Wednesday, January 18, 2017
"The corporate governance heads at seven of the 10 largest institutional investors in stocks are now women, according to data compiled by The New York Times. Those investors oversee $14 trillion in assets."
Mutual and pension funds are some of the largest stock block holders casting crucial votes in director elections and on shareholder resolutions that will span the gamut from environmental policy to political spending to supply chain transparency. While ISS and other proxy advisory firms have a firm hand shaping proxy votesFN1 (and have released new guidelines for the 2017 proxy season), that $14 trillion in assets are voted at the behest of women is new and noteworthy. As the spring proxy season approaches-- it's like New York fashion week, for corporate law nerds, but strewn out over months and with less interesting pictures--these asset managers are likely to vote with management. FN2 Still, there is growing consensus that institutional investors' corporate governance leaders are "working quietly behind the scenes to advocate for greater shareholder rights" fighting against dual class stock and fighting for gender equality on corporate boards, to name a few.
I now how a new ambition in life: get invited to the Women in Governance lunch.
FN1: See Choi et al, Voting Through Agents: How Mutual Funds Vote on Director Elections (2011)
FN2: Gregor Matvos & Michael Ostrovsky, Heterogeneity and Peer Effects in Mutual Fund Voting, 98 J. of Fin. Econ. 90 (2010).
Monday, January 16, 2017
Today, we again celebrate the life of a great American, Martin Luther King, Jr. His legacy is felt in so many ways in this country every day in the year. But today, we call him and his work out for special attention.
Many have noted that Martin Luther King, Jr. had messages for those engaged in and with business. I have gathered some of those observations, as interpreted by a variety of folks, for today's post. Perhaps you have favorite quotes or stories of your own from Dr. King's life that have touched your business law teaching or practice. If so, please share them in the comments. But here are some of the nifty ones I found.
- 9 Business Lessons from the Words of Martin Luther King Jr. (They're all good, but perhaps my favorite is: "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.")
- Martin Luther King: His 'dream' is great business strategy ("The reasons for King’s success were simple. First, he defined his dream, and then, he created a plan for how his dream could be realized. This same strategy can be applied with great success to businesses.")
- Martin Luther King and Leadership (This one includes a reference to a related Harvard Business School case.)
- 5 Leadership Lessons From Martin Luther King Jr. (This article features a nice story about a former president of The Harvard Crimson.)
It also seems significant to note that business awards (including these out in Colorado) have been named after Dr. King in that same spirit.
As I prepare to lead a faculty-staff-student discussion group on Wednesday at The University of Tennessee College of Law (an annual MLK week tradition at UT Law that I mentioned in a prior Martin Luther King Day post), I am reminded of the many aspects of life--including professional life--that Dr. King's actions and words touch. They represent a rich gift to us all. Although I aspire to incorporate much of his wisdom into my daily life, I remain grateful to have a day each year made for thoughtful reflection on how his work affects my own (and the rest of my life, too).
Friday, January 13, 2017
On Friday, I will present as part of the American Society of International Law’s two-day conference entitled Controlling Corruption: Possibilities, Practical Suggestions & Best Practices. The ASIL Conference is co-sponsored by the University of Miami School of Business Administration, the Business Ethics Program of the University of Miami School of Business Administration, UM Ethics Programs & the Arsht Initiatives, the Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research, Wharton, University of Pennsylvania, Bentley University, and University of Richmond School of Law.
I am particularly excited for this conference because it brings law, business, and ethics professors together with practitioners from around the world. My panel includes:
Marcia Narine Weldon, St. Thomas University School of Law, “The Conflicted Gatekeeper: The Changing Role of In-House Counsel and Compliance Officers in the Age of Whistle Blowing and Anticorruption Compliance”
Todd Haugh, Kelley School of Business, Indiana University, “The Ethics of Intercorporate Behavioral Ethics”
Shirleen Chin, Institute for Environmental Security, Netherlands, “Reducing the Size of the Loopholes Caused by the Veil of Incorporation May lead to Better Transparency”
Edwin Broecker, Quarles &Brady LLP, Indiana,& Fernanda Beraldi Cummins, Inc, Indiana, “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Possible Unintended Consequences of Enforcing Supply Chain Transparency”
Stuart Deming, Deming PLLC, Michigan, “Internal Controls and Compliance Programs”
John W. Fanning, Kroll Compliance, “Lessons from ‘Sully’: Parallels of Flight 1549 and the Path to Compliance and Organizational Excellence”
I will discuss some of the same themes that I blogged about here last July related to how the Department of Justice Yates Memo (requiring companies to turn over culpable individuals in order to get cooperation credit) and to a lesser extent the SEC Dodd-Frank Whistleblower program may alter the delicate balance of trust in the attorney-client relationship. Additionally, I will address how President-elect Trump’s nomination of Jay Clayton may change the SEC’s FCPA enforcement priorities from pursuing companies to pursuing individuals, and how that will change corporate investigations. If you’re in Miami on Friday the 13th and Saturday the 14th, please consider attending the conference.
January 13, 2017 in Behavioral Economics, Compliance, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Ethics, International Business, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
The late December announcement of Carl Icahn as a special advisor overseeing regulation piqued my professional interest and raises interesting tension points for both sides of the aisle, as well as for corporate governance folks.
Icahn's deregulatory agenda has the SEC in his sights. Deregulation, especially of business, is a relatively safe space in conservative ideology. Several groups such as the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable may be pro-deregulation in most areas, but, and this is an important caveat-- be at odds with Icahn when it comes to certain corporate governance regulations. Consider the universal proxy access rules, which the SEC proposed in October, 2016. The proposed rules would require companies to provide one proxy card with both parties' nominees--here we don't mean donkeys and elephants but incumbent management and challengers' nominees. Including both nominees on a single proxy card would allow shareholders to "vote" a split ticket---picking and choosing between the two slates. The split ticket was previously an option only available to shareholders attending the in-person meeting, which means a very limited pool of shareholders. "Universal" proxy access-- a move applauded by Icahn--is opposed by House Republicans, who passed an appropriations bill – H.R. 5485 –that would eliminate SEC funding for implementing the universal proxy system. On January 9th, both the Business Roundtable and the Chamber of Commerce submitted comment letters in opposition to the rules. The Chamber of Commerce cautions that the proposed rules "[f]avor activist investors over rank-and-file shareholders and other corporate constituencies." The Business Roundtable echos the same concerns calling the move a "disenfranchisement" of regular shareholders due to likely confusion. This is a variation of the influence of big-business narrative. Here, we have pitted big business against big business. The question is who is the bigger Goliath--the companies or the investors?
President-elect Trump's cabinet and administrative choices have generated an Olympic-level sport of hand wringing, moral shock and catastrophizing. I personally feel gorged on the feast of terribles, but realize that many may not share my view. Icahn's informal role in cabinet selections (such as Scott Pruitt for EPA which favors Icahn's investments in oil and gas companies) and formal role in a deregulatory agenda foreshadows no end in sight to this royal feast. On this particular pick, both sides of the aisle may be invited to the feast. My only question is, who's hungry?
Tuesday, January 10, 2017
I am happy to say I just received my new article, co-authored with a former student, S. Alex Shay, who is now a Trial Attorney in the Office of the United States Trustee, Department of Justice. The article discusses property law challenges that can impeded business development and negatively impact landowners and mineral owners in shale regions, with a focus on the West Virginia portion of the Marcellus Shale. The article is Horizontal Drilling Vertical Problems: Property Law Challenges from the Marcellus Shale Boom, 49 John Marshall Law Review 413-447 (2015).
If you note the 2015 publication date, you can see the article has been a long time coming. The conference it is linked to took place in September 2015, and it has taken quite a while to get to print. On the plus side, I was able to do updates to some of the issues, and add new cases (and resolutions to cases) during the process. I just received my hard copies yesterday -- January 9, 2017 -- and I received a notice it was on Westlaw as of yesterday, too.
I always find it odd when law reviews use a specific year for an issue, as opposed to the actual publication year. I can understand how a January publication might have a 2016 date. That would have made sense, but dating the issue back to 2015, when I discuss cases decided in 2016 seems a little weird. I know there is a certain level of continuity that the dates can provide, but still, this seems too long.
When I was editor in chief of the Tulane Law Review, one of the things we prided ourselves on was not handing off any issue from our volume to the next board. A few years prior to our arrival, a committed group of Law Review folks caught up everything -- publishing, if memory serves (and legend was correctly passed on), two and a half volumes. And Tulane Law Review publishes six issues a year. They, apparently, did not sleep.
I am happy to have the article our, and the editors did good work. It just would have been nice to have it appear a little more timely and relevant than I think this "new" article does. For anyone who is interested, here's the abstract (article available here):
This article focuses on key property challenges appearing as part of the West Virginia Marcellus Shale play. The paper opens with an introduction to the Marcellus Shale region that is the focus of our analysis. The paper explains the horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing process that is an essential part of shale oil and gas development. To help readers understand the property challenges related to shale development, we include an introduction to the concept of severed estates, which can create separate ownership of the surface estate and the mineral estate. The article then focuses on two keys issues. First, the article discusses whether horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing constitute a “reasonably necessary” use of surface land to develop mineral rights, and concludes they are, at least in most instances. Second, the article discusses difficulties in analyzing deed language related to minerals rights and royalty interests, which has created challenges for mineral owners, leasing companies, and oil and gas developers. Please note that although the publication date is 2015, the article was not in print until January 2017 and discusses cases from 2016.
Ultimately, the article concludes, legislators and regulators may choose to add surface owner protections and impose other measures to lessen the burden on impacted regions to ease the conflict between surface owners and mineral developers. Such efforts may, at times, be necessary to ensure continued economic development in shale regions. Communities, landowners, interest groups, companies, and governments would be well served to work together to seek balance and compromise in development-heavy regions. Although courts are well-equipped to handle individual cases, large-scale policy is better developed at the community level (state and local) than through the adversarial system.
Thursday, January 5, 2017
As regular readers of this blog know, I am skeptical of many disclosure regimes, particularly those related to conflict minerals. I am, however, a fan of the Sustainability Accounting Standard Board’s (SASB's) efforts to streamline the disclosure process and provide industry-specific metrics that tie into accepted definitions of materiality.
Dr. Jean Rogers, the CEO and Founder of SASB, presented at the Association of American Law Schools yesterday with other panelists discussing the pros and cons of environmental, social, and governance disclosures. To prove SASB’s case that investors care about sustainability, Dr. Rogers noted that in 2016, sustainable investment strategies came into play in one out of every five dollars under professional management. She cited a number of key sustainability initiatives that investors considered including the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investments ($59 trillion AUM), the Carbon Disclosure Project ($95 trillion AUM), the International Corporate Governance Network ($26 trillion AUM), and the Investor Network on Climate Risk ($13 trillion AUM).
Despite this interest, SASB argues, investors lack information that equips them with an apples to apples comparison on material information related to sustainability. What might be material in the beverage industry such as water usage for example, may not be material in another industry.
Dr. Rogers cited a 2014 PwC study reporting that 89% of global institutional investors request sustainability information directly from companies, 67% are more likely to consider ESG information if it is based on a common framework or standard, and 50% are “very likely” to sponsor or co-sponsor a shareholder proposal.
Many who criticize the disclosure regime talk about disclosure overload and challenge the assumptions that investors care as much about sustainability as they care about earnings per share. On the flip side, companies experience what SASB acknowledges is “questionnaire fatigue.” GE for example, indicated that 75 people took months to answer 650 questionnaires with no value to the customers, shareholders, or the environment.
SASB is an independent 501(c)(3) with a who’s who of heavy hitters on the board, including Michael Bloomberg, former SEC Chair Mary Schapiro, the CEO of CalSTRS, and the former Chair of the FASB, among others. The organization first started this initiative in 2011 right after I left in-house life, and I remember thinking that this was an idea whose time has come. Over the years, SASB has worked to develop specific standards for 79 industries in 10 sectors to be used in Form 10-K and 20-F. Although it is a voluntary process, the goal is to allow investors to look at peers across an industry with standards that those industries have helped to develop.The SASB standards integrate into MD & As and risk factors without the requirement of any new regulation.
Some criticize SASB’s mission and fear more disclosure could lead to more lawsuits from investors or consumers. I don’t share this fear, but companies such as Nestle have been sued for fraud and other state law claims after disclosure required under the California Transparency in Supply Chain Act.
I’m a fan of SASB’s work so far. I hope that more organizations and advocacy groups continue to provide constructive feedback. Eventually, using the SASB methodology should become an industry standard that provides value to both investors and the company. Take a look at their 2016 State of Disclosure Report for more information and to find out how you can contribute to the effort.
Monday, January 2, 2017
Last week, friend of the BLPB Steve Bainbridge published a great hypothetical raising insider trading tipper issues post-Salman. He invited comments. So, I sent him one! He has started posting comments in a mini-symposium. Mine is here. Andrew Verstein's is here. There may be more to come . . . . I will try to remember to come back and edit this post to add any new links. Prompt me, if you see one before I get to it . . . .
Postscript (January 5, 2017): James Park also has responded to Steve's call for comments. His responsive post is here.
Postscript (January 9, 2017, as amended): Mark Ramseyer has weighed in here. And then Sung Hui Kim and Adam Pritchard added their commentary, here and here, respectively. Steve collects the posts here.
Tomorrow, I am headed to the Association of American Law Schools ("AALS") Annual Meeting in San Francisco (from Los Angeles, where I spent NYE and a bit of extra time with my sister). I want to highlight a program at the conference for you all that may be of interest. John Anderson and I have convened and are moderating a discussion group at the meeting entitled "Salman v. United States and the Future of Insider Trading Law." The program description, written after the case was granted certiorari by the SCOTUS and well before the Court's opinion was rendered, follows:
In Salman v. United States, the United States Supreme Court is poised to take up the problem of insider trading for the first time in 20 years. In 2015, a circuit split arose over the question of whether a gratuitous tip to a friend or family member would satisfy the personal benefit test for insider trading liability. The potential consequences of the Court’s handling of this case are enormous for both those enforcing the legal prohibitions on insider trading and those accused of violating those prohibitions.
This discussion group will focus on Salman and its implications for the future of insider trading law.
Of course, we all know what happened next . . . .
The discussants include the following, each of whom have submitted a short paper or talking piece for this session:
John P. Anderson, Mississippi College School of Law
Miriam H. Baer, Brooklyn Law School
Eric C. Chaffee, University of Toledo College of Law
Jill E. Fisch, University of Pennsylvania Law School
George S. Georgiev, Emory University School of Law
Franklin A. Gevurtz, University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law
Gregory Gilchrist, University of Toledo College of Law
Michael D. Guttentag, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles
Joan M. Heminway, University of Tennessee College of Law
Donald C. Langevoort, Georgetown University Law Center
Donna M. Nagy, Indiana University Maurer School of Law
Ellen S. Podgor, Stetson University College of Law
Kenneth M. Rosen, The University of Alabama School of Law
David Rosenfeld, Northern Illinois University College of Law
Andrew Verstein, Wake Forest University School of Law
William K. Wang, University of California, Hastings College of the Law
The discussion session is scheduled for 8:30 am to 10:15 am on Friday, right before the Section on Securities Regulation program, in Union Square 25 on the 4th Floor of the Hilton San Francisco Union Square. The AALS has posted the following notice about discussion groups, a fairly new part of the AALS annual conference program (but something SEALS has been doing for a number of years now):
Discussion Groups provide an in-depth discussion of a topic by a small group of invited discussants selected in advance by the Annual Meeting Program Committee. In addition to the invited discussants, additional discussants were selected through a Call for Participation. There will be limited seating for audience members to observe the discussion groups on a first-come, first-served basis.
Next week, I will post some outtakes from the session. In the mean time, I hope to see many of you there. I do expect a robust and varied discussion, based on the papers John and I have received. Looking forward . . . .
Friday, December 30, 2016
At the end of every semester I resolve to give less work to my students so that I don't have so much to grade. This upcoming semester I may actually keep that resolution, but I do plan to keep my blogging assignment. In each class, I provide an extra credit or required post or series of posts of between 200-500 words so that students can learn a fundamental legal skill—communicating clearly, correctly, and concisely.
If you are reading this post, then you are already a fan of legal blogs. Academics blog to get their ideas out quickly rather than waiting for the lengthy law review cycle to publicize their thoughts. Academics can also refine ideas they are incubating by blogging and receiving real time feedback from readers. Practicing lawyers blog (or should) for a slightly different reason. Blogging can enhance a lawyer’s reputation and visibility and ultimately lead to more business.
Yesterday, I met with an attorney who will speak to the students in my new course on Legal Issues for Startups, Entrepreneurs, and Small Businesses. I mentioned to him that I found his blog posts enlightening and that they filled a gap in my knowledge base. Although I practiced for almost twenty years before entering academia and had a wide range of responsibility as a deputy general counsel, I delegated a number of areas to my colleagues or outside counsel. That attorney is now part of a growing trend. In 2011, when I left practice, lawyers rarely blogged and few utilized social media. Now, many recognize that lawyers must read legal blogs to keep up on breaking developments relevant to their practice. However, most lawyers understandably complain that they do not have the time to get new clients, retain their existing clients, do the actual legal work, and also blog.
Leaving blogging to the wayside is a mistake, particularly for small or newer firms. A 2016 Pew Research Center Study revealed that only 20% of people get their news from newspapers yet almost 40% rely on social media, which often provides summaries of the news curated to the consumer’s interests. The potential client base’s changing appetite for instant information in a shorter format makes blogging almost a necessity for some lawyers. Indeed, consumers believe that hiring a new lawyer is so overwhelming that some clients are now crowdsourcing. But when they receive multiple “offers” to represent them, how do/should consumers choose? Perhaps they will pick the firm with a social media presence, including a blog that highlights the firm’s expertise.
I read several blogs a day. Admittedly, I have a much longer attention span than many of our students and the lay public. I also get paid to read. Nonetheless, I consider reading blogs an essential part of my work as an academic. In prepping for my new course, I have found posts on startups and entrepreneurship particularly helpful in providing legal information as well as insight into the mindset of entrepreneurs. If I were a busy founder running a new startup, I would likely try to learn as much as possible as quickly as possible online about certain topics prior to retaining a lawyer. Some lawyers, however, don’t really know how to speak to clients without talking down to them, much less write anything “short” and free of jargon. A lawyer/blogger who wrote in a way that I could understand, without all of the legalese, would be more likely to get my business.
Thus, even though I want to grade fewer papers, I also want my students to leave my class with the critical skill of communicating complex topics to the public in digestible chunks (and in line with state bar rules on social media). Over the years, I have advised students to volunteer to update or start a blog for their internship employers. Many have told me that they enjoyed these projects and that their employers have found value in this work. This blogging practice also puts students in the position to start to blog after graduation.
I’ll end this post with a plug for my blogging colleagues who will attend AALS next week in San Francisco. I encourage you to attend some of the socioeconomic panels highlighted here. Please introduce yourself if you attend the panel next Wednesday morning at 9:50 on whistleblowers with me, Professor Bill Black of UMKC; Professor June Carbone of Minnesota; and Professor Ben Edwards of Barry. If you have an interest in the intersection between ethics and business, please swing by next Friday at 1:30 and see me and co-panelists Christopher Dillon from Gibson Dunn; Mina Kim, GC of Sunrun; Professor Eric Orts of Wharton; Professor Joseph Yockey of Iowa; Professor Brian Quinn of Boston College; Dean Gordon Smith of BYU; Professor Lori Johnson of UNLV; and Professor Anne Choike of Michigan.
If you have legal blogs you want to recommend and/or will be speaking at AALS and want to call attention to your session, feel free to comment below. Happy New Year and happy blogging.
Thursday, December 29, 2016
Ten days ago, I posted on conflicts of interest and the POTUS. Today, friend-of-the-BLPB Ben Edwards has an Op Ed in The Washington Post on conflicts of a different kind--those created by brokerage compensation based on commissions for individual orders. The nub:
In the current conflict-rich environment, Wall Street gorges itself on the public’s retirement assets. While transaction fees are costs to the public, they’re often juicy paydays for financial advisers. A study by the White House Council of Economic Advisers found that Americans pay approximately $17 billion annually in excess fees because of such conflicts of interest. The high fees mean that the typical saver will run out of retirement money five years earlier than he or she would have with better, more disinterested advice.
The solution posed (and fleshed out in a forthcoming article in the Ohio State Law Journal, currently available in draft form on SSRN here):
[S]imply banning commission compensation in connection with personalized investment advice would put market forces to work for consumers. This structure would kill the incentive for financial advisers to pitch lousy products with embedded fees to their clients. While the proposal might sound radical, Australia and Britain have already banned commission compensation linked to investment advice without any significant ill effect. While some might pay a small amount more under such a system, the amount of bias in advice would go down, likely more than offsetting the additional cost with investment gains.
I have been following the evolution of Ben's thinking on this and recently heard him present the work at a faculty forum. I encourage folks interested in the many areas touched on (broker duties, broker compensation, conflicts of interest generally, etc.) to give it a read. This is provocative work, even of one disagrees with the extent of the problem or the way to solve any problem that does exist.
Monday, December 26, 2016
The end of the calendar year brings many things--among others: the holidays (and I hope you have enjoyed and are enjoying them), the release of the last Oscar-contender movies, and the publication of oh-so-many "top ten" lists.
Apropos of the last of those three, I admit to being a bit proud, in a perverse sort of way, about spotting a "top ten" and commenting on it here on the BLPB. Back in May and June, I blogged about consumer litigation against Starbucks (my daughter's employer) involving coffee--too much ice, too hot, etc. Apparently, those types of legal actions are among the "Top Ten Most Ridiculous Lawsuits of 2016." Specifically, two of those lawsuits against Starbucks (the one for too much ice and another alleging too much steamed milk) are #1 on the list. Another consumer suit takes the #2 spot--a legal action asserting that a lip balm manufacturer's packaging is misleading (specifically, making customers beehive there is more product in the tube than there actually is). I continue to maintain (while acknowledging that consumer class action litigation can be useful when employed in cases that present a true danger to the consuming public), as I noted in my May post, that there are better ways to handle customer complaints.
Back in the spring, Weil, Gotshal shared some observations on litigation trends. Many of the underlying matters on which the co-authors of the report comment remain unresolved, and many involve actual or potential business litigation (including consumer litigation involving supply-chain-related or False Claims Act allegations). Certainly, a new U.S. Supreme Court appointee may make a difference in business law cases accepted by the Court this year . . . .
What will 2017 bring in business litigation? Any predictions? Now is the time to stake your claim!
Tuesday, December 20, 2016
During the recent presidential campaign, there was a lot of talk the evil of “political correctness” or (PC). A lot has been said about this concept on social media, and I got to thinking about the legal applications of what PC means. This post is my first look the concept from a legal perspective and looks briefly at the legal origins and applications of the idea.
Speechwriter (and author and columnist) Barton Swaim has said that “Political correctness is an insidious presence in American life.” PC is generally seen (and criticized) as a product of the political left.
And the political right has a companion, “patriotically correct,” and that idea was recently explained in a popular article by Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity. Nowrasteh notes that political correctness has been a “major bugaboo of the right” in recent years and explains:
[C]onservatives have their own, nationalist version of PC, their own set of rules regulating speech, behavior and acceptable opinions. I call it “patriotic correctness.” It’s a full-throated, un-nuanced, uncompromising defense of American nationalism, history and cherry-picked ideals. Central to its thesis is the belief that nothing in America can’t be fixed by more patriotism enforced by public shaming, boycotts and policies to cut out foreign and non-American influences.
As for a definition of political correctness, I will borrow from Swaim again:
Political correctness, if I could venture my own admittedly rather clinical definition, involves the prohibition of common expressions and habits on the grounds that someone in our pluralistic society may be offended by them. It reduces political life to an array of signs and symbols deemed good or bad according to their tendency either to include or exclude aggrieved or marginalized people from common life.
But where did the concept come from? The first cited U.S. legal use of it appears to be one of the foundational Supreme Court cases, which ultimately led to passage of the Eleventh Amendment, states:
Sentiments and expressions of this inaccurate kind prevail in our common, even in our convivial, language. Is a toast asked? ‘The United States,‘ instead of the ‘People of the United States,‘ is the toast given. This is not politically correct. The toast is meant to present to view the first great object in the Union: It presents only the second: It presents only the artificial person, instead of the natural persons, who spoke it into existence.
Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 U.S. 419, 462, 1 L. Ed. 440 (1793) (emphasis added). This doesn’t seem to apply to the modern concept of what it means to be politically correct. The fact that the case draws a distinction between the artificial person (in this case, the United States of America) and the natural persons who make up the nation. That's concept that has application in the business law world, to be sure.
The phrase “politically correct” appears in 259 cases per a search on Westlaw, and the phrase took 191 years off after Chisholm v. Georgia. The phrase resurfaced in 1984, with a use that seems to combine the more modern usage with the 1793 use. Am. Postal Workers Union v. U.S. Postal Serv., 595 F. Supp. 1352, 1362 (D.D.C. 1984), aff'd in part, vacated in part sub nom. Am. Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO v. U.S. Postal Serv., 764 F.2d 858 (D.C. Cir. 1985) (stating that a union “could find out what party a worker is affiliated with and, if not ‘politically correct,’ exert pressure on the worker to change).
In 1991, the phrase comes into more common usage, and we see a particularly modern spin in a Minnesota appeals court dissent in a case upholding a trespassing conviction against abortion protestors:
Both the issues of war and abortion produce a deep split in America's fabric. Oftentime an ugly split. Although it is not pretty, at least it proves that Americans feel strongly on both sides of the issue. Courts do not determine whether anti-war protests are more “politically correct” than abortion protests. It is not up to courts to pass judgment on the “worthiness” of appellants' cause. Trespass is a crime. This is a criminal case. I do not bother my head with whether appellants should protest against “X” (because I disagree with “X”) but not protest against “Y” (because I agree with “Y”). As criminal defendants, appellants are entitled to certain constitutional rights. We do not differentiate between “good” defendants and “bad” defendants. We treat all the same.
State v. Rein, 477 N.W.2d 716, 723 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991) (Randall, J., dissenting).
From a legal perspective, this 1991 case is a jumping off point for modern legal usages of the PC concept. The idea almost always connotes something negative. Take, for example, the most recent case in which a judge used the phrase as part of the opinion (there are more recent cases in which the court quotes others using the phrase). Here, again is a dissent, this time a Fourth Circuit case upholding a District Court order allowing a transgender student to use their restroom of choice:
Somehow, all of this is lost in the current Administration's service of the politically correct acceptance of gender identification as the meaning of “sex”—indeed, even when the statutory text of Title IX provides no basis for the position.
G.G. v. Gloucester Cty. Sch. Bd., 824 F.3d 450, 452 (4th Cir. 2016) (Niemeyer, J., dissenting), cert. granted in part Gloucester Cty. Sch. Bd. v. G.G. ex rel. Grimm, 137 S. Ct. 369 (2016).
I find it interesting that my quick search (admittedly not exhaustive), only revealed the term being used by courts in dissents. As such, when in the majority, the label is deemed unnecessary, even in discussing a counterargument. Is is just a matter of time, or is it more that the majority is deciding not to take a victory lap when on the winning side?
That's the quick look at the legal landscape of political correctness. Does it lead us anywhere? I don't know. At a minimum, I think we should try not to offend others when we can avoid it. And if we do offend others, apologize and try to move forward.
Beyond that, I have to get back grading. So far, not one person has called an "LLC" a "limited liability corporation." Doing so would be decidedly un-PC.
Monday, December 19, 2016
In her post on Saturday, co-blogger Ann Lipton offered observations about possible legal issues resulting from the President-Elect's tweets regarding public companies. She ends her post with the following:
So, it's all a bit unsettled. Let's just say these and other novel legal questions regarding the Trump administration are sure to provide endless fodder for academic analysis in the coming years.
Today, I take on a somewhat related topic. I briefly explore the President-Elect's conflicting interests through the lens of a corporate law advisor. For the past few weeks, the media (see, e.g., here and here and here) and many folks I know have been concerned about the potential for conflict between the President-Elect's role as the POTUS, public investor and leader of the United States, and his role as "The Donald," private investor and leader of the Trump corporate empire.
The existence of a conflicting interest in an action or transaction is not, in and of itself, fatal or even necessarily problematic. In a number of common situations, fiduciaries have interests in both sides of a transaction. For example, a business founder who serves as a corporate director and officer may lease property she owns to the corporation. What matters under corporate law is whether the fiduciary's participation in the transaction on both sides results in a deal made in a fully informed manner, in good faith, and in the bests interests of the corporation. Conflicting interests raise a concern that the fiduciary is or may be acting for the benefit of himself, rather than for and in the best interest of the corporation.
Corporate law generally provides several possible ways to overcome concerns that a fiduciary has breached her duty because of a conflicting interest in a particular action or transaction:
- through good faith, fully informed approval of the action or transaction (e.g., after disclosure of information about the nature and extent of the conflicts) by either the corporation's shareholders or members of the board of directors who are not interested in the transaction; and
- through approval of a transaction that is entirely fair--fair as to process and price.
See, e.g., Delaware General Corporation Law Section 144. Yet, if I believe what I read, no similar processes exist to combat concerns about actions or transactions in which the POTUS has or may have conflicting interests. In particular, to the extent one does not already exist, should a disinterested body of monitors be identified or constituted to receive information about actual and potential conflicting interests of the POTUS and approve the action or transaction involving the conflicting interests? Perhaps the Office of Government Ethics ("OGE") already has something like this in place . . . . If it does, then both the public media and I are underinformed about it. While there seems to be OGE guidance on the President-Elect's nominees for executive branch posts (see, e.g., here and here) and on overall executive branch standards of conduct (see here), I have not found or read about anything applicable to the President-Elect or POTUS.
In making these observations, I recognize that our federal government is different in important ways from the corporation. I also understand that the leadership of a country/nation is different from the leadership of a corporation. Having said that, however, conflicting interests can have similar deleterious effects in both settings. The analogy I raise here and this overall line of inquiry may be worth some more thought . . . .
Friday, December 16, 2016
My favorite new (to me) podcast is NPR's How I Built This. They describe the podcast as "about innovators, entrepreneurs, and idealists, and the stories behind the movements they built. Each episode is a narrative journey marked by triumphs, failures, serendipity and insight — told by the founders of some of the world's best known companies and brands."
So far, I have listened to two of the episodes: one about the Sam Adams founder Jim Koch and one about the Clif Bar co-founder Gary Erickson.
On the Sam Adams episode, I liked Jim Koch's distinction between scary and dangerous -- repelling off a mountain with an expert guide is scary but not not necessarily dangerous; walking on a snow-covered, frozen lake on a sunny day is dangerous but not necessarily scary. Jim said that his comfortable job at Boston Consulting Group was not scary, but it was dangerous in luring him away from his true calling. However, founding his own company (Sam Adams) was scary, but not really as dangerous as working for BCG. Also, it was interesting to find out that Jim Koch is a Harvard JD/MBA.
On the Clif Bar episode, though I have eaten more than my share of Clif Bars, I was surprised to learn that the bars were named for Gary's father, Clif. The Clif Bar episode also gave great insight into the emotions that can come out when deciding whether to sell your business; Gary decided not to sell to Quaker Oats at the last minute and then needed to buy-out his partner. Separately, Gary talked about the need for corporate counsel (and how a "handshake deal" with a distributor almost cost him his business), but he also noted how many attorneys are simply too expensive for small businesses.
Both entrepreneurs drew on lessons they learned during their outdoor adventure experiences. And both entrepreneurs discussed some combination of lawsuits, contracts, and regulatory challenges.
Looking forward to listening to more episodes.
Thursday, December 15, 2016
This post is not about politics, although it does concern President-elect Trump's cabinet pick, ExxonMobil head, Rex Tillerson. I first learned about Tillerson during some research on business and human rights in the extractive industries in 2012. I read the excellent book, "Private Empire" by Pultizer-prize winner Steve Coll to get insight into what I believe is the most powerful company in the world.
Although Coll spent most of his time talking about Tillerson's predecessor, Lee Raymond, the book did a great job of describing the company's world view on climate change, litigation tactics, and diplomatic relations. Coll writes, “Exxon’s far flung interests were at times distinct from Washington’s.” The CEO “did not manage the corporation as a subordinate instrument of American foreign policy; his was a private empire.” Raymond even boasted, “I am not a U.S. company and I don’t make decisions based on what’s good for the U.S.” Indeed, the book describes how ExxonMobil navigated through Indonesian guerilla warfare, dealt with kleptocrats in Africa, and deftly negotiated with Vladmir Putin and Hugo Chavez.
Before I read the book, I knew that big business was powerful--after all I used to work for a Fortune 500 company. But Coll's work described a company that was in some instances more influential to world leaders than the UN, the US State Department, or the World Bank. I don't know if Trump has read the book, but no doubt he knows about the reach of Tillerson's power. I won't comment about whether this pick is good for the country. I will say that this choice is not outrageous or even surprising given Trump's stated view of what he wants for America. The key will be for Tillerson, if he's confirmed, to use the skills he has honed working for ExxonMobil for the country.
If you have time after grading for a really good read (it's a fast 700 pages), pick up the book. Coll's view on the Tillerson nomination is available here.
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
UC Irvine law professor, David Min, has a new article titled, Corporate Political Activity and Non-Shareholder Agency Costs, in theYale Journal on Regulation. Professor Min examines corporate constitutional law in recent examples such as Citizens United, through the lens of nonshareholder dissenters.
The courts have never considered the problem of dissenting nonshareholders in assessing regulatory restrictions on corporate political activity. This Article argues that they should. It is the first to explore the potential agency costs that corporate political activity creates for nonshareholders, and in so doing, it lays out two main arguments. First, these agency costs may be significant, as I illustrate through several case studies. Second, neither corporate law nor private ordering provides solutions to this agency problem. Indeed, because the theoretical arguments for shareholder primacy in corporate law are largely inapplicable for corporate political activity, corporate law may actually serve to exacerbate the agency problems that such activity creates for non-shareholders. Private ordering, which could take the form of contractual covenants restricting corporate political activity, also seems unlikely to solve this problem, due to the large economic frictions facing such covenants. These findings have potentially significant ramifications for the Court’s corporate political speech jurisprudence, particularly as laid out in Bellotti and Citizens United. One logical conclusion is that these decisions, regardless of their constitutional merit, make for very bad public policy, insofar as they preempt much-needed regulatory solutions for reducing non-shareholder agency costs, and thus may have the effect of inhibiting efficient corporate ordering and capital formation. Another outgrowth of this analysis is that nonshareholder agency costs may provide an important rationale for government regulation of corporate political activity.
In examining corporate political activity, Professor Min, expertly blends and connects agency theory to corporate theories of the firm. He rebuts traditional arguments against nonshareholder constituents such as residual interest holders (shareholders), the role of private ordering and provides 3 detailed case studies illustrating the costs of CPA on nonshareholder constituents. Among the proposals and options explored to mitigate these agency costs, Professor Min suggests that the existence of agency costs to nonshareholders--an area heretofore unexamined in corporate law--could justify a regulatory intervention.
Thursday, December 8, 2016
A friend of mine is considering teaching his constitutional law seminar based almost entirely on current and future decisions by the President-elect. I would love to take that class. I thought of that when I saw this article about Mr. Trump’s creative use of Delaware LLCs for real estate and aircraft. Here in South Florida, we have a number of very wealthy residents, and my Business Associations students could value from learning about this real-life entity selection/jurisdictional exercise. Alas, I probably can’t squeeze a whole course out of his business interests. However, I am sure that using some examples from the headlines related to Trump and many of his appointees for key regulatory agencies will help bring some of the material to life.
Tuesday, December 6, 2016
The political discourse of this election cycle, and the respective postures of the two main political parties, suggest that social justice and economic prosperity are in opposition to one another. At times, it seems that some believe pursuing racial and gender equality are (at best) distractions from “real problems” like jobs and the economy. Others seem to think any form of business or industrial development is essentially sanctioning the destruction of the Earth and its people. Both are wrong.
Equity and fairness are not anathema to economic progress. In fact, in the big picture, they are essential. There is nothing inconsistent about being pro-business and supporting social justice. One can believe in social justice and still think there are too many regulations that hamper businesses. There are, for example, regulations that disproportionately keep women and minorities from opening their own businesses. And there are laws and regulations that create barriers to entry and help maintain market power businesses where competition is both warranted and necessary..
My colleague, Haskell Murray recently posted Faith and Work in Universities, which lists some resources related to religion and scholarly activity, particularly as it related to business. This is a worthwhile discussion, and far too often we see discussions of business and morality as separate areas – silos related to separate and competing goals.
This is not unlike the separation in environmental law and energy law I discussed in a recent short piece about the changing role of natural gas in the clean energy movement where I noted:
Electricity generation for industrial and residential consumers was one of the major drivers behind environmental regulation, but despite this long-standing connection, environmental law and energy law have often operated in separate silos. This fact has led to disjointed and ineffective policy and a poor understanding of the full scope of legal, regulatory, and business issues in the energy sector. (footnote omitted)
This is true in the broader business and social justice realm, as well. As Haskell’s compilation shows, though, that business and social justice (including, but not limited to, religion) are interrelated is hardly novel. When Pope Francis visited the U.S. Congress, he explained:
The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. "Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good" (Laudato Si', 129).
Social justice and economic development are not either-or propositions, despite what recent election choices may have implied. There is, I think, a vast underrepresented center in America that cares both about pragmatic economic decisions and basic fairness and equity. This past election, I hope and believe, demonstrated more about the priorities of various voters rather than clear divides about the issues themselves. To be sure, there are large numbers of people for whom this is not true -- there is some fundamental disagreement out there -- but I think the vast majority of people are decent caring people who have different ideas about the hierarchy of what is most important to move the country forward.
This is not to ignore the repugnant behavior, language and acts, from some people before and since the election. There have been outrageous acts of violence and intimidation. Shortly after the election, some of our law students were victims of such acts. As examples, one student was spit upon and racial epithets were shouted at another. There is no place hateful behavior, and it is unacceptable. A recent speaker invited to our campus said hateful and hurtful things about a valued faculty member. Free speech is a virtue, but this is simply not how we should treat each other, and it is shameful. And although racism, misogyny, anti-LGBT and anti-religious sentiment, and xenophobia have been part of virtually every government at some point, no government has found lasting peace or prosperity based on any of those things.
My point is not intended to suggest a Pollyanna-esque view of the world. I am not blindly asking, “Can’t we all just get along?” I am asking whether we can agree to try.
It's going to take a lot of work, and there are no simple answers. But we must start somewhere. Here are three modest principles to get started moving forward together:
- Stop succumbing to base and visceral reactions. We need to stop assuming everyone is lying and cheating and taking something from us so that we notice those who really are lying and cheating and taking something from us.
- Be skeptical of uncompromising absolutists. There are some absolutes in this world, to sure, but not nearly as many as we have been led to believe. And this is not a conservative or liberal issue. It’s an issue. Anyone who thinks they are right all the time is wrong.
- Reaffirm our nation’s founding principles and self-evident truths, that all people are “created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” I think it is right to say we have evolved from knowing such rights belong to men to know such rights belong to us all.
These principles require seeing compromise as valuable. Virtually all of us agree about that, because most of us have jobs and friends and loved ones. Compromise is a big reason why or we wouldn’t have those people in our lives. Compromise does not mean sacrificing one’s beliefs or values. It means recognizing the value and autonomy of others. It means seeing the mutual value of others in the world around us. But also, to be clear, compromise is not one side listening and being nice while the other side sits obstinately waiting to get what they want. Compromise requires that both sides work and give up something. Compromise is not, and cannot be, unilateral disarmament.
Let’s debate vigorously the best way to achieve economic prosperity. Let’s argue respectfully about how best to care for the nation’s poor and elderly. But let’s value and respect each other. In short, let’s get out of our own way. We have work to do.
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
When it comes to regulations and economic policy, I am quite conservative. Not a Republican-type conservative (probably more Libertarian in a political sense), but in the sense that I often advocate for less regulation, and even more often, for less changes to laws and regulations. People need to be able to count on a system and work within it. As such, whether it is related to securities law, energy and environmental law, or other areas of the law, I find myself advocating for staying the course rather than adding new laws and regulations.
For example, a while back, co-blogger Joan Heminway quoted one of my comments about securities law, where I noted "my ever-growing sense that maybe we should just take a break from tweaking securities laws and focus on enforcing rules and sniffing out fraud. A constantly changing securities regime is increasingly costly, complex, and potentially counterproductive."
After the BP oil blowout of the Deepwater Horizon well in the Gulf of Mexico, I similarly argued that we should approach new laws with caution, and that we might be better served with existing law, rather than seeking new laws and regulation in a hasty manner. I explained,
[T]here are times when new laws and regulations are necessary to handle new ways of perpetrating a fraud or to address new information about what was previously viewed as acceptable conduct. But often, new laws and regulations are not a reaction to new information or technology; they are a reaction to a unique and unfortunate set of facts that is more likely related to timing or circumstances than an emerging trend. Other times, it is a lack of enforcement of existing protections meaning the problem is not the law itself; it is the enforcement of the law that is the problem.
Choosing a Better Path: The Misguided Appeal of Increased Criminal Liability After Deepwater Horizon, 36 Wm. & Mary Envt'l L & Pol. Rev. 1, 19 (2011) (footnotes omitted). More recently, I have taken the same view with regard to hydraulic fracturing regulations:
There may well be a need for new regulations to improve oversight of hydraulic fracturing and other industries that pose environmental risks, but new regulations do not necessary lead to better oversight. . . . There is a strong argument that the problems related to hydraulic fracturing (and, for that matter, coal extraction, chemical storage, and hazardous waste operations) are more linked to a lack of enforcement and not a lack of regulation.
Facts, Fiction, and Perception in Hydraulic Fracturing: Illuminating Act 13 and Robinson Township v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 116 W. Va. L. Rev. 819, 847 (2014).
I swear I have a point, beyond just quoting myself. Here it is: I'd like to urge the President-Elect and the 115th Congress to sit back and stay the course for a little bit to see where things are headed. I have a strong suspicion things are headed in the right direction from an economic perspective. This is not to suggest that there are not holes in the economy or people in desperate need of jobs, training, and education (there are -- I live in West Virginia. I know.). But with a White House and a Congress controlled by the same party, the GOP play should be simply: we're in charge now, and the economy is ready to move ahead.
We have already seen it -- the stock market is up and economic indicators look better. And there has been no new legislation or regulation (or repeals of either). It's just consumers believing the economy will get better. And consumer confidence is key to expansion. Who cares that it started before the election? What matters is whether we're going in the right direction. And it seems we are. The Financial Times reported today:
A gauge of US consumer sentiment has hit a post-recession high, painting a positive outlook ahead of the key holiday shopping season as recent data point to a strengthening US economy.
The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index climbed to 107.1 in November from 100.8 in October, the highest since July 2007 and above analysts’ forecast of 101.5.
Most of the survey was conducted before the presidential election on November 8. But “it appears from the small sample of post-election responses that consumers’ optimism was not impacted by the outcome,” said Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at the Conference Board. “With the holiday season upon us, a more confident consumer should be welcome news for retailers.”
And, just to reinforce that is not a post-election position, I have been making this argument on this blog since at least 2010, when I wrote, How to Fix the "Broken" Financial System: Stop Trying to Fix It.
So, let's stay the course for a bit and see how people respond to a little stability. Let's see what a surge in consumer confidence can do for the U.S. and world economies. Let's make sure it's broken (and if so, how), before anyone tries to fix it. And maybe, in the meantime, we can spend a little time treating each other better.
Friday, November 18, 2016
Call for Proposals: “Teaching Cultural Competency and Other Professional Skills Suggested by ABA Standard 302”
The following comes to us from Prof. Kelly Terry, Co-Director, Institute for Law Teaching and Learning. Submit proposals to her at firstname.lastname@example.org by 2/1/17 .
Call for Proposals for the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning’s Summer 2017 Conference, “Teaching Cultural Competency and Other Professional Skills Suggested by ABA Standard 302.” The conference will take place July 7-8, 2017 at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law.
The Institute invites proposals for workshop sessions addressing how law schools are responding to ABA Standard 302’s call to establish learning outcomes related to “other professional skills needed for competent and ethical participation as a member of the legal profession,” such as “interviewing, counseling, negotiation, fact development and analysis, trial practice, document drafting, conflict resolution, organization and management of legal work, collaboration, cultural competency and self-evaluation.” The conference will focus on how law schools are incorporating these skills, particularly the skills of cultural competency, conflict resolution, collaboration, self-evaluation, and other relational skills, into their institutional outcomes, designing courses to encompass these skills, and teaching and assessing these skills. The deadline to submit a proposal is February 1, 2017.