Friday, May 27, 2016
One of our readers (thanks, Tom N.) brought this to my attention earlier today. I have passed it on to some folks internally here at UT Law. Scammers who prey on students to extract money from them to pay a "Federal Student Tax" deserve their own special place on the Wall of Shame. 'nough said.
A few months ago, Inside Higher Ed ran a story that noted "that grades continue to rise and that A is the most common grade earned at all kinds of colleges." (emphasis added). This finding surprised me. I knew grade inflation was becoming more and more common, but I did not expect A to be the most common grade earned, especially in the undergraduate setting.
The article reported that A's accounted for "more than 42 percent of grades" and "A's are now three times more common than they were in 1960." (emphasis added).
This grade inflation trend is a mistake, in my opinion. And it is a trend that is impacting graduate schools as well. At the law school I attended, they moved from a 100-point scale and a 78-point mean when I attended, to letter grades and a much higher mean GPA. I understand why my alma mater made the move; they were very different than other law schools, even at the time, and a student with an 85% average had a tendency to be discounted by employers, even if that person was in the top 10% of her class. Business graduate schools may well have led the grade inflation charge, probably driven, at least in part, by employers who would only reimburse for a B or better in a class. Again, I think grade inflation is a mistake.
Is grade inflation simply an extension of the participation trophy phenomenon? "Entitled" might be the most common adjective I hear used to describe students today. "65% of Americans Say Millennials Are “Entitled,” 58% of Millennials Agree." And if these students grew up being rewarded for just showing up, why wouldn't they be entitled? For the most part, I agree with Pittsburg Steeler, James Harrison, who famously returned his children's participation trophies. To be clear, I think there is a place for team (and individual) achievement trophies and for most improved trophies, but trophies for just showing up seems to encourage mediocrity.
I also understand this mother's point of view, who argued in favor of participation trophies, given the situation of her "mildly intellectually disabled" son. She is concerned for "kids who don't have the chance to ever be the star athlete [or student] no matter how hard they work for it" and hopes for recognition "that not everyone is born with the same abilities." When teaching, my heart does go out to the C-student who appears to be doing his best, while a slacker gifted student may be able to get a B with minimal effort. We should encourage the determined C-student, but also teach him that achievement takes time and effort and is more difficult for some. I believe that former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden defined success well when he wrote: "Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best you are capable of becoming." I want my children and my students to know that I care about them regardless of their relative achievement. I want them to know that doing their very best is all that can be rightly expected. But I do not want to shelter them from the reality of failure. And I want them to realize that life is not always fair. And I want to help them to find a career well-suited for them, which may be aided by comparison to others over time.
In light of all of this, how should we respond in our grading?
I think there has to be a discussion at the college and university level. Individual teachers are in a tough position. At most schools, a professor who believes that Cs are average, and As are only for true excellence, would be a significant outlier and could wreck individual student GPAs. Personally, I think colleges and universities need to establish a presumptive mean grade (and maybe some distribution requirements as well). The grade mean would have to have some flexibility, especially for smaller classes, where the high achieving students may be concentrated or absent from particular classes. I know there are some who find a required grade mean limiting, and an established mean is not without faults, but I think it is a more fair system and limits the race to grade inflation that is sure to occur if more flexibility is granted.
While effort should be recognized and encouraged, grades and trophies should represent relative achievement. Competition is a reality of business. You don't get clients just by trying hard; you get clients by being the best. Students and athletes need to learn to compete, push through failure, and at some point realize that it may be best to move on to a different area.
Thursday, May 26, 2016
It is that time of year again when law profs are up to their ears in grading exams. (Unless one teaches on the continent, where exams are oral.) Given my location in the UK, I thought I would provide a few insights on what we do here. These are my own personal reflections and I may not be able to generalise about what gets done across the board, though in the UK we probably have more uniformity of policies among law schools and universities generally than in the US. What I am about to say is nowhere near complete in coverage. I want to focus here only on some differences which caught my particular attention as an American teaching in the UK.
Preliminarily, we don’t use the word “grading.” The term is “marking.” This is terminological. They mean the same thing. I’ll stick to the American terminology here.
We allocate grading and just about every other task to be done in a British law school through something called a “workload allocation.” A workload allocation is a bit of distributive justice. It is meant to allocate work in the school fairly among all faculty (we say staff but I’ll stick to the US word). So, if you are called upon to chair a busy committee, you get credit for that in the workload. The workload will include time for you to do scholarship if scholarship is part of your job.
Here comes the interesting part for those of you saddled with large classes and large amounts of exam grading: exam grading is also subject to the workload allocation. You may be asked to grade in a course (a ‘module’) you did not teach.
Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Some time ago, I wrote the post Better Teaching Idea: Try to Notice When the Wind Is at Your Back. That post emerged from some observations while running, and today's post has the same origin.
This month I have been trying to up my miles again for no particular reason. I don't run for races. I run to run. And to feel like I am at least doing something to stay in some semblance of good shape (it's not really working). I now run 4 miles most days. Maybe a little more or less, but that's the norm this month. The past two days, I ran from my house, which is at the top of a hill. It is more of a mountain when I am running up it. (I promise, I am getting somewhere with this.)
I often go down to the rail trail along the river, which is a mostly flat, pretty place to run. The last two days, I have been running from my house. This means that if I want to get any distance in, I need to go down the mountain. And, of course, it means I need to get back to the top. Now, I could stay at the top. It's relatively flat on our street, and I can run a quarter of a mile down and back and stay at the top of the mountain. That's a lot of down and backs to get in four miles. No thanks. It's easier, but not much fun. (Note: you can follow along my running escapades on Twitter @jfershee and Nike+.)
My usual route from my house takes my down the mountain, then back up the mountain, where I turn around and retrace my steps. That means I am running up the steepest part of the run at mile 3.5. It's not always my favorite part of the run, even if it is my most triumphant. As I was slogging my way back up the mountain, my mind wandered and I caught myself thinking again, "It would have been a lot easier to just stay at the top." And it is. It's true in running, and it's true in most everything else we do.
It doesn't matter how you get to the top. Once you're there, it's easier to stay there than it was to get there. It may take a lot of work to get to the top. For most people, it does. But someone can just take you to the top, too. Once you're there, it's easier to stay there. And once you leave, it's hard to get back up.
Knowing all of this is important. And it is important to remember that not everyone has the same amount to climb to get to the top of whatever it is they are climbing. I did not come from money, but I had everything I needed. I am a straight, white male. The data show that starts you ahead of the game. I went to good public schools. I went to college. And law school. This required a lot of work to move ahead, but the opportunity was there for me in a way it isn't for many.
It's easy to start thinking that everyone is starting from the same point. And it's a lot easier to notice the people who are ahead of you on the way up. It's not that often that we look back, which can skew our perspective in unproductive ways.
As teachers, it's important to recognize that we can be part of helping our students move up their mountain. And they may not be starting from the same place we were. They may have further to go. Some may have less. It's our job to help them get where they want go. As a corollary, it's also important to remember that just because they might have farther to go, it's not our job to limit the mountains they can climb. To the contrary, it's our job to help them see that the sky truly is the limit.
That's my take away for the day: as hard as it is to keep climbing to the top, don't ever think you're doing it alone. Appreciate who helped you. Keep slogging. And when you get to the top, don't forget to see if you can help someone else up.
Friday, May 6, 2016
The Institute for Law Teaching and Learning 2016 summer conference is focusing on "the many ways that law schools are preparing students to enter the real world of law practice." The conference is being held at Washburn University School of Law. The agenda and registration information are available here.
It is commencement season – our commencement at Belmont University is tomorrow. Commencement season means commencement speeches. Commencement speeches often comes with an extra helping of cliché advice. If I had to guess, no piece of cliché advice is more common in commencement speeches than “follow your passion in your career.”
For example, in Steve Job’s famous Stanford commencement speech he said:
You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.
Jim Carey, in an otherwise pretty original and somewhat odd commencement speech, included some of the cliché “follow your passion” advice when he said:
My father could have been a great comedian, but he didn’t believe that was possible for him, and so he made a conservative choice. Instead, he got a safe job as an accountant, and when I was 12 years old, he was let go from that safe job and our family had to do whatever we could to survive. I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which was that you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.
Like almost any cliché, the “follow your passion” instruction contains some wisdom. I do think there are students who take conventional jobs out of fear, and fear shouldn’t drive a decision as important as career choice. That said, I also think this cliché advice can do a good bit of harm. I see students overly focused on trying to find work that fits with their current interests --- music, sports, travel, etc. --- or work that they think will “change the world" and make them feel good in the process. As a result, students often ignore work that may seem ordinary, but is just as important, if not as glamorous.
Accounting, mentioned in Jim Carey’s speech, is actually one of those areas that students often pass over as “ordinary work” or turn to reluctantly, out of fear. Few people I know have a natural passion for accounting. But I have seen a passion for accounting develop over time. As the philosopher William James said:
Action seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not.
Most work is “ordinary” work. Even the splashy work celebrated in commencement speeches (and indirectly celebrated by the choice of commencement speakers) has ordinary elements, or was, at the very least, preceded by less unique work. I worry that students, attempting to follow the advice of Jobs, Carey, and others, bounce from job to job trying to find work that makes them feel good immediately and all the time. While I don’t necessary think “do what you love” is bad advice, I think it needs to be tempered with “find work the world needs and that fits your talents,” “do good work wherever you are,” and “know that most work is needed and important, even if it does not grab headlines.” I wish we took more time at our universities to celebrate the day-in, day-out grind of the faithful, ordinary worker. And I am trying to impart to my students that their future work matters, even if it seems common and doesn’t receive much recognition.
Thursday, May 5, 2016
Today I hit “submit” on an article I was asked to review for an international law journal. Because the process required blind peer review, I won’t be any more specific other than to say that the article related to a topic that I have written and spoken about extensively over the past few years. Unfortunately, the author did not cite any of the main (or even ancillary) articles on the topic and instead focused on a number of disparate theories that barely related to the title or topic of the piece. In short, the article had a few good pages and might make a few decent articles, but only after major revisions. I knew what the article was missing because I have read almost every other piece written on the topic.
As a junior academic, I admit that the most frustrating part of the law review process is the lack of peer review, at least in the United States. My colleagues in the EU review articles of 10-12,000 words on average and generally have 1-2 other reviewers deciding on publication of a scholar’s piece. The review period tends to be 6-8 weeks (or so I have been told) and generally journals require exclusive submission. In worst case scenarios, authors can wait several months for an acceptance or rejection. Although I am not a fan of the exclusive submission process, I do prefer the peer review model. It may be subjective, but it’s no more subjective than having articles accepted by 2Ls and 3Ls, who may have no expertise or familiarity with the topic they are reviewing.
A 2014 essay by Josephine Potuto raises another issue with the U.S. law review system—how the articles are edited. The abstract states simply:
Law professors publish in law reviews, not peer-reviewed journals. They are edited by law students. The editing process can be both irritating and exasperating. From experiences lived and those shared by colleagues across the country, I provide concrete examples of where law student editors go wrong, and also explain why.
Finally, in an effort to improve the process, I recommend that faculty advisors and editors read some of my co-bloggers’ insights on the topic.
Happy grading to all and I wish you a productive summer. I will be writing less frequently in May due to a honeymoon and then a research trip to Cuba, which of course, I will blog about. I'm also writing a law review article on Cuba, so hopefully editors won't hold this column against me!
Monday, April 25, 2016
Congratulatons to the Newly Appointed Dean of the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University!
Although other outlets in the blogosphere (including the blog he founded, The Conglomerate) beat us to the punch by a few weeks (see, e.g., here and here), I want to take time out today to congratulate D. Gordon Smith, currently Glen L Farr Professor of Law at BYU Law, on his appointment as Dean of BYU Law commencing May 1. (That's this coming Sunday!)
I have had the privilege of working with Gordon a number of times over the years (perhaps most notably in the formation and leadership of the AALS Section on Transactional Law and Skills and with The Conglomerate), and he is a consummate professional. He represents his institution impeccably as a scholar and servant of the academy and the profession. He has great judgment and is a kind, considerate soul. I know that he will be a great leader for BYU Law.
My only regret is that Gordon will likely have to step back from the many leading roles he has had in pushing business transactional law scholarship forward. His service as a symposium sponsor, conference panel organizer, moderator, discussant, and presenter are so appreciated by me. [sigh]
Nevertheless, I admit it's great to see another strong business law teacher, scholar, and servant in a law deanship. I am delighted for him. And I wish him all the best.
Friday, April 22, 2016
Last week I attended the Midwest Academy of Legal Studies (MALSB) Conference in Chicago, IL. MALSB is one of the 12 regional associations of legal studies professors in business schools that has an annual conference. The Academy of Legal Studies of Business (ALSB) is the national association and the annual national conference is similar to AALS.
Given that I started my academic career at a law school, and still attend some law school professor conferences, I notice differences between law school and business school legal studies professor conferences. While there are plenty of similarities between the conferences, I note some of the differences below.
Pedagogy Presentations. While law school professor conferences do usually address pedagogy in a few panels, the business school legal studies conferences I have attended seem to have a much stronger emphasis. For example, I think the regional and national ALSB conferences tend to have 30%+ of the presentations dedicated to pedagogy. Many of the business school legal studies conferences have master teacher competitions as well, where finalists present their teaching ideas or cases to the audience and a winner is chosen by vote. I think some of this focus on pedagogy is because a fair number of business school legal studies professors are full-time, non-tenure track instructors without research responsibilities. In any case, I generally find the pedagogy presentations quite useful and think law school professor conferences could increase their focus on the area.
Relative Lack of Subject Area Silos. Maybe the biggest difference I have noticed between law school professor conferences and business school legal studies conferences is the relative lack of subject area silos at the legal studies conferences. At most law school professor conferences I attend, I can and do spend the entire time listening to only business law (narrowly defined) presentations. I leave small and big law school conferences only having heard about business associations, corporate governance, M&A, and securities law. At MALSB I heard those presentations, but also heard talks on employment, constitutional, contract, tax, and white collar criminal law. The conference organizers try to keep the panels in generally the same subject area, but the panels bleed into other areas and there is almost never enough pure business presentations to keep you fully occupied at a legal studies conference. The relative lack of subject area silos is good and bad. It is good because the exposure to other areas can lead to new insights about your own areas, but I still attend some law school professor conferences for more focus and depth.
Associated Journals. Most of the regional and national legal studies associations run blind, peer-reviewed law journals. In my opinion, these journals are excellent for our field and offer a nice alternative to law reviews. I've stuck with the national journals to date because a number of the regional journals do not have WestLaw or Lexis contracts yet. As I have said before, I think there is room for even more traditional peer-reviewed law journals, perhaps run by law schools or by law school associations.
Enjoyed my time at MALSB. The people and the presentations were definitely worth the trip.
Monday, April 18, 2016
Imagine This: First-Semester Second-Year Students in Your Business Associations Class Who Already Have a Sense of Transactional Practice . . .
This is not a pipe dream! I honestly believe that in the fall of 2017, this will be a reality for me. (I typically teach Business Associations in the fall semester to a large number of students who understand "cases," not "deals.")
The reason for my good spirits and honest belief in the positive change in my students? Our new 1L curriculum, which is rolling out this fall. No doubt, we will find some changes that need to be made as we implement our relatively bold plan. But I am truly excited that the new first-year curriculum exposes every student to a transactional experience in the first year of law school.
There are many reasons for implementing this kind of change, of course. Among other things, this new approach to the first year at UT Law responds to suggestions that we got from our students and represents an effort to better connect the 1L year to our upper division curriculum (on which we have spent a lot of time over the years). The new 1L transactional offering is part of a larger plan constructed by a College of Law committee, chaired by my colleague (and e-discovery queen) Paula Schaefer, that spent several years looking at our overall curriculum and that of many other schools before fashioning a number of alternative options for the faculty to review.
The implementation involves a lot of work. Many colleagues are chipping in to construct new courses and re-fashion existing courses to meet the new curricular requirements. It takes a village. I am grateful for all of the work being put in. I work with a great bunch of folks.
An article in the National Jurist last week describes the new 1L curriculum in general. Our academic policies, however, add some detail. I quote from them below, with some reformatting for easier reading in this space.
For students entering in or after Fall 2016, the first-year curriculum is as follows:
Civil Procedure I* (3)
Contracts I (3)
Criminal Law (3)
Lawyering & Professionalism (1) Legal Process I (3)
Torts I* (3)
Civil Procedure II (3)
Contracts II (3)
Legal Process II (3)
Torts II (2)
Transactional Lawyering Lab (1)
*First-year students enroll in an experiential section of either Civil Procedure I or Torts I. The experiential sections include three graded, simulation-based assignments. Each simulation places students in the role of lawyer, raises professionalism issues, requires students to perform a lawyering skill, and results in a written and/or oral work product. In addition to a final examination, the course also includes a midterm exam that includes at least one essay question.
We are pretty excited to get this new curricular show on the road. I look forward to sharing more with you as we see how students react in the short term and long term. But my UT Law colleagues and I are very hopeful that this new approach to the first year will lay a strong foundation for upper division academic work and for practice.
Thursday, April 14, 2016
Today in my Business and Human Rights class I thought about Ann's recent post where she noted that socially responsible investor Calpers was rethinking its decision to divest from tobacco stocks. My class has recently been discussing the human rights impacts of mega sporting events and whether companies such as Rio Tinto (the medal makers), Omega (the time keepers), Coca Cola (sponsor), McDonalds (sponsor), FIFA (a nonprofit that runs worldwide soccer) and the International Olympic Committee (another corporation) are in any way complicit with state actions including the displacement of indigenous peoples in Brazil, the use of slavery in Qatar, human trafficking, and environmental degradation. I asked my students the tough question of whether they would stop eating McDonalds food or wearing Nike shoes because they were sponsors of these events. I required them to consider a number of factors to decide whether corporate sponsors should continue their relationships with FIFA and the IOC. I also asked whether the US should refuse to send athletes to compete in countries with significant human rights violations.
Because we are in Miami, we also discussed the topic du jour, Carnival Cruise line's controversial decision to follow Cuban law, which prohibits certain Cuban-born citizens from traveling back to Cuba on sea vessels, while permitting them to return to the island by air. Here in Miami, this is big news with the Mayor calling it a human rights violation by Carnival, a County contractor. A class action lawsuit has been filed seeking injunctive relief. This afternoon, Secretary of State John Kerry weighed in saying Carnival should not discriminate and calling upon Cuba to change its rules.
So back to Ann's post. In an informal poll in which I told all students to assume they would cruise, only one of my Business and Human Rights students said they would definitely boycott Carnival because of its compliance with Cuban law. Many, who are foreign born, saw it as an issue of sovereignty of a foreign government. About 25% of my Civil Procedure students would boycott (note that more of them are of Cuban descent, but many of the non-Cuban students would also boycott). These numbers didn't surprise me because as I have written before, I think that consumers focus on convenience, price, and quality- or in this case, whether they really like the cruise itinerary rather than the ethics of the product or service.
Tomorrow morning (Friday), I will be speaking on a panel with Jennifer Diaz of Diaz Trade Law, two members of the US government, and Cortney Morgan of Husch Blackwell discussing Cuba at the ABA International Law Section Spring Meeting in New York. If you're at the meeting and you read this before 9 am, pass by our session because I will be polling our audience members too. And stay tuned to the Cuba issue. I'm not sure that the Carnival case will disprove my thesis about the ineffectiveness of consumer pressure because if the Secretary of State has weighed in and the Communist Party of Cuba is already meeting next week, it's possible that change could happen that gets Carnival off the hook and the consumer clamor may have just been background noise. In the meantime, Carnival declared a 17% dividend hike earlier today and its stock was only down 11 cents in the midst of this public relations imbroglio. Notably, after hours, the stock was trading up.
April 14, 2016 in Ann Lipton, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Human Rights, International Law, Law School, Marcia Narine, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, April 8, 2016
Recently, I have been talking to a few of our law students about jobs, and I have also discussed job negotiations in my MBA negotiations course.
Here are a few thoughts for law students negotiating their first job. First, take the time to sit and think about what you want in a job. I know this seems simple, but far too many students simply follow their classmates in chasing the most prestigious firms without fully understanding why; those firms may or may not be a good fit, depending on your goals. Talk to a number of people who have worked in jobs you are considering, and interview them about positives and negatives. Second, you have to understand your BATNA (your best alternative to a negotiated agreement). If you only have one offer, and thus no good alternatives to that job, you will be in a very weak negotiating position. As such, it is best to uncover a good, or at least decent, second option, even if it is a job outside law, before negotiating . Third, try to find out, from faculty members or recent graduates, what items may be negotiable at the organization. At larger firms and many government agencies, it seems that salary and benefits are almost always unmovable for entry level lawyers. That said, there are still some items - like practice group and start date - which might be negotiable. Start date can actually be really important. An early start date, if it is allowed (some organizations start all their first years at once), can give you a head start and more individualized senior associate/partner attention before the rest of the class arrives. At smaller firms, salary and benefits may be negotiable. Fourth, and perhaps more important, in all your discussions be respectful. You don't want to get a reputation of being entitled before you even start with the firm, and again, you need to be realistic about your other options; this is still a buyers' market. If you fortunate enough to have multiple good offers, you can, respectfully, ask for offer improvement, but if it is your only legitimate offer, asking may not be worth the risk of them pulling the offer. Fifth, once you are in the job, I would focus on making yourself valuable, to the senior associates, partners, and eventually the clients, so that you will be in a powerful negotiating position down the road.
For more general thoughts, watch Deepak Malholtra's (Harvard Business School) talk on negotiating your job offer.
Friday, March 18, 2016
Law school can and should be an enriching intellectual experience. For many, however, the three years of law school can also be extremely unhealthy.
What responsibility, if any, do we have as legal academics to encourage healthy behavior by our students? How do we do so?
Many law students have horrendous sleep, exercise, and eating habits. Many of these habits carry over into practice, and probably play at least some role in the numerous, documented health and addiction issues facing law students and lawyers. For undergraduate students, many schools mandate physical education and/or nutrition courses. Should these courses be offered to or mandatory for law students?
Are there things that we are doing as legal educators that encourage unhealthy habits? For example, is testing only once a semester part of the problem or is it simply preparing them for stressful, important events like the bar exam or a big trial?
Just opening this topic for discussion; I don't think I have good answers yet. Feel free to respond in the comments or send me thoughts via e-mail. I think I lean toward letting law students make their own decisions in this area, especially because some students are older, second-career types. But, given all the problems law students and lawyers face, I wonder if it would be valuable to require something like a one-credit, ungraded course of health and nutrition, which include some exercise time and general health instruction.
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Being near to celebrity, even academic celebrity, can be exciting. I feel unjustifiable pride and exhilaration in the nomination of George Washington Law School professor Lisa Fairfax to be a SEC commissioner. The White House announced her nomination last October, and the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs held hearings yesterday for Lisa Fairfax (democratic nominee) and Hester Peirce (republican nominee). Professor Fairfax is being heralded as having "written extensively in favor of shareholder rights, shareholder activism, and gender and racial diversity on corporate boards." Her scholarship is available on her SSRN page. Hester Peirce, another academic of sorts, is a senior fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University researching financial markets and an adjunct professor. The Mercatus Center is a "university-based research center... advanc[ing] knowledge about how markets work to improve people’s lives by training graduate students, conducting research, and applying economics to offer solutions to society’s most pressing problems." Her writing is available here.
The hearing process was reported by the WSJ as "tough" for both nominees. The confirmation process is by no means a given in the current political climate. A video of the hearing is available for viewing. Additionally, each nominee submitted a statement and financial records as a part of the confirmation process. Download FairfaxStatement Download FairfaxFinancialDisclosure Download PeirceStatement Download PeirceFinancialDisclosure
Lisa Fairfax summarized her credentials to be a Commissioner:
As a law professor, over the last fifteen years I have had the privilege of teaching Corporations and Securities Law to the next generation of practitioners, judges, and regulators, so that they can understand the increasingly complex world in which companies must operate, markets must perform, and regulators must monitor. My teaching, along with my research and writing in these areas, have given me a deep understanding of the issues confronting the SEC, as well as a strong desire to help tackle those issues head on.
Fairfax's statement also stated her view of the SEC:
[I] believe deeply in the SEC’s three part mission to protect investors, maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and facilitate capital formation. ... I believe that the SEC’s three-part mission statement is more than a statement; it is a set of guiding principles that should shape every aspect of the agency’s activities. ...I believe the SEC’s work must be aimed at ensuring that investors are protected at all times, and that investors have confidence in the markets and the financial system.
The SEC also has a responsibility to facilitate access to needed capital for all participants in the market, from the corporation and small business owner in need of cash and credit, to the individual investing to support a family, finance a child’s education, or ensure a comfortable retirement.
Hester Peirce, who previously worked with the SEC’s Division of Investment Management, Commissioner Paul Atkins, and the SEC Investor Advisory Committee wrote:
My desire to serve at the SEC is motivated by the conviction that the capital markets help unlock people’s potential. Investors build their retirement nest eggs, their down payments, and their children’s college funds. Vibrant capital markets find and fund individuals and companies with brilliant ideas that can enhance people’s lives and the nation’s prosperity.
My belief in the capital markets’ ability to enrich our communities is built on lessons I have learned at the Peirce family dinner table, in classrooms at Case Western Reserve and Yale, and from mentors and colleagues throughout my career.
I am academically (and personally) interested in the role of retirement investors in capital markets so I noted with interest that both nominees spoke of the relevance of capital markets and the SEC to individual (retirement) investors.
The Committee is expected to vote on April 7, 2016.
Friday, March 11, 2016
Some of our December graduates haven just taken the Florida bar exam. As always, I asked them about the business associations questions. Florida drastically changed its LLC rules in 2014, but still hasn’t asked any questions about LLCs, focusing instead on partnerships and corporations (at least according to the students). From a review of the released questions, the bar didn’t ask about LLCs before the amendments either.
I teach BA again next year and I’m struggling with what to emphasize. Business Associations is not required in many Florida law schools, but it is at St. Thomas, and many students enter the class with trepidation. Most will only take the one required course and won’t go on to advanced classes in securities regulation, corporate taxation, or other drafting courses. I try to focus the required BA class on skills that graduates will need in the workplace in addition to preparing them for the bar by using released test questions. Now I wonder how to balance the tension between the rise of LLCs and the many changes in laws related to securities regulation with the bar’s continued focus on partnerships and traditional corporations.
Yesterday the Obama administration added Miami to the list of tech hire jurisdictions. The Kauffman Index ranks Miami as second in the country for startups. Last month, a blogger highlighted my city’s proximity to Latin America and our emerging tech scene. With these realities in mind, should I add even more to what I already teach about legal issues that entrepreneurs and startups face even if that’s not what the Florida bar tests? I never want to “teach to the test” but I also want to make sure that I am responsible in my pedagogy, which for me includes marking up operating agreements, spending time demystifying IPO filings, and introducing them to hybrid entities that entrepreneurs ask about.
Unlike 20 other states, Florida has not adopted the Uniform Bar Exam, but I believe that any test that asks students to do the kind of critical analysis they would have to do in practice is a good thing. This week the Florida bar established a new committee to consider the issue, but I don’t have high hopes for a quick change to the bar exam. Lawyers here recently killed a proposal for reciprocity, and some see the UBE as a back door effort to flood Florida with out of staters.
So I have a conflict. How do other professors tackle the coverage issue? Comment below or feel free to email me at email@example.com.
Wednesday, March 9, 2016
It has been a crazy busy couple of weeks, and one thing I rely on the keep sane (or sane-ish) is music. This morning I was listening to the most recent Public Enemy album, Man Plans God Laughs, which includes a song called "Corplantationopoly." (The album is solid, and while it will never top Nation of Millions or Fear of a Black Planet, Chuck D is still powerful to hear.) This got me to thinking about songs that reference business as part of their lyrics and/or theme.
With the availability of the internet, of course several such lists have already been compiled. Here is a sampling:
It's like the more money we come across
The more problems we see
My car is parked outside, I'm afraid it doesn't work
I'm looking for a partner, someone who gets things fixed
Ask yourself this question, do you want to be rich?
We don't pull the strings
It's all in the past now
Money changes everything
It was only everything
Before money became king.
Friday, March 4, 2016
Presidential candidate Donald Trump has repeatedly stated that he never plans to eat Oreo cookies again because the Nabisco plant is closing and moving to Mexico. Trump, who has starred in an Oreo commercial in the past, is actually wrong about the nature of Nabisco’s move, and it’s unlikely that he will affect Nabisco’s sales notwithstanding his tremendous popularity among some in the electorate right now. Mr. Trump has also urged a boycott of Apple over how that company has handled the FBI’s request over the San Bernardino terrorist’s cell phone.
Strangely, I haven’t heard a call for a boycott of Apple products following shareholders’ rejection of a proposal to diversify the board last week. I would think that Reverend and former candidate Al Sharpton, who called for the boycott of the Oscars due to lack of diversity would call for a boycott of all things Apple. But alas, for now Trump seems to be the lone voice calling for such a move (and not because of diversity). In fact, I’ve never walked past an Apple Store without thinking that there must be a 50% off sale on the merchandise. There are times when the lines are literally out the door. Similarly, despite the #Oscarssowhite controversy and claims from many that the boycott worked because the Oscars had historically low ratings, viewership among black film enthusiasts was only down 2% this year.
So why do people constantly call for boycotts? According to a Freakonomics podcast from January, they don’t actually work. Historians and economists made it clear in interviews that they only succeed as part of an established social movement. In some cases they can backfire leading to a "buycott," as it did for Chik Fil A. The podcast also put into context much of what we believe are the boycott “success stories,” including the Montgomery Bus Boycott with Rosa Parks and the sit in movement related to apartheid in the 1980s.
I have spent much of my time looking at disclosure legislation that is based in part on the theory that informed consumers and socially-responsible investors will boycott or divest holdings (see here, here, and here). In particular, I have focused on the Dodd-Frank conflict minerals corporate governance disclosure and why I don’t think that using name and shame laws work—namely because consumers talk a good game in surveys but actually don’t purchase based on social criteria nearly as much as NGOs and legislators believe.
The SEC was supposed to decide whether to file a cert petition to the Supreme Court on the part of the conflict minerals legislation that was struck down on First Amendment grounds by March 9th but they now have an extension until April. Since I wrote an amicus brief in the case at the lower level, I have a particular interest in this filing. I had planned my business and human rights class on disclosures and boycotts around that cert. filing to make it even more relevant to my students, who will do a role play simulation drafted by Professor Erika George representing civil society (NGOs, investors, and other stakeholders), the electronics industry, the US government (state department, Congress, and SEC), Congolese militia, the Congolese government, and the Congolese people. The only group they won’t represent is US consumers, even though that’s the target group of the Dodd-Frank disclosure. I did tweak Professor George’s materials but purposely chose not to add in the US consumer group. After my students step out of their roles, we will have the honest discussions about their own views and buying habits. I’ll try not to burst any boycott bubbles.
March 4, 2016 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Human Rights, International Business, International Law, Law School, Legislation, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Shareholders, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (1)
Friday, February 26, 2016
Matthew Bruckner (Howard) recently posted an interesting article on bankruptcy reorganization and universities. Given the challenges facing many schools, his article should be one that attracts attention. The article can be downloaded here and the abstract is below.
Many colleges and universities are in financial distress but lack an essential tool for responding to financial distress used by for-profit businesses: bankruptcy reorganization. This Article makes two primary contributions to the nascent literature on college bankruptcies by, first, unpacking the differences among the three primary governance structures of institutions of higher education, and, second, by considering the implications of those differences for determining whether and under what circumstances institutions of higher education should be allowed to reorganize in bankruptcy. This Article concludes that bankruptcy reorganization is the most necessary for for-profit colleges and least necessary for public colleges, but ultimately concludes that all colleges be allowed to reorganize in chapter 11.
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending a luncheon talk by Anne Anderson, Ireland's Ambassador to the United States. Ambassador Anderson covered a range of topics, including Ireland's place in and commitment to the EU, the financial and political situation in the EU, and Ireland's success in attracting international businesses.
At Belmont, we require our undergraduate students to attend 60 hours worth of campus talks/presentations/workshops over their four years. When I first heard about this requirement, I must admit that I thought it a bit paternalistic. But looking back on my college experience, I do wish I would have been nudged (or even required) to attend more of the wonderful talks that took place on campus. To be clear, our students get to choose which talks they attend and there are many options.
While I have come around on these requirements for undergraduates, I am not sure if I would require campus talk attendance of law students -- to my knowledge we don't. Given that graduate students are, or should be, more mature, I don't think I would require them to attend campus talks, but I might give them some sort of certificate if they attended a certain number.
Somewhat similarly, when I was in law school, my school started a pro bono recognition program. Basically, you received one of three levels of "pro bono recognition" depending on the number of pro bono hours you worked for external public interest organizations. The results of this small recognition program were impressive; only 1 of my 10-15 closest friends was doing pro bono work before the program, but about 80% of us were doing pro bono work afterward. This is admittedly a small sample, but the program seemed to impact the entire school.
That said, maybe by graduate school we should try to teach students to do things for their own sake, and not merely for recognition.
Thursday, February 25, 2016
Next week is our Spring Break and I plan to catch up on some television and movie watching. Many of my former business associations students have raved about the show Billions, described online as follows:
Wealth, influence and corruption collide in this drama set in New York. Shrewd U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades is embroiled in a high-stakes game of predator vs. prey with the ambitious hedge-fund king, Bobby Axelrod. To date, Rhoades has never lost an insider trading case -- he's 81-0 -- but when criminal evidence turns up against Axelrod, he proceeds cautiously in building the case against Axelrod, who employs Rhoades' wife, psychiatrist Wendy, as a performance coach for his company. Wendy, who has been in her position longer than Chuck has been in his, refuses to give up her career for her husband's legal crusade against Axelrod. Both men use their intelligence, power and influence to outmaneuver the other in this battle over billions.
Now that my students are watching it, I feel compelled to do so as well, and not just because Australian papers play up the copious amounts of money and sex depicted in the series. I’m glad that my students are watching any television show that deals with the financial industry but even more gratified that they are emailing me telling me that now they understand some of the concepts that they see in this show and others such as HBO’s Silicon Valley.
Are there any other television shows or movies I should catch up on during Spring Break in between grading, writing, and watching Suits (for my Civil Procedure students)? I like to keep up with what my students watch because I use some of the story lines for in class hypos and exam questions. I also ask students to write reflection papers applying what they have learned in class and analyzing what Hollywood got wrong. I look forward to your suggestions.