Friday, September 9, 2016
As many of you already know, I regularly advise students (as so many of us do) on career planning and job searches. This advice extends to communications in connection with career planning and job searches. And I have blogged about all this. I have posted in the past, for example, on networking letters (my post is here) and cover letters, for example (my most recent post is here).
Yesterday, I got an email message from a student with a great question related to all this. Here is the question: "What would you recommend as the subject line of an email to a contact you have been referred to by someone else?" Nice. Here's what I ended up writing back, in pertinent part.
. . . Email titles are tricky.
The first thing I would do is ask if the person making the connection can e-introduce you with an email message and copy you in. I have done that many times. My script usually goes something like this:
[X], e-meet [Y]. As I explained to you earlier today, [Y] is the [title & affiliation].
[Y], [X] is a [year] at UT Law who is considering [career goal]. [X] is especially interested in working with [specific practice interest]. S/he has M/W/F time free in her/his academic schedule this fall, and she/he would love to find a targeted internship involving all or part of that time. I thought you might be able to help me identify opportunities for [X}. So, I offered to introduce you to each other by email in the hopes that you could help [X] find something suitable.
[Y], I know that you are always busy. If this request is unduly burdensome, I fully understand. Just let us know. But if you have a little bit of time to make some suggestions to me and [X] on this, I hope that you will do so.
Best to all,
If that doesn't work, we're back to you sending the email on your own. You may want to ask the person who gave you the connection if it's OK to copy him or her on the message you send, btw. I think that adds credibility and can have other advantages, too.
As with many things, the answer to your question about recommended email subject lines is "it depends." More specifically, it depends on the precise content, the context, and your style. Sometimes, and this is consistent with my style, I will entitle an email like this--one to a stranger with whom I have some affinity--by referring to this affinity relationship in some way. So, if the person is, e.g., an alum of UT Law, I might entitle the message: "Greetings from the UT College of Law." If the only affinity is the mutual friendship, a similar approach might lead to a title like: "E-introduction with Regards from Joan Heminway."
Do those kinds of suggestions resonate with you? Let me know. We can consider this the start of a conversation . . . .
I am not wholly satisfied with this response. The first suggested subject line may be too generic (even though I have used it in the past) and the second sounds a bit formal for most students. Maybe the second one is better cast this way: "E-introduction (and Warm Regards from Joan Heminway)." At any rate, your ideas are most welcomed. As I noted in my response to the student, I think this is an ongoing conversation . . . .
Last year, on the suggestion of an ALSB colleague, I did a post on promotion, tenure, and administrative appointment news for legal studies professors in business schools. I continue that series this year, below. I am happy to add to this list, as I am sure it is incomplete. Congrats to all!
Robert Bird (UConn) - promoted to full professor
De Vee Dykstra (South Dakota) - appointed associate dean of Beacom School of Business
Marc Edelman (CUNY) - promoted to full professor and awarded tenure
Josh Perry (Indiana-Kelley School of Business) - appointed to Dean of Undergraduate Affairs
Jamie Prenkert (Indiana-Kelley (Bloomington Campus)) - appointed Associate Vice Provost
Scott Shackelford (Indiana-Kelley) - promoted to associate professor and awarded tenure
Thursday, September 8, 2016
I recently received the following information regarding two positions at The Harvard Law School Program on Corporate Governance. Many readers, I assume, will be familiar with their co-sponsored excellent blog, The Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation.
The Harvard Law School Program on Corporate Governance invites applications for the position of Executive Director. Together with the Faculty Director and others, the Executive Director of the Program works on building, developing, and managing the full range of activities of the Program. Under the Faculty Director’s oversight, the Executive Director manages the wide range of the Program’s operations; collaborates with major corporations, law firms, investors, advisers, and other organizations; participates in developing and directing conferences and other events for the Program; and manages the administration and personnel of the program, including fellows, research assistants, and staff. The Executive Director also collaborates with constituent groups and other professionals; participates in fundraising activities; interacts with donors and visitors; and takes on other management roles within the Program as needed. The Executive Director is involved in overseeing the Program’s website and other media outreach efforts, as well as the Program’s blog, the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation.
Applications will be considered on a rolling basis. Candidates should have a J.D. or another graduate degree in law, policy, or social science, and 3+ years of experience in a relevant field of law or policy. This is a full-time term appointment.Start date is flexible. Additional information on the Executive Director position, as well as detailed instructions on how to apply, is available through ASPIRE.
The Harvard Law School Program on Corporate Governance invites applications for Post-Graduate Academic Fellows. Candidates should be interested in spending two or three years at Harvard Law School in preparation for a career in academia or policy research, and should have a J.D., LL.M. or S.J.D. from a U.S. law school (or expect to have completed most of the requirements for such a degree by the time they commence their fellowship). During the term of their appointment, Post-Graduate Academic Fellows work on research and corporate governance activities of the Program, depending on their interests and Program needs. Fellows may also work on their own research and publishing, and some former Fellows of the Program now teach in leading law schools in the U.S. and abroad.
Applications are considered on a rolling basis. Interested candidates should submit a CV, list of references, law school grades, and a writing sample and cover letter to the coordinator of the Program, Ms. Jordan Figueroa, firstname.lastname@example.org. The cover letter should describe the candidate’s experience, reasons for seeking the position, career plans, and the kinds of Program projects and activities in which they would like to be involved. The position includes Harvard University benefits and a competitive fellowship salary. Start date is flexible.
Many thanks to the Business Law Prof Blog for giving me the opportunity to post here.
I’d like to start off with a brief observation: corporations are more international than they have ever been. Just in the last week, we have witnessed the European Commission ordering Apple to pay $14 billion in back taxes to Ireland, Samsung recalling its Galaxy Note phones from 10 countries due to battery fires in the devices, and Caterpillar announcing a global restructuring that could lead to the closing of its factory in Belgium in favor of a location in Grenoble, France.
While the globalization of international business today benefits society in a number of ways, it also has costs. One of these costs is the increasing difficulty of regulating globalized companies. When companies can easily restructure and relocate in order to avoid burdensome regulation, government regulators face a stark choice: they can pursue their policy priorities and risk causing companies to flee their jurisdiction (see the inversion craze of the last few years), or they can abandon those priorities in the hopes of attracting and retaining corporate business. Neither of these is a particularly attractive option.
International cooperation provides one resolution to this dilemma. By binding countries to particular regulatory frameworks, multilateral agreements can prevent the kind of “race to the bottom” dynamic that government regulators fear. And indeed, a growing number of scholars have argued that international agreements are necessary to solve the regulatory problems associated with the internationalization of business. But multilateralism suffers from a number of well-known flaws, including the difficulty of negotiating, monitoring and enforcing international agreements.
In my forthcoming article, Unilateral Corporate Regulation, due out next semester in the Chicago Journal of International Law, I argue that the emphasis on multilateral solutions obscures the extent to which individual countries, and in particular large economic powers like the United States, China and the European Union, can unilaterally impose their domestic regulations on international firms. This kind of unilateral corporate regulation can solve, or at least mitigate, many of the global problems that government decisionmakers face. The United States, for example, imposes its corruption norms (the FCPA) and banking rules (FATCA) on foreign companies, even when those companies have minimal ties to the US. The European Union does the same with its data privacy rules.
At the same time, the rise of unilateralism raises a number of important questions for the future of corporate regulation. How can we ensure that unilateral regulation by individual countries is fair and balanced? How can we prevent biased and conflicting regulation from sprouting up around the world? And what are the ethical limits on a country’s imposing its laws on businesses outside its borders? These are difficult questions, and ones that are largely overlooked in the current debate.
First of all, I want to thank the editors of the Business Law Prof Blog for allowing me to guest blog over the summer. I thoroughly enjoyed my stay here and they have been kind enough to let me continue posting from time to time as a contributing editor. Thanks again to all of you.
The National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws ("NCCUSL") (also known as the "Uniform Law Commission") promulgates several influential business organization statutes: the Revised Uniform Partnership Act (1997), the Revised Uniform Limited Partnership Act (1985), the Uniform Limited Partnership Act (2001), and the Revised Uniform LLC Act (2006), to name a few. Some of these statutes have been widely adopted. The Revised Uniform Partnership Act, for example, has been adopted by 38 states (as well as the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands) according to the Uniform Law Commission's website. As another example, the Uniform Limited Partnership Act (2001) has been adopted by 19 states (as well as the District of Columbia) according to the same website.
From 2009-2013, NCCUSL engaged in an intensive effort to harmonize all of the uniform acts covering unincorporated business organizations. The "Harmonization Project" included the compilation of a Uniform Business Organizations Code, which comprises a "hub" of common provisions and various spokes addressing different business organizations (e.g., general partnerships or limited partnerships). Each spoke has also been promulgated as a stand-alone act in the event that a jurisdiction does not want to adopt the entire Business Organizations Code.
The result of this Harmonization Project is that NCCUSL's uniform acts covering unincorporated business organizations have all changed. Among others, there is now a 2013 version of the general partnership statute, the limited partnership statute, and the limited liability company statute that differ -- in some places materially -- from the prior versions that you may be familiar with. The comments have also been rewritten.
In future posts, I plan on discussing some of the changes that the Harmonization Project has brought about. If you are interested, please stay tuned . . . .
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
Stock pricing in the securities market responds to supply and demand. This is intuitive with regard to individual securities. We understand that if more people want to buy a stock (demand) than sell it (supply), then the price moves up. Conversely, the price decreases if more want to sell than buy. I wonder to what extent regulators have examined the role of retirement saving plans in flooding the market with demand to buy new securities and which can drive up stock prices overall. Consider this historical graph of the NYSE trading average. Observe the sharp rise beginning in the late 1980's with the introduction of individual retirement savings plan and the beginning of the defined contribution society.
chart source: Forecast Chart
New Department of Labor regulations open the door for state governments to sponsor retirement savings plans for non-government workers. See for example, California's proposed plans. The rules, proposed in 2015, became final on August 30, 2016. You can read a summary of the proposed plans published by The Brookings Institute and a DOL interpretive bulletin. Also being considered are proposed rules authorizing high-population cities to sponsor similar plans in states that don't create the non-government worker retirement savings plans. Collectively, these regulations are intended to facilitate the retirement savings of the estimated 55 million small business workers who do not currently have the option of participating in a retirement savings plan. This policy decision encourages retirement saving and promotes individual financial stability. It also means that more worker/saver/investors (a group I have called Citizen Shareholders in prior works) will be encouraged to invest in the private securities market. The demand cycle continues and can be sustained so long as there are as many or more worker/saver/investors as there are folks liquidating their retirement savings. In other words, a severely aging workforce/population could pose a demand/supply problem for the securities market.
Tuesday, September 6, 2016
Private Ordering in the Uncorporation: Modified and Eliminated Fiduciary Duties Are Often the Same Thing
What does it mean to opt out of fiduciary duties? In follow-up to my co-blogger Joan Heminway's post, Limited Partnership Law: Should Tennessee Follow Delaware's Lead On Fiduciary Duty Private Ordering?, I will go a step further and say all states should follow Delaware's lead on private ordering for non-publicly traded unincorporated business associations.
Here's why: At formation, I think all duties between promoters of an unincorporated business association (i.e., not a corporation) are always, to some degree, defined at formation. This is different than the majority of other agency relationships where the expectations of the relationship are more ingrained and less negotiated (think employee-employer relationship).
As such, I'd make fiduciary duties a fundamental right by statute that can be dropped (expressly) by those forming the entity. I'd put an additional limit on the ability to drop fiduciary duties: the duties can only be dropped after formation if expressly stated in formation documents (or agreed unanimously later). That is, if you didn't opt out at formation, tell all those who could potentially join the entity how you can change fiduciary duties later. This helps limit some (though not all) freeze-out options, and I think it would encourage investors to check the entity documents closely (as they should).
At formation, the concerns we might have of, for example, an employee without fiduciary duties, are not the same as they are for co-venturers. Those starting an entity have long negotiated what is a breach of the duty of loyalty, for example. In contrast, I think fiduciary duties in most employer-employee (and similar) relationships reflect the majoritarian default and they facilitate the relationship existing at all. For LLCs and partnership entities, I think that's less clear. Entity formation is relatively rare compared to how often we enter other agency relationships, and they almost always involve significant negotiation (if not planning). And if they don't, the rules we expect traditionally should be the default. But where the parties talk about it, and they usually do, allowing a more robust sense of freedom of contract has value.
Even in Delaware, where one can negotiate out of fiduciary duties, there remains the duty of good faith and fair dealing. I think of that as meaning that the parties still have a right to the essence of the contract. That is, the contract has to mean something. It has to have had a purpose and potential value at formation, and no party can eliminate that. But, the parties only have a right to what was bargained for. As such, what we might traditionally consider a breach of the duty of loyalty could also breach the duty of good faith and fair dealing, but a traditional breach of the duty of loyalty might not be sufficient to find liability where there is expressly no duty of loyalty. Instead, the act must so contradict the purpose of the contract that it rises to the level of a breach the duty of good faith and fair dealing.
Part of the reason I support this option is that I think case law has already validated it, but in such an inartful manner that it confuses existing doctrine. See, e.g., McConnell v. Hunt Sports Enterprises, 132 Ohio App. 3d 657, 725 N.E.2d 1193 (Ct. App. 1999) (“An LLC, like a partnership, involves a fiduciary relationship. Normally, the presence of such a relationship would preclude direct competition between members of the company. However, here we have an operating agreement that by its very terms allows members to compete with the business of the company.”).
In closing, I will note that I am all for express provisions that require investors to pay attention at the outset. I don't believe in helping cheaters hide the ball. I just think law that encourages investors and others joining new ventures to pay attention is useful and will provide long-term value to entities. I don't think that eliminated fiduciary duties at formation raise any more of a risk than we already have with limited or modified fiduciary duties at formation. With the more limited protections described above, freedom of contract should reign.
Monday, September 5, 2016
Limited Partnership Law: Should Tennessee Follow Delaware's Lead On Fiduciary Duty Private Ordering?
I originally was going to write about overconfidence today. But I will reserve that post for a later date. Instead, for today, I am sharing with you a Tennessee legislative drafting issue on which my voice (together with the voices of others) has been solicited and asking for your views and comments.
A committee of the Tennessee Bar Association has been working on proposed revisions to the Tennessee Revised Uniform Limited Partnership Act. Several thorny issues remain for consideration and final decision making, among them, whether Tennessee law, like Delaware limited partnership and limited liability company law, should allow for the elimination of general partner fiduciary duties. The committee soon will be voting on this issue, and we are circulating among us our current views (having earlier debated the matter in telephone conference calls). I took a shot at writing down my views for the group and circulated them last night. I am including the main substantive part of what I wrote here, minus some typos that I caught after the message was sent (and please forgive the disfluencies in places), and requesting comments from you:
Sunday, September 4, 2016
Although I knew that Labor Day was a creation of the labor movement (about which I have mixed views), I had never looked up the history of the holiday in the United States. The Department of Labor, unsurprisingly, has a nifty, short webpage with some nice historical facts. Among them: the holiday has roots back into the 1880s and was originally a municipal creation, then became a state holiday in a number of states before Congress approved the holiday in 1894. The brief history on the webpage concludes with the following paragraph:
The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation's strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.
Labor and employment lawyers have focused commentary over the past week on legal matters relating to their spheres of influence in acknowledging Labor Day. Proskauer partner Mark Theodore posted a piece on a pair of recent NLRB decisions, and a union commentator, executive director of the Center for Union Facts, posted an advocacy piece promoting proposed federal legislation--the Employee Rights Act (which, according to the article, is "legislation which would protect employees from out-of-touch union bosses.").
All of this may be of interest to business lawyers. Or it may not. But tomorrow, I will honor the holiday by working--at least for part of the day. And that does seem, somehow, fitting . . . .
Saturday, September 3, 2016
At this point, it almost feels like I’ve been following the securities fraud case against Halliburton my entire career. I was grimly amused when I heard that the Fifth Circuit had granted an interlocutory appeal – again! – to hear a challenge to class certification – again! and I diligently tracked the docket on Bloomberg, only for it to belatedly sink in that – wait a minute, I actually live in New Orleans now. I can go see the oral argument in person, live, in color.
So I did.
It was … interesting.
[More under the jump]
Friday, September 2, 2016
In his article, Making It Easier for Directors to "Do the Right Thing?" 4 Harv. Bus. L. Rev. 235, 237–39 (2014), Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Leo Strine wrote:
[E]ven if one accepts that those who manage public corporations may, outside of the corporate sales process, treat the best interests of other corporate constituencies as an end equal to the best interests of stockholders, and believes that stockholders should not be afforded additional influence over those managers, those premises do very little to actually change the managers’ incentives in a way that would encourage them to consider the interests of anyone other than stockholders. . . . even if corporate law supposedly grants directors the authority to give other constituencies equal consideration to stockholders outside of the sale context, it employs an unusual accountability structure to enable directors to act as neutral balancers of the diverse, and not always complementary, interests affected by corporate conduct. In that accountability structure, owners of equity securities are the only constituency given any rights. Stockholders get to elect directors. Stockholders get to vote on mergers and substantial asset sales. Stockholders get to inspect the books and records. Stockholders get the right to sue. No other constituency is given any of these rights. (emphasis added, citations omitted)
There has been a lot of anger and shock in the reporting over the price increases by EpiPen-maker Mylan. See, e.g., here, here, here, and here, but I think Chief Justice Strine's observation about the general accountability structure of corporate law is at least a partial explanation. (To be sure, there also appears to be an executive compensation story, though the executive compensation structure may be driven by the shareholder-centric accountability structure. That said, Mylan appears to be a Netherlands-incorporate company, and I know very little about the structure of its corporate law.)
The price for an EpiPen has increased a staggering amount since 2007 when pharmaceutical company Mylan acquired the product – wholesaling for $100 in 2007; $103.50 in 2009; $264.50 in 2013; $461 in 2015; $608.61 in 2016.
The general tone of the reporting in the mainstream media is one of outrage.
But isn't this to be expected? Granted, the business judgment rule provides a lot of leeway, and I would not argue that Mylan was "forced" to hike prices, even if Mylan were incorporated in Delaware. But if we give shareholders virtually all of the significant corporate governance tools, isn't it obvious that directors and officers will often seek shareholder interests even when it is harmful to communities? The bigger story here may be that certain norms and the fear of negative press have been able to keep plenty of other companies from following suit.
My article Adopting Stakeholder Advisory Boards, due out next semester in the American Business Law Journal, suggests giving some of the corporate governance accountability tools (such as certain voting rights) to a stakeholder advisory board made up of stakeholder representatives. The article argues that adoption of stakeholder advisory boards should be mandatory for large social enterprises (because they both chose a social entity form and have the resources) and should be voluntarily adopted by other serious socially-conscious companies. An accountability change of this sort might bring public expectations and the corporate law accountability structure into line.
Separately, are there certain industries - like the health care industry - that we want to be less profit-focused than others? For those industries, perhaps requiring (or making attractive through regulations/taxes) the choice of a social enterprise form (like benefit corporation) may make some sense. However, as noted in my article, the benefit corporation accountability structure is quite shareholder-centric, similar to the structure for traditional corporations. Granted, socially-motivated shareholders may exert some pressure on benefit corporations and the benefit corporation law may give them a somewhat better chance to do so, but if we want real change, I think the corporate accountability structure needs to be more completely redesigned.
Personal Note: When I was a child, my mom carried an EpiPen for me, following an incident involving plastic armor, a tennis racket, and whacking a big bee nest.
I previously wrote on the Commonsense Principles of Corporate Governance released by high profile investors and corporate titans such as Jamie Dimon and Warren Buffet. Others, such as Steve Bainbridge have also weighed in. Now proxy advisory firm Glass Lewis has spoken, stating in part:
While the Principles may disappoint investors expecting a more comprehensive and robust approach similar to that found in the UK and other countries, there are a few areas where the principles promote forward-thinking stances. For example, the Principles criticize dual class voting structures and state that companies should consider specific sunset provisions based upon time or a triggering event to eventually eliminate dual class structures. This is notwithstanding the dual class structure at signatory Warren Buffet’s company Berkshire Hathaway…
There are several areas the Principles do not address, including key anti-takeover defenses such as poison pills, supermajority vote requirements and classified boards. The Principles generally address some issues such as special meeting rights and term/age limits for directors but do not recommend specific thresholds or tenure limits…
Despite the Principles’ relatively narrow scope and high level, we believe they contain enough substance to spark a dialogue inside boardrooms, which could lead to increased shareholder engagement from boards that traditionally have relied on executives and investor relations departments to lead those efforts. In our view, direct engagement between investors and boards leads to greater transparency and fosters mutual understanding of the company and its strategy, promoting long-term value creation. As a result, the Principles could have a salutary effect on companies, shareholders and the market.
Given the concern expressed by some in the business community and Congress about the "undue influence" of proxy advisory firms, the Glass Lewis statement is worth a read.
Wednesday, August 31, 2016
House Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York, sent a formal request to a slew of federal agencies to share trading data collected in connection with the Volcker Rule. The Volcker Rule prohibits U.S. banks from engaging in proprietary trading (effective July 21, 2015), while permitting legitimate market-making and hedging activities. The Volcker Rule restricts commercial banks (and affiliates) from investing investing in certain hedge funds and private equity, and imposes enhanced prudential requirements on systemically identified non-bank institutions engaged in such activities.
Representative Maloney requested the Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the Securities and Exchange Commission to analyze seven quantitative trading metrics that regulators have been collecting since 2014 including: (1) risk and position limits and usage; (2) risk factor sensitivities; (3) value-at-risk (VaR) and stress VaR; (4) comprehensive profit and loss attribution; (5) inventory turnover; (6) inventory aging; and (7) customer facing trade ratios.
Representative Maloney requested the agencies analyze the data and respond to the following questions:
The extent to which the data showed significant changes in banks’ trading activities leading up to the July 21, 2015 effective date for the prohibition on proprietary trading. To the extent that the data did not show a significant change in the banks’ trading activities leading up to the July 21, 2015 effective date, whether the agencies believe this is attributable to the banks having ceased their proprietary trading activities prior to the start of the metrics reporting in July 2014.
Whether there are any meaningful differences in either overall risk levels or risk tolerances — as indicated by risk and position limits and usage, VaR and stress VaR, and risk factor sensitivities — for trading activities at different banks.
Whether the risk levels or risk tolerances of similar trading desks are comparable across banks reporting quantitative metrics. Similarly, whether the data show any particular types of trading desks (e.g., high-yield corporate bonds, asset-backed securities) that have exhibited unusually high levels of risk.
How examiners at the agencies have used the quantitative metrics to date.
How often the agencies review the quantitative metrics to determine compliance with the Volcker Rule, and what form the agencies’ reviews of the quantitative metrics take.
Whether the quantitative metrics have triggered further reviews by any of the agencies of a bank’s trading activities, and if so, the outcome of those reviews
Any changes to the quantitative metrics that the agencies have made, or are considering making, as a result of the agencies’ review of the data received as of September 30, 2015.
The agencies' response to the request may provide insight into Dodd-Frank/Volcker Rule, the role of big data in the rule-making process (and re-evaluation), and bigger issues such as whether systemic financial risk is definable by regulation and quantifiable in data collection. I will post regulatory responses, requested by October 30th, here on the BLPB.
August 31, 2016 in Anne Tucker, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Investment Banking, Legislation, Private Equity, Securities Regulation, Venture Capital | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, August 30, 2016
Although we review claims of insufficiency de novo, United States v. Harvey, 746 F.3d 87, 89 (2d Cir. 2014), it is well recognized that “a defendant mounting such a challenge bears a heavy burden” because “in assessing whether the evidence was sufficient to sustain a conviction, we review the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, drawing all inferences in the government's favor and deferring to the jury's assessments of the witnesses' credibility.” . . .
[W]e reject Jasmin's challenge to her Hobbs Act conviction. The evidence presented at trial more than sufficiently describes the consideration received by Jasmin in exchange for her official actions as Mayor, including the $5,000 in cash from Stern, “advance” cash for their partnership, and shares in the limited liability corporation that would develop the community center.
Monday, August 29, 2016
Sunday, August 28, 2016
Saturday, August 27, 2016
I’ve been fascinated by the efforts of various state attorneys general to investigate Exxon for securities fraud on the ground that its climate change denial misleads investors about the risks of investing in the company. Exxon has filed a lawsuit in Texas to halt the inquiries, arguing that they infringe on its free speech rights, and Congressman Lamar Smith, head of the House science committee, has subpoenaed the attorneys general involved, to determine if this is a coordinated political attack on the company. The dispute has even made it into the Democratic party platform, which states that “All corporations owe it to their shareholders to fully analyze and disclose the risks they face, including climate risk. … Democrats also respectfully request the Department of Justice to investigate allegations of corporate fraud on the part of fossil fuel companies accused of misleading shareholders and the public on the scientific reality of climate change.”
An investigation by the Virgin Islands was dropped; as far as I know, both the New York and Massachusetts investigations continue, and investigations by other states. Exxon’s lawsuit remains pending.
It’s not a new idea, to claim that securities regulation impinges on free speech rights – the DC Circuit struck down part of the SEC’s conflict minerals rule on just that ground – but usually these arguments are aimed at rules that require issuers to speak, or prohibit issuers from making truthful statements. The Exxon case is unusual because it comes in the context of, well, false statements.
At the same time, though, one cannot help but suspect that the real concern isn’t investors, but the nature of Exxon’s participation in public political debates.
[More under the jump]
Friday, August 26, 2016
During the past few days, I have participated in a lot of meetings.
This has led to some thinking on what makes a good meeting.
To me, a useful meeting is one that accomplishes things that could not be handled appropriately by an e-mail. Some meetings are held, I am convinced, because those calling the meetings are not sure that participants read and pay attention to e-mails. This worry could be best addressed, in my opinion, by making expectations regarding e-mail management clear, perhaps coupled with consequences for those who ignore the contents.
That said, e-mail is not appropriate in all cases and here are four categories where in-person meetings can work better than e-mail:
- Inspire. Perhaps some can be inspired over e-mail, but it seems much easier to inspire in person. As such, I think some good meetings can be used to inspire participants to achieve organizational goals. But inspiring others, especially sometimes cynical professors, can be difficult to do.
- Build Relationships. Sometimes the only times you see certain colleagues are at faculty meetings, so meetings can be a good way to build relationships, especially if folks hang around before and after meetings or if significant time is given for small group discussion.
- Engage in Group Discussions. E-mail is pretty good for one-way communication, but as anyone who has been on a group e-mail with hundreds of replies knows, e-mail isn’t great for dynamic group conversation. As such, it may make sense to have meetings when a group needs to converse about working through an issue. That said, preparation for the meeting can often be done alone, and the lion-share of the conversation can be done in small groups.
- Engage in Difficult Conversations. When tone is important, e-mail is often inadequate. Thus, in-person meetings may be important for communication of sensitive or controversial information.
When meetings focus on things that cannot be done remotely, I think meetings can be quite useful. Similarly, when teaching, we should think – what is it that students cannot get through an e-mail, the internet, or an online class? We should focus on those things. As such, I am trying to do even more interactive projects and small group discussions in class this semester.
Thursday, August 25, 2016
I’m now in my third year of teaching on the tenure track after two years of a VAP. I still consider myself a newbie because despite over twenty years of practice experience, teaching is a whole different ball game.
This semester I am teaching Civil Procedure, which is now a one-semester 4-credit class instead of a two-semester class, and a 4-credit Business Associations class. Both are required at my institution and bar tested in Florida. I have taught them both before and thankfully get strong reviews from my students, but I am always looking to improve.
To that end, I recently took a look at Emily Grant’s essay, Beyond Best Practices: Lessons from Tina Stark About the First Day of Class. The abstract states:
This Article reviews and expands the literature on best practices in a narrow subset --- the first day of class. As the same time it seeks to convey words of wisdom from one of the most well-known and highly-regarded legal educators: Tina Stark, a giant in transactional drafting. The first day of any law school class can be fraught with tension and nerves, even for professors. This article presents advice from Professor Stark, supplemented with guidance from best practices research, so that professors can take advantage of the opportunities that the first day of class offers to set the tone for a successful semester.
I haven’t adopted all of the suggestions-- I don’t think it’s wise, for example, for an untenured professor to have students use my first name. However, I have used some variation of her techniques to make students more comfortable both before and during class. I continue to find value in the survey that I send to students prior to the semester so that I can ascertain their level of understanding of business concepts, their learning objectives, and their expected area of practice. For the first time this semester, I will send an anonymous survey after the midterm asking students what they think is working and what they think needs improvement. I may not take all of the students’ suggestions, but because I am trying new things this semester including more graded quizzes and a flipped classroom, I don’t want to waste time using ineffective techniques.
Like Stark, I also share a “humbling story” on the first day of class. This is especially important for many of my Business Associations students who fear anything related to math, numbers, or accounting. I explain my career path as a litigator and how it was naively designed to avoid interaction with complex business topics. I also discuss how what we learn will help the family, criminal, and litigation-minded students who don’t understand how this course will apply to them after the bar.
Stark focuses on a collaborative classroom and team grading, and I do as well. For the first time, I have flipped the classroom in both Civil Procedure and Business Associations, and therefore the students see my PowerPoints and helpful videos prior to class. During class we apply what they have learned. They work in law firms during class where they caucus to determine a team answer to the problems sets I have given them in advance or they work on new problems or drafting exercises based on what they have reviewed prior to class.
Stark brings in homemade brownies for her students. I’m too lazy for that so I will bring in energy bars and Vitamin C before midterms and finals, and buy lunch or bagels for students who show up to my marathon review sessions. I agree with Stark’s view that making the students feel comfortable in a supportive learning environment makes them more apt to ask questions both in class and during office hours.
I recommend the article even though many of you may be past the first day already or veteran educators. I also welcome any suggestions that you have found helpful in improving the learning environment. Please leave comments below or email me offline at email@example.com