Saturday, May 14, 2016
Money Monster, directed by Jodie Foster, is the latest addition to the pop cultural anti-finance zeitgeist. George Clooney plays – well, Jim Cramer, with Julia Roberts as his long-suffering director. Their usual television buffoonery is interrupted by a disgruntled investor who lost his life savings by following Clooney’s advice to invest in – well, Knight Capital. Now he insists on holding Clooney hostage at gunpoint until he can get an explanation for the trading “glitch” that caused his investment to go sour.
Warning: Below be spoilers, though I’ll try to keep them to a minimum (roughly movie review standards).
Friday, May 13, 2016
Yesterday, I presented on negotiation theory and stakeholder engagement at the Center for Nonprofit Management's Bridge to Excellence Conference.
At a session after mine, I was directed to a PowerPoint entitled What Every Board Member Should Know: A Guide for Tennessee Nonprofits. The PowerPoint was authored by the Tennessee Attorney General, the Tennessee Secretary of State, and the President of the Center for Nonprofit Management. The document is rather simple, but might be useful as a primer for nonprofit board members in Tennessee.
The conference attendees appeared to be a few hundred nonprofit practitioners and only about three or four professors, two of whom were among the presenters. After my morning presentation, I stuck around and listened to some of the other speakers and enjoyed an excellent lunch. I am a sucker for free food.
At the conference, I was struck by how nonprofit board members were discussed by some of the speakers and attendees. One question that was posed was - "how do you deal with a board member who is not pulling his or her weight as a fundraiser?" I guess I knew that nonprofit board members were chosen, at least in part, for their ability to give or raise money, but I never really saw fundraising as a major or primary role. The blunt phrase used was "give, get, or get off." Most of my thinking has been on for-profit board members and their role in governance, so this significant focus on another role was a bit unexpected.
Another question asked was - "how do you deal with a board member that is over-involved and thinks he or she is the executive director of the nonprofit?" Again, because of my focus on for-profit boards, this question hasn't been one that surfaced for me; I am usually thinking about how to get board members more involved. In fairness, I do recognize that officers are responsible for the day-to-day running of the organization, and I could see how a board member might overstep. Thankfully, the flip-side, the problem of the under-involved board member, was also discussed.
I left the conference wondering how effective nonprofit board members will be in governing when so much emphasis is put on their fundraising role, and when they are warned to not become over-involved in the operational side of the organization.
Board diversity was also a major topic - race and gender, and also age (there is evidently a push to get the next generation involved on nonprofit boards instead of just the "same old suspects") and skills and even personality type and political views. I didn't hear any discussion, outside of my session, on socio-economic diversity on boards, which is interesting given the communities that are often served by nonprofits, but maybe not surprising giving the role of fundraising. In my session, I did discuss the role of stakeholder boards, which I am writing on in the for-profit context, as a way to give voice to all major constituents, not just donors.
I may reflect further on this conference in future posts as it was certainly an interesting and useful day.
Thursday, May 12, 2016
For my second blog posting, I thought I would get into a bit of what I am working on in my research.
As Anne said in her intro, my work is interdisciplinary. The other discipline in which I work is moral philosophy and the branch of it that has to do with institutions, political philosophy. I believe that moral and political philosophy can help a great deal in our understanding of the law on banking, finance, and corporate governance, adding insights that often get overlooked in the dominant interdisciplinary approaches related to these areas of law. I have only a subsidiary interest in legal philosophy and to this end I would direct your attention to “Analytical Jurisprudence and the Concept of Commercial Law,” published in the Penn State Law Review in 2009, in which I developed a concept of a transnational commercial law on legal positivist grounds.
Some questions of interest to me are:
- What is the moral responsibility of individual agents in mitigating collective harm associated with the financial system? “Individual agent” refer to any person with moral capacity, from homeowner to senior bank manager. Once we get clear on how to allocate moral responsibility, we can then decide whether regulation by law is required or preferred or whether ethics alone is enough.
- What is a fair or just distribution of systemic financial risk? How shall we structure institutions to get this distribution right?
- Issues of egalitarian justice associated with debt and access to credit. Debt has a disproportionately greater adverse effect on the less well off, who tend to rely on it more to buy things necessary for a decent life in their society, such as housing, education, cars to get to work, health care (in the USA) etc.
See my article, “Luck, Justice and Systemic Financial Risk,” published in the Journal of Applied Philosophy. (email to request a copy). I am also working on another piece more for the law audience entitled “Debt in Just Societies”. The abstract follows:
A post-Great Recession consensus has emerged that persons, firms, banks, and governments have too much debt. The article deals with legal solutions to the dilemma that debt presents to societies: successful societies benefit from a substantial
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
I had a plan to write on something else today, but I got a note from Keith Bishop sharing his blog post, which he was right to think I would appreciated. In his post, Bishop discusses a California case:
The LLC May Well Be The Platypus Of Business Organizations
What happens to the attorney-client privilege when a corporation dissolves? Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim recently answered that question in Virtue Global Holdings Ltd. v. Rearden LLC, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 53076 (N.D. Cal. April 5, 2016):
When a corporation ceases to exist, “the corporate powers, rights and privileges of the corporation shall cease.” Cal. Corp. Code §1905(b). In that case, no entity holds the attorney-client privilege for Original MO2. City of Rialto, 492 F.Supp.2d at 1197 (“a dissolved corporation is not entitled to assert the attorney-client privilege”).
I am somewhat baffled by the ruling because the entity asserting the privilege in the case was not a corporation at all (Section 1905 is in the General Corporation Law). The entity attempting to claim the privilege was, according to the information provided in the opinion, indubitably a California limited liability company. Thus, the court should be citing the California Revised Uniform Limited Liability Company Act, not the General Corporation Law.
California, like many others states, seems to make the error relatively often.
Today, though, I will pick on the news. A Google News search of "limited liability corporation" for the past twenty-four hours provides a few such instances. (Note for new readers, an LLC is a "limited liability company," not corporation.)
I'll highlight two. According to one news outlet, the University of Illinois just extended a $2 million line of credit to an entity do research in Singapore.
To set up shop in another country, the university created a limited liability corporation, Singapore Research LLC. The LLC then established a private entity in Singapore which allows the center to compete legally for government grants.
Oops. Next, another news outlet reports:
A Nevada energy company said it wants to purchase an unfinished nuclear power plant from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and use the site in northeast Alabama to produce electricity with new technology.
Michael Dooley, managing partner of Phoenix Energy of Nevada, told the Associated Press his company wants to use the mothballed Bellefonte Nuclear Plant site as the base for a new, non-nuclear generation method.
. . .
Phoenix Energy of Nevada describes itself as a privately-held Nevada limited liability corporation, incorporated in October 2010, Kallanish Energy learns.
This time, though, the report is right. Phoenix Energy of Nevada, LLC (PENV) says on its web page it "is a Veteran owned closely and privately held viable early stage mid-market Nevada State Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) Small Business Company founded and incorporated in October 2010." Nope. It's an LLC.
I know I complain about this a lot, but there is value in getting it right. Reporters should get it right, and those who own the entity really should get it right. One of these days some court will find that an LLC didn't follow the corporate formalities required of a "limited liability corporation" and they won't even know to object.
I concede when one writes things like "company" and "corporation" a lot, a mistake may occur from time to time, especially when the distinction is not, on its face, crucial. My concern is less that people make mistakes. It's more that they don't know they are making one. That's where I come in.
On the plus side, I am about halfway through grading my Business Organizations exams, and not one person has called an LLC a corporation.
This is just to give everyone a "heads up" on a symposium being held this fall (Friday, October 21 and Saturday, October 22) to honor Lyman Johnson and David Millon. The symposium is being sponsored by the Washington & Lee Law Review (which will publish the papers presented), and I am thrilled to be among the invited speakers. I will have more news on the symposium and my paper for it as the date draws nearer. But I wanted everyone to know about this event so that folks could plan accordingly if they want to attend. I understand Lexington, Virginia is lovely in late October . . . . Actually, it's always been lovely when I have been up there! And the honorees and contributors are a stellar group (present company notwithstanding). I hope to see some of you there.
At the 2017 AALS annual meeting, January 3-7 in San Francisco, the AALS Sections on Agency, Partnerships LLCs, and Unincorporated Associations & Nonprofit and Philanthropy Law will hold a joint session on LLCs, New Charitable Forms, and the Rise of Philanthrocapitalism.
In December 2015, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, pledged their personal fortune—then valued at $45 billion—to the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), a philanthropic effort aimed at “advancing human potential and promoting equality.” But instead of organizing CZI using a traditional charitable structure, the couple organized CZI as a for-profit Delaware LLC. CZI is perhaps the most notable example, but not the only example, of Silicon Valley billionaires exploiting the LLC form to advance philanthropic efforts. But are LLCs and other for-profit business structures compatible with philanthropy? What are the tax, governance, and other policy implications of this new tool of philanthrocapitalism? What happens when LLCs, rather than traditional charitable forms, are used for “philanthropic” purposes?
From the heart of Silicon Valley, the AALS Section on Agency, Partnerships LLCs, and Unincorporated Associations and Section on Nonprofit and Philanthropy Law will host a joint program tackling these timely issues. In addition to featuring invited speakers, we seek speakers (and papers) selected from this call.
Any full-time faculty of an AALS member or fee-paid school who has written an unpublished paper, is working on a paper, or who is interested in writing a paper in this area is invited to submit a 1- or 2-page proposal by June 1, 2016. The Executive Committees of the Sections will review all submissions and select two papers by July 1, 2016. If selected, a very polished draft must be submitted by November 30, 2016. All submissions and inquiries should be directed to the Chairs of the Sections at the email addresses below:
University of Oregon School of Law
Garry W. Jenkins
Associate Dean for Academic Affairs
John C. Elam/Vorys Sater Professor of Law
Moritz College of Law,State University
Monday, May 9, 2016
[Please keep in mind as you read this post that my daughter is a Starbucks partner. Any pro-Starbucks bias in this post is unintended. But you should factor in my affiliation accordingly.]
Maybe it's just me, but the publicity around the recent suit against Starbucks for putting too much ice in their iced beverages made me think of Goldilocks and her reactions to that porridge, those chairs, and those beds. First it was McDonald's, where the coffee was too hot. Now it's Starbucks, where the coffee is too cold--or, more truthfully, is too watered down from frozen water . . . . (And apparently I missed a Starbucks suit earlier this year on under-filing lattes . . . .)
Different types of tort suits, I know. I always felt bad about the injury to the woman in the McDonald's case, although the fault issue was truly questionable. The recent Starbucks case just seems wrong in so many ways, however. This is a consumer dispute that is best addressed by other means. I admit to believing this most recent suit is actually an abuse of our court system.
How might a customer who is truly concerned about a substandard beverage attempt to remedy the wrong?
Thought Josephine Sandler Nelson's recent Oxford Business Law Blog post on Volkswagen might be of interest to our readers. It is reposted here with permission.
Fumigating the Criminal Bug: The Insulation of Volkswagen’s Middle Management
New headlines each day reveal wide-spread misconduct and large-scale cheating at top international companies: Volkswagen’s emissions-defeat devices installed on over eleven million cars trace back to a manager’s PowerPoint from as early as 2006. Mitsubishi admits that it has been cheating on emissions standards for the eK and Dayz model cars for the past 25 years—even after a similar scandal almost wiped out the company 15 years ago. Takata’s $70 million fine for covering up its exploding air bags in Honda, Ford, and other car brands could soon jump to $200 million if a current Department of Justice probe discovers additional infractions. The government has ordered Takata’s recall of the air bags to more than double: one out of every five cars on American roads may be affected. Now Daimler is conducting an internal investigation into potential irregularities in its exhaust compliance.
A recent case study of the 2015-16 Volkswagen (‘VW’) scandal pioneers a new way to look at these scandals by focusing on their common element: the growing insulation and entrenchment of middle management to coordinate such large-scale wrongdoing. “The Criminal Bug: Volkswagen’s Middle Management” describes how VW’s top management put pressure on the rest of the company below it to achieve results without inquiring into the methods that the agents would use to achieve those results. The willing blindness of top executives to the methods of the agents below them is conscious and calculated. Despite disclosure-based regulation’s move to strict-liability prosecutions, the record of prosecutorial failure at trial against top executives in both the U.S. and Germany demonstrates that assertions of plausible deniability succeed in protecting top executives from accountability for the pressure that they put on agents to commit wrongdoing.
Agents inside VW receive the message loud and clear that they are to cheat to achieve results. As even the chairman of the VW board has admitted about the company, “[t]here was a tolerance for breaking the rules”. And, contrary to VW’s assertion, no one believes that merely a “small group of engineers” is responsible for the misconduct. Only middle management at the company had the longevity and seniority to shepherd at least three different emissions-control defeat devices through engine re-designs over ten years, to hide those devices despite heavily documented software, and to coordinate even across corporate forms with an outside supplier of VW’s software and on-board computer.
The reason why illegal activity can be coordinated and grow at the level of middle management over all these years is rooted in the failure of the law to impose individual accountability on agents at this level of the corporation. Additional work by the same author on the way in which patterns of illegal behavior in the 2007-08 financial crisis re-occur in the 2015-16 settlements for manipulations of LIBOR, foreign currency exchange rates, and other parts of the financial markets indicates that middle management is further protected from accountability by regulators’ emphasis on disclosure-based enforcement. In addition, U.S. law has lost the ability to tie together the behavior of individuals within a corporation through conspiracy or other types of prosecutions.
Previous research has shown that the more prominent the firm is, and the higher the expectations for performance, the more likely the firm is to engage in illegal behavior. Now we understand more about the link between the calculated pressure that top executives put on their companies and the protection of middle management that supports the patterns of long-term, large-scale wrongdoing that inflict enormous damage on the public. It is not solely VW that needs to fumigate this criminal bug: the VW case study suggests that we need to re-think the insulation from individual liability for middle management in all types of corporations.
This post originally appeared on the Oxford Business Law Blog, May 5, 2016.
Sunday, May 8, 2016
Saturday, May 7, 2016
The latest example of dramatic institutional failure – that somehow was entirely accidental – comes to us from MetLife.
The story begins with variable annuities, a product that might be suitable if you’re trying to shelter your assets from a lawsuit, but otherwise one whose chief virtue lies in its capacity to serve as a litmus test for the honesty of your broker.
After the financial crisis, insurance companies decided that their outstanding variable annuities were too good for existing customers, and began offering very high commissions to any brokers who could persuade their clients to exchange an older one for a newer, less generous model.
Enter MetLife. From 2009 to 2014, MetLife brokers churned $3 billion worth of variable annuities, resulting in $152 million in dealer commissions. Customers were told that the newer annuity was less expensive or comparable, when in fact, 72% of the time, this was, shall we say, not so much true. For example, 30% of the replacement applications falsely stated that the new contract was less expensive than the old one. Applications also failed to disclose benefits and guarantees that the customer would forfeit in making the exchange, understated the value of existing benefits, and overstated the value of the benefits on the new contracts.
MetLife approved the exchange applications despite the errors. And as icing on the cake, sent false quarterly account statements that understated customer fees on their variable annuities.
For these sins, FINRA charged MetLife with “negligently misrepresent[ing] ... material facts” and failure to “reasonably supervise” its annuity replacement business. Without admitting or denying wrongdoing, MetLife consented to censure, a $20 million fine, and to pay damages to customers up to $5 million.
Now, forgive me for being perhaps a touch cynical, but it strikes me as a bit farfetched to imagine that a 5 year course of conduct that affected nearly 75% of a $3 billion business line represented merely “negligent” behavior - i.e., a mere failure to exercise due care - especially at a time when exchanges were being pushed precisely to persuade customers to shed the desirable features of older annuities.
Notably, these “mistakes” never resulted in customers being falsely told the new contract was worse than the old one; somehow, these happy accidents consistently worked to benefit MetLife at the customers’ expense. It’s hard not to suspect MetLife would have discovered the errors a lot more quickly if they were working in the other direction.
In recent years, the SEC and DOJ have both promised to put more teeth into investigations of corporate misconduct by pursuing individuals, avoiding “neither admit nor deny” settlements, and calling out intentional misbehavior for what it is. I guess FINRA hasn’t gotten the Yates Memo.
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.
With this post I warmly welcome John Linarelli to the Business Law Professor Blog as a guest blogger for the month of May. Professor Linarelli, Chair in Commercial Law at Durham Law School, has crossed the Atlantic and different disciplines throughout his career. His research engages with issues of inequality, specifically focusing on economic and commercial issues. Recent scholarly publications include his forthcoming co-authored book, to be published with Oxford University Press, Beyond Global Capitalism: Reclaiming the Future of International Law and his 2015 article Concept and Contract in the Future of International Law, 67 Rut. U. L. Rev. 61. Interested readers can view Professor Linarelli’s full academic bio and his SSRN page for more information. Look for new BLPB content from Professor Linarelli later this month.
Understanding that American academics and practicing lawyers may be unfamiliar with Durham University, Professor Linarelli provided us with an overview. He writes a helpful introduction and provides a charming view into some different academic traditions:
Durham Law School usually ranks as one of the top 5 law schools in the UK. In the UK-wide Research Excellence Framework (REF) exercise in 2014, of which all university participate, we ranked third. Our students are incredible and a good number go off to the big City of London law firms upon completion of their practice qualifications. Lord Justice Hughes on the UK Supreme Court is an alum. We also run several LLM programmes, including in Corporate Law, International Trade and Commercial Law, European Trade and Commercial Law, and International Law and Governance.
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!
Wednesday, May 4, 2016
In follow up to my post yesterday, my trusted and valued co-blogger Joan Heminway asked a good question (as usual) based one of my comments. My response became long enough that I thought it warranted a follow-up post (and it needed formatting). Joan commented:
you say: "there should be no problem if, for example, Delaware corporate law did not allow a for-profit entity to exercise religion for the sole sake of religion. I think that is the case right now: that’s not a proper corporate purpose under my read of existing law." Are you implying that a corporate purpose of that kind for a for-profit corporation organized in Delaware would be unlawful? Can you explain?
My response: I am suggesting exactly that, though I concede one might need a complaining shareholder first. My read of eBay, and Chief Justice Strine’s musing on the subject, suggest that an entity that is run for purposes of religion (not shareholder wealth maximization) first and foremost, is an improper use of the Delaware corporate form. (“I simply indicate that the corporate law requires directors, as a matter of their duty of loyalty, to pursue a good faith strategy to maximize profits for the stockholders.”) Chancellor Chandler explained in eBay:
The corporate form in which craigslist operates, however, is not an appropriate vehicle for purely philanthropic ends, at least not when there are other stockholders interested in realizing a return on their investment.
I think this definition of philanthropic easily includes religious ends (or should).
Chancellor Chandler continued:
Jim and Craig opted to form craigslist, Inc. as a for-profit Delaware corporation and voluntarily accepted millions of dollars from eBay as part of a transaction whereby eBay became a stockholder. Having chosen a for-profit corporate form, the craigslist directors are bound by the fiduciary duties and standards that accompany that form. Those standards include acting to promote the value of the corporation for the benefit of its stockholders.
I don’t see how this should play any differently if it applied to religion. Consider, for example, this possible spin:
Jane and Carrie opted to form Religion, Inc., as a for-profit Delaware corporation and voluntarily accepted millions of dollars from BigCo as part of a transaction whereby BigCo became a stockholder. Having chosen a for-profit corporate form, the Religion directors are bound by the fiduciary duties and standards that accompany that form. Those standards include acting to promote the value of the corporation for the benefit of its stockholders.
Further to the point, Chancellor Chandler added:
I cannot accept as valid . . . a corporate policy that specifically, clearly, and admittedly seeks not to maximize the economic value of a for-profit Delaware corporation for the benefit of its stockholders—no matter whether those stockholders are individuals of modest means or a corporate titan of online commerce.
Thus, a for-profit business can be religious in nature—e.g., make religious books or products or sponsor religious seminars—but as a Delaware corporation, the purpose of the entity must be to “promote the value of the corporation for the benefit of its stockholders.”
This is the potential problem with the Hobby Lobby case as to Delaware law. There, the companies had a lot to lose:
If they and their companies refuse to provide contraceptive coverage, they face severe economic consequences: about $475 million per year for Hobby Lobby, $33 million per year for Conestoga, and $15 million per year for Mardel. And if they drop coverage altogether, they could face penalties of roughly $26 million for Hobby Lobby, $1.8 million for Conestoga, and $800,000 for Mardel.
These losses were justified in that case as being necessary to exercise religion, and not to further a corporate purpose. Of course, they had to make that claim, because otherwise they couldn’t get the benefit of RFRA, which requires demonstrating “an honest conviction,” which could be problematic if the reason was couched in business terms, and not religious ones.
Incidentally, I think the business judgment rule should probably protect this decision, anyway, but I don’t know that Delaware law would support that view. In fact, it shouldn't based in recent case law, and I think plainly eBay says no on that one. The Supreme Court says RFRA protects the right to pursue religious ends. It doesn't mean Delaware law does. (Note: Hobby Lobby is not a Delaware entity, so the rules are admittedly different.)
Thus, my fix seek to balance these competing possible outcomes. Tell shareholders your plan, and they can’t question it later, even if that plan costs the company $475 million in losses. Where the law has evolved, I don't think it's fair to suggest it was part of the bargain for all companies, thought maybe investors in Hobby Lobby did know. But it doesn't matter. I thought craigslist’s long-standing business plan was sufficient notice, too. Chancellor Chandler disagreed.
Last week, Hamdi Ulukaya, founder and CEO of Chobani, announced a 10% company stock grant to all company employees. Chobani joined the ranks of high profile stock grants including Whole Foods, Starbucks, Apple and Twitter. Stock grants, while more common in tech industries, are a part of hybrid corporate law-employment law conversation on shared ownership. Employee ownership in companies can occur in several different forms such as ERISA-governed benefit plans where the company stock issued or bought as a part of a retirement saving plan. Alternatively, a stock grant may be structured as a bonus plan, a standard compensation, or a vesting employee benefit eligible after threshold years and types of service. All of these plans fall under the rubric of shared ownership. In 2015, the National Center for Employee Benefits estimated that over 9000 companies participated in some form of shared ownership.
In a similar vein, actors in the hit (and record-breaking with 16 Tony Nominations) musical Hamilton have entered into a profit-sharing agreement with producers. The deal is different for these actors, but the sentiment is the same in sharing profits, aligning interests, and promoting employee loyalty.
Shared ownership plans, especially the ERISA-governed ones can have specific tax and financing benefits for companies. Creating a shared ownership plan, however is often focused on creating certain firm-specific benefits such as recruiting and retaining talent, and improving firm performance by aligning interests between employees and the company. The recruitment and retention aspect can be especially valuable to start-up firms that struggle to compete with mature firms on salary and reputation. Empirical studies have found improved workplace performance, on average, for firms with shared capitalism plans, with positive effects observed most strongly when combined with policies such as low supervision, decision-making participation, and competitive pay.
I note these stories with particular interest for several reasons. The first is that I am routinely embarrassed by how little play I give employees in my corporation class . I seem all too happy to ignore this very important piece of the corporate power puzzle, engine for the machine, etc., etc. Second, I have been looking at shared ownership in the context of a recent research project, so look for more on that topic in a separate post once the project progresses. Third, my sense is that social enterprise movement will bring with it greater demands for shared ownership as a means to address social factors such as retirement security, employee autonomy and wage inequality. Look for more of these stories in the headlines and an emphasis on it in scholarship.
I am looking forward to attending and presenting at Emory University School of Law’s upcoming conference (June 10-11) focused on the art and science of teaching transactional law and skills. I received word yesterday from Sue Payne, the Executive Director of Emory Law's Center for Transactional Law and Practice, that the keynote speakers for the conference are "the dynamic duo of Martin J. Katz and Phoenix Cai will deliver a keynote address entitled – 'Encouraging this Particular Form of (Very Fun) Madness – Roles for Deans and Faculty Members.'" The notice se sent to me on the keynote speakers offers the following information about Professors Katz and Cai and the conference as a whole:
Marty Katz is Dean and Professor of Law at the University of Denver, Sturm College of Law. Under his leadership, Denver Law developed and implemented a major strategic plan that included initiatives in experiential learning and specialization. He is a founding board member of Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers, a national consortium of law schools that serve as leaders in the experiential education movement. Dean Katz’s recent publications include “Facilitating Better Law Teaching – Now” (Emory Law Journal) and “Understanding the Costs of Experiential Legal Education” (Journal of Experiential Learning).
Phoenix Cai is the founding director of the Roche International Business LLM Program and Associate Professor of Law at the University of Denver, Sturm College of Law. The Roche LLM in International Business Transactions is an intensive and experiential graduate program designed to train both U.S. and foreign lawyers in private transactional law. Prior to joining Denver Law, Professor Cai was a corporate lawyer specializing in both domestic and international mergers and acquisitions, banking, finance, and securities law.
Don’t miss this opportunity to hear Dean Katz and Professor Cai share their thoughts about how deans and faculty members can promote excellence in transactional law and skills education.
For more information about the Conference, including a list of the many other esteemed presenters and the topics they will cover, go to our conference website. If you would like to register for the Conference, please go here.
I hope to see many of you there. My presentation focuses on teaching the drafting of corporate bylaws. I will say more on it in this space later.
Tuesday, May 3, 2016
Submissions: manuscripts or abstracts must be submitted electronically to Professor Michelle Harner, Chair-Elect of the Section on Business Associations, at firstname.lastname@example.org August 24, 2016.
The AALS Section on Business Associations and the AALS Section on Comparative Law are pleased to announce a Call for Papers for a joint program to be held on January 5, 2017, at the AALS 2017 Annual Meeting in San Francisco. The topic of the program is “Business Law in the Global Gig Economy: Legal Theory, Doctrine, and Innovations in the Context of Startups, Scaleups, and Unicorns.”
Startups and entrepreneurs have long played an important role in the U.S. economy. From Henry Ford to Mark Zuckerberg, entrepreneurs have revolutionized the ways in which their customers receive products and services. As Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote, has explained, “There’s lots of bad reasons to start a company. But there’s only one good, legitimate reason, and I think you know what it is: it’s to change the world.”
That philosophy continues today as entrepreneurs disrupt markets and challenge business and legal norms. Traditional notions of the firm, fiduciary duties, contractual bargains, and optimal capital structures may not aptly fit entrepreneurial approaches. Indeed, entrepreneurs’ business models, financing needs, and operational objectives require lawyers and scholars to rethink governance, capital structures, and regulatory schemes that may limit or impede further innovation, both nationally and transnationally.
A recent Vanity Fair article discussing Citizens United is making the rounds. (I saw it on Facebook!) The article notes:
It had already been established, in Buckley v. Valeo (1976), that anyone has a First Amendment right to spend his or her own money advancing his or her own cause, including a candidacy for political office. Citizens United extended this right to legally created “persons” such as corporations and unions.
I have been giving some more thought to whole “personhood” discussion of late, and my thoughts have taken me back to both Hobby Lobby and Citizens United. What follows is a long blog post that pulls together my thoughts on these two cases in an admittedly not well developed way. But it's a start (though I really should be grading).
What factors generate a healthy secondary market in securities? That is my question for this week. I have found myself struggling with this question since I was first called by a reporter writing a story for The Wall Street Journal about a work-in-process written by one of our colleagues, Seth Oranburg (a Visiting Assistant Professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law). The article came out yesterday (and I was quoted in it--glory be!), but the puzzle remains . . . .
Secondary securities markets have been hot topics for a while now. I followed with interest Usha Rodrigues's work on this paper, for example, which came out in 2013. Yet, that project focused on markets involving only accredited investors.
Seth's idea, however, is intended to prime a different kind of secondary market in securities: a trading platform for securities bought by the average Joe (or Joan!) non-accredited investor in a crowdfunded offering (specifically, an offering conducted under the CROWDFUND Act, Title III of the JOBS Act). [Note: I will not bother to unpack the statutory acronyms used in that last parenthetical expression, since I know most of our readers understand them well. But please comment below or message me if you need help on that.] Leaving aside one's view of the need for or desirability of a secondary market for securities acquired through crowdfunding (which depends, at least to some extent, on the type of issuer, investment instrument, and investor involved in the crowdfunding), the idea of fostering a secondary securities market is intriguing. What, other than willing buyers and sellers and a facilitating (or at least non-hostile) regulatory environment, makes a trading market in securities?