconsistent and ambiguous results. Accordingly, we will not recommend enforcement action to the Commission if Whole Foods Market omits the proposal from its proxy materials in reliance on rule 14a-8(i)(9).

In a startling turn of events, the SEC withdrew its no action letter on January 16, 2015 after a January 9th letter from the Council of Institutional Investors questioning the reasoning in the Whole Foods and similar no action letters. The withdrawal of the no action letter came on the same day as the release an official SEC statement declining “to express a view on the application of Rule 14a-8(i)(9) during the current proxy season” due to questions about the scope and application of the rule.

Yesterday, the Center for Capital Market Competitiveness (“CCMC”), an arm of the Chamber of Commerce, sent its own letter to Chair White lamenting the current state of affairs. An excerpt is below:

This announcement, a contradictory departure from a decision made just weeks earlier, benefits neither issuers nor investors and introduces an additional layer of uncertainty into an already complicated set of rules. The CCMC believes this reversal underscores why corporate governance policies must provide certainty for all stakeholders, not just to advance the goals of a small minority of special interest activists….[t]he January 16 announcement places many issuers in an untenable position, and presents them with a series of questions for which there may be no good answers. For those issuers wishing to present their own alternative proposal to shareholders for consideration, do they exclude a shareholder proposal in favor of their own and face the heightened risk of litigation with the proponent or the Commission? Do they risk shareholder confusion by including both their own proposal and a competing one from a proponent? Do they incur the added expense and distraction to management of seeking declaratory relief in federal district court? Are shareholders deprived of their right to include a proposal that is omitted because of the absence of SEC action? Far from encouraging private ordering, the recent announcement will only serve to stymie it.

The CCMC also recommends a review of the entire 14a-8 process because, as the letter claims,  “it is well-known that the shareholder proposal process has been dominated by a small group of special interest activists, including groups affiliated with organized labor, certain religious orders, social and public policy advocates, and a handful of serial activists. These special interests use the shareholder proposal process to pursue their own idiosyncratic agendas, often far removed from the mainstream, as evidenced by the overall low approval rates of many shareholder proposals that are put to a vote. Indeed, mainstream institutional investors account for only one percent of shareholder proposals at the Fortune 250.” 

Reasonable people may disagree on how the CCMC characterizes the motives behind the shareholder proposals, but there can be no disagreement that the current SEC silence doesn't serve any constituency. Steve Bainbridge also has an informative post on this topic. Proxy season is coming up and shareholders and companies alike are awaiting a decision from the Third Circuit in the Wal-Mart action that could dramatically alter the landscape for shareholder proposals, possibly flooding the courts with expensive, protracted litigation. The timing couldn’t be worse for the SEC’s lack of action on no action letters.

 

 

 

 

February 5, 2015 in Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Delaware, Financial Markets, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Proposal to Fix the Dodd-Frank Conflict Minerals Rule

I oppose the Dodd-Frank conflict minerals rule, which requires companies to conduct due diligence and report on their sourcing of certain minerals from the war-ravaged Democratic Republic of Congo and surrounding countries. As I have written before repeatedly on this blog, a law review article, and an amicus brief, it is a flawed “name and shame law” that assumes that consumers and investors will change their purchasing decisions based upon a corporate disclosure, which they may not read, understand, or care about. The name and shame portion of the law was struck down on First Amendment grounds, and the business lobby, the SEC, and the NGO community are eagerly awaiting a decision by the full DC Circuit Court of Appeals.

A disclosure law that does not take into account the true causes for the violence that has killed millions is not the most effective way to have a meaningful impact for the Congolese people. The Democratic Republic of Congo needs outside governments to provide more aid on security sector, criminal justice, education, and judicial reform at the very least. Indeed, the Congolese government is still trying to defeat the rebels that this law was meant to weaken (see here for example). I have strong feelings about the law as a former supply chain professional and an advisory board member of an NGO that operates in eastern DRC.

I am currently working on an article about the defects in disclosure laws that attempt to address human rights impacts, and the conflict minerals rule is one of them. In that context, I was excited to read a recent draft article entitled The Conflict Minerals Experiment by Professor Jeff Schwartz. Although I don't agree with his conclusion that the best way to fix the law is, among other things, to employ a disclose or explain approach and greater transparency (which I also discuss in my article), I do agree that reform and not necessarily repeal is in order. Schwartz’ article is particularly useful because he provides empirical evidence of the relative uselessness of the first round of corporate disclosures. I look forward to citing it in my upcoming piece. The abstract is below:

In Section 1502 of Dodd-Frank, Congress instructed the SEC to draft rules that would require public companies to report annually on whether their products contain certain Congolese minerals. This unprecedented legislation and the SEC rulemaking that followed have inspired an impassioned and ongoing debate between those who view these efforts as a costly blunder and those who view them as a measured response to human-rights abuses committed by the armed groups that control many mines in the Congo. 

This Article for the first time brings empirical evidence to bear on this controversy. I present data on the inaugural disclosures that companies submitted to the SEC. Based on a quantitative and qualitative analysis of these submissions, I argue that Congress’s hope of supply-chain transparency goes unfulfilled, but amendments to the rules could yield useful information without increasing compliance costs. The SEC filings expose key loopholes in the regulatory structure and illustrate the importance of fledgling institutional initiatives that trace and verify corporate supply chains. This Article’s proposal would eliminate the loopholes and refocus the transparency mandate on disclosure of the supply-chain information that has come to exist thanks to these institutional efforts.

 

January 29, 2015 in Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, International Business, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Cunningham on Corporate Leadership: A Few Additional Thoughts

Lawrence Cunningham has written an interesting piece for the Wall Street Journal, The Secret Sauce of Corporate Leadership: Splitting the CEO and chairman jobs is beside the point. What’s needed is a skeptical No. 2.

Cunningham argues that measures to split the role of board chair and CEO largely miss the point because such a move, and similar moves, don't clearly lead to the desired goal.  He explains:

Research on the effects of splitting the chief and chairman roles shows that results can depend on where the split takes place: It tends to improve performance at struggling companies—but it impairs prosperous firms. Yet exact effects vary depending on the circumstances, such as whether the switch happened with the appointment of a new CEO or with the demotion of an incumbent.

The movement to split the two roles is part of corporate America’s tendency to address problems with procedural remedies such as expanding board size, adding independent directors, adopting a new code of ethics, updating firm compliance programs, and appointing a monitor to oversee it all. While such steps get attention and can improve an organization’s health, the informal norms that define a corporate culture are more powerful, and Bank of America is right to examine itself in the light of basic principles.

There is a better way to foster excellence in chief executives: Appoint a noncombative but skeptical partner as second in command. This model has been the secret sauce in outstanding corporate cultures at dozens of America’s best companies.

I have a few thoughts to add to this.  First, I agree that whether to allow a single person to hold the chair and CEO position is case dependent. I am inclined to defer to the board of directors on that decision, but if enough shareholders want the positions separate (or combined), more power to them.  

Second, I think there is a bigger issue at play here in corporate (and other group) decision making. That is, as a general matter, rules and policies should be made based on the desired goals and the long-term plans, and not based on an individual.  Thus, deciding to never allow a combined CEO and chair position because we don't want a particular person to hold the role is silly.  Just don't let that person have both roles.  Any time we create rules designed to punish (or benefit) a particular person, we often create unintended consequences that punish or benefit others in ways that were not contemplated.  

Finally, Cunningham is certainly correct when he says, "Effective corporate leaders also stress that a strong culture matters because it translates into economic gain."  That said, sometimes its seems some boards (and other entities and institutions seeking leaders) believe a strong culture can be built overnight.  Tweaking rules and policies can sometimes help, but trying to rush that culture sometimes simply ensures mediocrity.  Just ask the New York Jets

January 27, 2015 in Corporate Governance, Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Top 25 tweets for business lawyers from AALS

Greetings from Dublin. Between the Guinness tour, the champagne afternoon tea, and the jet lag, I don’t have the mental energy to do the blog I planned to write with a deep analysis of the AALS conference in DC. I live tweeted for several days and here my top 25 tweets from the conference. I have also added some that I re-tweeted from sessions I did not attend. I apologize for any misspellings and for the potentially misleading title of this post:

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Next week I will write about the reason I'm in Dublin.

January 15, 2015 in Business Associations, Conferences, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Delaware, Financial Markets, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 12, 2015

Female Directors and Crowd Theory

I recently was afforded the opportunity to draft a short article for the William & Mary Journal of Women and the Law that combines my research on crowd theory (from the crowdfunding space) and my research on women and corporate governance.  The opportunity arose out of a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the journal, for which I had been a published author in the past.  (The journal published my article on women as investors in the context of securities fraud, Female Investors and Securities Fraud: Is the Reasonable Investor a Woman?, back in 2009.)

I just posted the recently released final version of the 20th anniversary article, entitled Women in the Crowd of Corporate Directors: Following, Walking Alone, and Meaningfully Contributing, to the Social Sciences Research Network.  My application of crowd theory to the gender composition of corporate boards of directors in this article does not provide significant new insights on the decision making of female corporate directors.  However, it does result in the observation that women on corporate boards may foster the establishment of new board structures and policies that have the potential to favorably impact board decision making.  The bottom line?  More--and more novel--research still is needed on the presence and contribution of women on corporate boards of directors.

My article represents a brief exploration, but I may well continue my work in this general area.  Accordingly, I would be interested in knowing about others doing similar or related research.  Let me know in the comments or by email message if you would like to alert me to your relevant research and writing.

January 12, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Joan Heminway | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 9, 2015

A Few Recent Delaware Cases

There are many Delaware cases from 2014 that are worth reading, but below are three relatively recent Delaware cases that I found worthwhile.  I provide the case name, my very short takeaway, and links to the case and additional commentary for those who wish to dive deeper.

In re Zhongpin Inc. Stockholders Litigation, controlling stockholders, decided Nov. 26, 2014. In denying a motion to dismiss, the Delaware Court of Chancery found a reasonable inference that a 17.3% stockholder/CEO could be a “controlling stockholder.” I have not done an exhaustive search on this issue, but this is a lower percentage of ownership for a “controlling stockholder” than I have seen in most cases, though (of course) the analysis is case specific. Additional commentary by Toby Myerson (Paul Weiss).

C.J. Energy Services, Inc. et al v. City of Miami General Employees’ and Sanitation Employees’ Retirement Trust, M&A/Revlon, decided Dec. 19, 2014. The Delaware Court of Chancery held that “there was a ‘plausible’ violation of the board’s Revlon duties because the board did not affirmatively shop the company either before or after signing.” (pg. 3). The Delaware Court of Chancery enjoined the shareholder vote on the transaction at issue for 30-days and “required [the defendant] to shop itself in violation of the merger agreement . . . which prohibited [the defendant] from soliciting other bids.” Id.  In this case, the Delaware Supreme Court reserved, stating that the Court of Chancery did not fulfill the stringent requirements for issuing a mandatory injunction, reminding that there are various ways to satisfy Revlon, and mentioning that this case did not have evidence of “defensive, entrenching motives,” as seen in Revlon and QVC. Note that the 38-page opinion was cranked out in just two days after the case was submitted. The handling of these expedited cases by the Delaware courts is one of the things that make Delaware attractive to corporations. Additional commentary by Brian Quinn (Boston College).

United Technologies Corp. v. Lawrence Treppel, books and records, decided Dec. 23, 2014.  The Delaware Supreme Court reversed the Delaware Court of Chancery’s holding that the Court of Chancery did not have authority to restrict documents produced in a books and records inspection to use only in cases filed in Delaware courts. The Delaware Supreme Court remanded to the Delaware Court of Chancery to decide whether the Court of Chancery will exercise its discretion to so restrict the use of the information obtained in the books and records inspection. In this case, United Technologies insisted that Treppel sign a confidentiality agreement when he sought to inspect books and records, which is fairly common, but the confidentiality agreement also limited the forum, of any claim brought using the information inspected, to Delaware courts. At the time of the inspection request, United Technologies did not have a forum selection clause in its bylaws, but it later adopted one. As the broader forum selection debates continue, it will be interesting to see how the Delaware Court of Chancery handles this case in the books and records context, especially because the Delaware Court of Chancery has been encouraging plaintiffs to use the “tools at hand,” such as books and records requests, before filing derivative lawsuits.  Beyond the substance, one remarkable thing about this decision is that Chief Justice Leo Strine authored an opinion that was only 14 pages. When he was on the Court of Chancery he would author 100+ page opinions with some regularity. Granted, the Court of Chancery is a trial court and their opinions tend to be a good bit longer than the Delaware Supreme Court opinions, regardless of the judge. Additional commentary by Celia Taylor (Denver Law).  

For reading beyond these three cases, former Delaware Supreme Court Justice Jack Jacobs comments on two additional recent Delaware cases here (M&A related). 

January 9, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Delaware, Haskell Murray, M&A | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

BA/Corporations -- New Media Teaching Resources

I had very limited time at AALS this year (unfortunately) but I still walked away with some great ideas (and a chance to say hello to a few, but not enough, friendly faces).  I am borrowing from many ideas shared in the panel cited below, as well as a few of my own.  As many of you prepare to teach BA/Corporations for the spring (or making notes on how to do it next time), here are a few fun new resources to help illustrate common concepts:

  • HBO's The Newsroom.  A hostile takeover, negotiations with a white knight-- all sorts of corporate drama unfolded on HBO's Season 3 of The Newsroom.   I couldn't find clips on youtube, but episode recaps (like this) are available and provide a good reference point/story line/hypo/exam problem for class.
  • This American Life-- Wake Up Now Act 2 (Dec. 26, 2014).  This brief radio segment/podcast tells the story of two investors trying to reduce the pay of a company CEO.  The segment discusses board of director elections, board duties, board functions and set up some large questions about whether or not shareholders are the owners of the corporation and their profit maximization is the ultimate goal for a company.  This could be followed with Lynn Stout's 2012 NYT Dealbook article proposing the opposite view.
  • HBO's Silicon Valley.  For all things tech, start up, entrepreneurship and basic corporate formation, clips (you will want to find something without all of the swears, I suspect) and episode recaps from this popular show illustrate concepts and connect with students.  Again, great for discussion, hypos, and exam fact patterns.
  • The Shark Tank!.  I have to thank Christyne Vachon at UD for this idea.  There are tons of clips on youtube and most offer the opportunity to talk about investors bringing different things to the table, how to apportion control, etc.  Here is an episode involving patent issues. I think that I am going to open my experiential Unincorporated/Drafting class with a Shark Tank clip on Monday.  
  • Start Up Podcasts.  These 30-minute episodes cover a wide range of topics. Here is one podcast on how to value a small business.   At a minimum, I will post some of these to my course website this spring.  (Thank you Andrew Haile at Elon for this recommendation.).
  • Planet Money.  The podcasts are a great resource, but what I love is the Planet Money Twitter page because it is a great way to digest daily news, current events and topical developments that may be incorporated into your class.
  • Wall Street Journal--TWEETS.  (that felt like an oxymoron to write). Aside from the obvious, I find the Twitter feed to be the most useful way to use/monitor the WSJ.  I will admit it, I don't "read" it every day, but this is my proxy.

Special thanks to the participants in the Agency, Partnership & the Law's panel on Bringing Numbers into Basic and Advanced Business Associations Courses: How and Why to Teach Accounting, Finance, and Tax

Moderator: Jeffrey M. Lipshaw, Suffolk University Law School
Speakers:
Lawrence A. Cunningham, The George Washington University Law School
Andrew J. Haile, Elon University School of Law
Usha R. Rodrigues, University of Georgia School of Law
Christyne Vachon, University of North Dakota School of Law
Eric C. Chaffee, University of Toledo College of Law
Franklin A. Gevurtz, University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law

And Happy New Year BLPB Readers!

-AT

January 7, 2015 in Business Associations, Anne Tucker, Corporations, Current Affairs, Entrepreneurship, LLCs, M&A, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Larry Ribstein Being Right Doesn't Make Anyone Else Wrong

Over at The Conglomerate, Usha Rodrigues says, "Larry Ribstein was wrong." Usha argues that she's right to teach LLCs at the end of the course, and Larry was of the mind that LLCs should play a more prominent role in the business entities course.  

For my teaching, I'm with Larry on this, though I am also of the mind that Usha (and other teachers) may have different goals, so taking another tack is not wrong.  I'm pretty sure we're all better teachers when we are true to ourselves and our thinking.  For me, anyway, I am, without a doubt, at my worst in the classroom (and probably out) when I try to mimic someone else. 

So here's how Usha explains her thinking:

I don't leave LLCs til the end of the semester because I think they're unimportant.  It's because the cases are so damn thin.  It's still such a new form, I just don't see much there there.  Most of them wind up being trial courts who read the statute in completely stupid ways.  Blech.

 

So I teach corporations and partnerships emphasizing fiduciary duty, default vs. mandatory rules, and the importance of the code.  In fact, one semester I confess that I would ask a question and then intone, "Look to the code!" so often I felt like a Tolkien refugee.  By the time I get to the LLCs cases, which are pretty basic, the class is ready for my message: the LLC is a new form.  When dealing with something new, judges look both to the organizational statutes and to the organizational forms they know as they shape the law.  Plus the LLC is such an interesting mix between the corporate and partnership form, it just makes sense to get through them both before diving in.

It's hard to argue with Usha's rationale.  Like Larry, she's smart, and this is a reasonable take.  For me, though, it doesn't work toward my goals, so I have a different point of view.  I think it's more in line with where Larry was coming from, though I admit I don't know.  

Here's why:  I want students (and lawyers and courts) to treat LLCs as unique entities.  Leaving them to the end of the course reinforces the idea that LLCs are hybrid entities the combine partnerships and corporations.  I just don't think that's the right way to think about LLCs.  

Certainly, it is true that LLCs share characteristics of partnerships and corporations.  But partnerships and corporations can have similarities, too. We can, for example, refer back to the partnership case of Meinhard v. Salmon when discussing corporate fiduciary duties and corporate opportunity.

In my experience, teaching LLCs at the end of the course seemed to frame the LLC as an entity that is just pulling from partnership or corporate law.  As such, it seemed the students were thinking that the real challenge for LLCs was figuring out whether to pull from partnership law or corporate law for an analogy.  Part of the reason for that, I think, is that so many of the LLCs cases seem to think so, too.  See, e.g., Flahive.  As Usha would say, "Blech."

The LLC is prominent enough in today's world that I think it warrants a more prominent role in the introductory business organizations course.  If we don't bring the LLCs more to the fore, we allow courts to continue to misconstrue the entity form, in part because we aren't giving students the tools they need to ensure courts understand the unique nature of the LLC. 

I figure Usha can get students where she needs to on this regardless of how she teaches business associations.  She is a lot smarter than I am.  Given my goals and how I think about the LLC, though, I'll keep starting my class with an introduction to LLC formation, and I'll keep teaching LLC cases and issues throughout the semester.  

January 6, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs, Partnership, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 5, 2015

Animal Law Is (Or At Least Can Be) Business Law

I just left the Association of American Law Schools annual meeting this morning.  I came back to a flat tire at the airport, but let's not dwell on that . . . .  The conference was a good one, as these zoo-like mega conferences go.  

I presented at the conference as part of a panel that focused on teaching courses and topics at the intersection of animals and the law.  (Thanks for the plug, Stefan!)  Yes, although it is a little known fact, I do teach courses involving animals and the law.  Regrettably, it is a somewhat rare thing for me, since I always have to teach these courses as an overload.  However, I also am the faculty advisor to our campus chapter of the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund and UT Pro Bono's Animal Law Project (which compiled and annually updates a Tennessee statutory resource used by animal control and other law enforcement officers, as well as other animal-focused professionals, in the State of Tennessee).  In addition, I coach our National Animal Law Competitions team.  These non-classroom activities  give me ample time to teach in different ways . . . .

I will not rehash all of my remarks from the panel presentation here.  In fact, I want to make a very limited point in this post.  While my calling to legal issues involving non-human animals is rooted in large part in being the "animal mom" of a rescue dog and rescue cat, I also participate in educational efforts in this area because I see it as my professional responsibility as a lawyer--and in particular, as a business lawyer.

Continue reading

January 5, 2015 in Business Associations, Conferences, Corporations, Ethics, Joan Heminway | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, January 2, 2015

Last-Minute AALS Planning

To the extent you will be attending the Association of American Law Schools Annual Meeting in DC, here are a couple of panel recommendations that come with the added benefit of meeting a BLPB blogger in person:

1. Keeping it Current: Animal Law Examples Across the Curriculum (01/03/2015, 5:15-6:30 pm)

Moderator: Katherine M. Hessler, Lewis and Clark
Speaker: Susan J. Hankin, Maryland
Speaker: Joan M. Heminway, Tennessee
Speaker: Courtney G. Lee, McGeorge
Speaker: Kristen A. Stilt, Harvard

2. The Role of Corporate Personality Theory in Regulating Corporations (1/5/2015, 2:00-3:00 pm)

Moderator: Stefan Padfield, Akron
Speaker: Margaret Blair, Vanderbilt
Speaker: Elizabeth Pollman, Loyola
Speaker: Lisa Fairfax, George Washington
Speaker: David Yosifon, Santa Clara

PS--For more information on the day-long program of the AALS Section on Socio-Economics on Monday, Jan. 5, as well as the day-long Annual Meeting of the Society of Socio-Economists on Tuesday, Jan. 6, go here.

January 2, 2015 in Business Associations, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Joan Heminway, Stefan J. Padfield | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Live Tweeting from AALS

Happy New Year.

Starting Saturday morning (or maybe tomorrow night), I'll be live tweeting from the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) conference. Because I teach both civil procedure and business associations, my tweets will largely relate to those sessions as well as sessions for new law professors.

Next Thursday I will summarize the high points of the conference, at least from my perspective. 

My twitter handle is @mlnarine and the AALS hashtag is #AALS2015. If you're at the conference and a blog reader, please say hello.

January 1, 2015 in Business Associations, Conferences, Corporations, Law School, Marcia Narine, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Courts and the LLC, End of the Year Edition

I continue to document how courts (and lawyers) continue to conflate (and thus confuse) LLCs and corporations, so I did a quick look at some recent cases to see if anything of interest was recently filed. Sure enough, there are more than few references to "limited liability corporations" (when the court meant "limited liability companies."  That's annoying, but not especially interesting at this point.  

One case did grab my eye, though, because because of the way the court lays out and resolves the plaintiffs' claim.  The case is McKee v. Whitman & Meyers, LLC, 13-CV-793-JTC, 2014 WL 7272748 (W.D.N.Y. Dec. 18, 2014).  In McKee, theplaintiff filed a complaint claiming several violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act against defendants Whitman & Meyers, LLC and Joseph M. Goho, who failed to appear and defend this action, leading to a default judgment. After the default judgment was entered, defense counsel finally responded.  

This case has all sorts of good lessons.  Lesson 1: don't forget that all named parties matter.  Get this: 

Defense counsel admits that he was under the mistaken assumption that default was to be taken against the corporate entity only. See Item 17. However, default was entered as to both the corporate and individual defendants on July 3, 2014 (Item 9). Defense counsel did not move to vacate the default and in fact did not respond in any way until the default judgment was entered on September 17, 2014. Item 12. Even then, the defense motion was framed as one for an extension of time in which to file an answer (Item 14), rather than a motion to vacate the default or default judgment. Inexplicably, in his papers, defense counsel states that a default judgment has not been entered. See Item 17. Since good cause is to be construed generously and doubts resolved in favor of the defaulting party, see Enron Oil Corp., 10 F.3d at 96, the court will accept the explanation of defense counsel as evidence of a careless lack of attention to procedural detail rather than an egregious and willful default on the part of defendant Goho [the individual and apparent owner of the LLC].
McKee v. Whitman & Meyers, LLC, No. 13-CV-793-JTC, 2014 WL 7272748, at *1 (W.D.N.Y. Dec. 18, 2014).  A link to a free version of the case is here.
 
Wow.  I concede there are some procedural details here, but this sure sounds substantive to me, as well.  
 
Lesson 2: if you name someone in the caption, you probably want to have some allegations about them as a defendant.  Fortunately for defense counsel, the plaintiff's counsel was not on the ball, either.  Though Goho was named in the caption, the complaint did not describe Goho as a party or contain allegations about Goho's individual liability for the FDCPA violations. The defendant's Prayer for Relief also only sought judgment from the Whitman & Myers, LLC. (The court conveniently skips the fact that court probably should have noticed these deficiencies the first time around, before entering default judgment against Goho.)  

Finally, the moment regular readers (see, e.g.,  here, hereherehere, and here) saw coming:
 
Lesson 3: You Can’t Pierce the Corporate Veil of an LLC Because It Doesn't Have One.  The plaintiff argued that "the court should pierce the corporate veil and hold defendant Goho personally liable." The court's response: "[T]here is nothing on the face of the complaint or in the record that would support individual liability for defendant Goho on the basis of corporate veil-piercing . . ."  
 
The court is, of course, correct. However, the sentence should be followed by one that says, "This is because there is no corporation named as a party to this case, so there is no corporate veil to pierce."  Obviously, the court could have gone on to note that even if the plaintiffs meant for the court to pierce the limited liability veil of the LLC, the allegations were insufficient for that, too.
 
As a side note, it would have been interesting to see how the court would have dealt with the argument that Goho and his LLC were so intertwined that they share legal counsel and that even his own counsel did not immediately recognize the individual and the entity as separate until after default judgment was entered.  (I don't see that as a winning argument, but it's better than what was argued.) 
 
Moving forward, I'd like to see courts tell plaintiffs that a request to "pierce the corporate veil" of an LLC amounts to a failure to state a claim.  The court should allow counsel to amend the complaint to get the language right. Until there is a consequence, even a minor one, for merging LLCs and corporations, attorneys and courts will continue to get it wrong.  
 
Thus, a New Year's Resolution for Courts:  "We will treat corporations and LLCs as separate entity types."  And, please, after making sure to always call LLCs "limited liability companies," move on to creating separate veil piercing language.  

December 30, 2014 in Business Associations, Corporations, Haskell Murray, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (2)