Monday, September 8, 2014
I'm currently flying at about 30,000 feet on my way to Dickinson, North Dakota. Regular readers know I do much of my research in the energy sector and that the impacts of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have had on the local, regional, national, and global economies are an interest of mine. This trip marks my first return to North Dakota since I left the University of North Dakota School of Law in the summer of 2012, and it will be my most extended trip to the Bakken oil patch in the western part of the state.
I have the benefit of traveling with a group from West Virginia University, and we're gathering information for a variety of applications, all of which I hope will help us plan for a more sustainable economic and environmentally viable energy future. The trip is scheduled to include meetings with government officials (state and local), industry representatives, landowners, farmers, educators, and others. I'm looking forward to this rare opportunity to hear so many different perspectives from people living in the heart of the U.S. oil boom.
Over the last few years, I have written about the challenges and opportunities related to the shale oil and gas reserves made available through horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, with a focus on the economic, environmental, and social impacts. I'm curious to see how my earlier assessments stack up with new information regarding the current situation. Throughout the week, I plan to write about things I learn, provide some updates about what's happening, and maybe share some thoughts about what's next from the business, legal, and regulatory perspectives. Follow me on Twitter, too, @jfershee for (hopefully) in-the-moment updates.
Stay tuned for more to come, and for those interested, here are some of my recent pieces on the subject:
- North Dakota Expertise: A Chance to Lead in Economically and Environmentally Sustainable Hydraulic Fracturing, 87 North Dakota Law Review 485 (2011) (invited) (symposium issue)
- The Oil and Gas Evolution: Learning from the Hydraulic Fracturing Experiences in North Dakota and West Virginia, 19 Texas Wesleyan Law Review 23 (2012) (invited) (symposium issue)
- Facts, Fiction, and Perception in Hydraulic Fracturing: Illuminating Act 13 and Robinson Township v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 116 W. Va. L.Rev. 819 (2014) (invited)
One thing that distinguishes excellent lawyers (or excellent academics, for that matter) is the ability to see more than one side of a legal question—to marshal all the arguments for and against a position, and weigh their relative strengths.
A lawyer drafting a contract needs to foresee the various ways a contract might be interpreted and try to minimize the ambiguities. A lawyer advising a client about regulatory compliance needs to understand the different ways the applicable statutes and regulations might be read. A lawyer litigating a case needs to anticipate her opponent’s best arguments and the weaknesses in her own arguments to be an effective advocate.
But how does one teach open-mindedness to law students? It’s a problem on exams. Students often fixate on one view and ignore any arguments against their chosen positions.
It’s also a problem in the classroom. Once some students have taken a public position, it’s very hard to get them to concede that any argument against that position has validity. And some students come to class having already formulated a position about a particular case or policy issue, making the task even harder.
I have been teaching for over 25 years, and I’m still not sure how to deal with that problem. I tell them they need to deal with both sides of every issue, but it’s one thing to know that intellectually and another thing entirely to do it well. I assign them positions to argue, but that often doesn’t help. If the assigned position is contrary to what they already thought, their assigned argument is usually weaker than it should be. If they didn’t have a position before, once I assign them a position, they’re unwilling to concede the legitimacy of the other side’s argument.
I just don’t know how to teach open-mindedness. Many students get it, but I don’t seem to have much effect on the others. And that frustrates me, because I know how important open-mindedness is to being a good lawyer.
Sunday, September 7, 2014
"At some point, almost all regulation must rely on the ethics of those within financial services organizations." http://t.co/sZ4UUWkaJ2— Stefan Padfield (@ProfPadfield) September 3, 2014
"Free-marketeers decry 'big government' yet ... big business benefit hugely from the state" http://t.co/Mdk69mjZpw— Stefan Padfield (@ProfPadfield) September 4, 2014
"Why exactly must the states respect federal Bill of Rights protections that apply to corporations?" http://t.co/gr4zDH6Eru— Stefan Padfield (@ProfPadfield) September 4, 2014
"the assumption that unethical workplace behavior is the product of a few bad apples has blinded many organizations" http://t.co/IdyQLFch2y— Stefan Padfield (@ProfPadfield) September 5, 2014
Saturday, September 6, 2014
Since Delaware decisions like Boilermakers Local 154 Ret. Fund v. Chevron Corp., 73 A.3d 934 (Del. Ch. 2013) and ATP Tour, Inc. v. Deutscher Tennis Bund, 91 A.3d 554 (Del. 2014), there have been renewed calls for corporations to amend their charters and/or bylaws to require that shareholder lawsuits – including securities lawsuits – be subject to individualized arbitration.
This is actually a big interest of mine – I’m currently working on a paper concerning the enforceability of arbitration clauses in corporate governance documents. Critically, I do not believe these decisions support the notion that arbitration provisions can control securities claims – at best, they suggest that arbitration provisions in corporate governance documents can control governance claims (i.e., Delaware litigation – concerning directors’ powers and fiduciary duties).
[More under the cut]
Friday, September 5, 2014
Last Monday, at Vanderbilt Law School, I attended a presentation by Jesse Fried (Harvard Law) on his new article, The Uneasy Case for Favoring Long-Term Shareholders (Yale Law Journal, forthcoming).
The paper’s abstract describes the thought-provoking thesis:
This paper challenges a persistent and pervasive view in corporate law and corporate governance: that a firm’s managers should favor long-term shareholders over short-term shareholders, and maximize long-term shareholders’ returns rather than the short-term stock price. Underlying this view is a strongly-held intuition that taking steps to increase long-term shareholder returns will generate a larger economic pie over time. But this intuition, I show, is flawed. Long-term shareholders, like short-term shareholders, can benefit from managers destroying value — even when the firm’s only residual claimants are its shareholders. Indeed, managers serving long-term shareholders may well destroy more value than managers serving short-term shareholders. Favoring the interests of long-term shareholders could thus reduce, rather than increase, the value generated by a firm over time.
I provide more information about the paper and offer a few thoughts after the break.
Thursday, September 4, 2014
I have been an interviewee and an interviewer dozens upon dozens of times in my legal career. As a professor, drawing on my interviewing experience from both sides of the interview table, I spend a fair amount of time giving my students comments on their resumes and giving them advice before they go on interviews. Below are some of the comments that I find myself making consistently.
Generally, I think employers want to know three basics things about you as an interviewee: (1) are you capable?; (2) are you likeable? and (3) are you dedicated? (For the purposes of this post, I am going to assume you haven't given the employer any reason to question your intergrity, but, obviously, integrity is also extremely important.)
I describe each category in greater detail, and provide advice, after the break.
Behemoth proxy advisory firm Institutional Shareholder Services has released its 2015 Policy Survey. I have listed some of the questions below:
Which of the following statements best reflects your organization's view about the relationship between goalsetting and award values?
Is there a threshold at which you consider that the magnitude of a CEO’scompensation should warrant concern even if the company’s absolute and relative performance have been positive, for example, outperforming the peer group?
With respect to evaluating the say on pay advisory vote, how does your organization view disclosed positive changes to the pay program that will be implemented in the succeeding year(s) when a company demonstrates pay for performance misalignment or other concerns based on the year in review?
If you chose either the first or second answer in the question above, should shareholders expect disclosure of specific details of such future positive changes (e.g., metrics, performance goals, award values, effective dates) in order for the changes to be considered as a potential mitigator for pay for performance or other concerns for the year in review?
Where a board adopts without shareholder approval a material bylaw amendment that diminishes shareholders' rights, what approach should be used when evaluating board accountability?
Should directors be held accountable if shareholder unfriendly provisions were adopted prior to the company’s IPO?
In general, how does your organization consider gender diversity when evaluating boards?
As a general matter, what weight (relative out of 100%) would you view as appropriate for each of the categories indicated below (notwithstanding that some factors, such as repricing without shareholder approval, may be 100% unacceptable)?
How significant are the following factors when evaluating the board's role in risk oversight in your voting decision on directors (very significant, somewhat significant, not significant)?
In making informed voting decisions on the ratification of the outside auditor and the reelection of members of audit committees, how important (very important/somewhat important/not important) would the following disclosures be to you?
In your view, when is it appropriate for a company to utilize quantitative E&S (environmental and social) performance goals?
As someone who studies and consults on corporate governance issues, I look forward to seeing the results of this survey. However, the US Chamber of Commerce’s Center for Capital Market Competitiveness, which has argued that ISS and other proxy advisory firms have conflicts of interest and lack transparency, has issued a response to ISS because:
The CCMC is concerned that the development of the Survey lacks a foundation based on empirical facts and creates a one-size-fits-all system that failure to take into account the different unique needs of companies and their investors. We believe that these flaws with the Survey can adversely affect advisory recommendations negatively impacting the decision making process for the clients of proxy advisory firms. The CCMC is also troubled that certain issues presented in the Survey, such as Pay for Performance, will be the subject of Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) rulemakings in the near future. While we have provided commentary to those portions of the Survey, we believe that their inclusion in the survey is premature pending the completion of those rulemakings….It is both surprising and very troublesome that the Survey does not contain a single reference to the paramount concern of investors and portfolio managers—public company efforts to maintain and enhance shareholder value—and seeks to elicit only abstract philosophies and opinions, completely eschewing any pretense of an interest in obtaining hard facts and empirically-significant data. This confirmation—that ISS’ policies and recommendations are based solely on a miniscule sampling of philosophical preferences, rather than empirical data—is itself a matter that requires, but does not yet receive, appropriate disclosure and disclaimers on ISS research reports.
The CCMC’s letter details concerns with each of ISS’ questions. Both the complete survey and the CCMC response are worth a read.
Wednesday, September 3, 2014
(Note: This is a cross-posted multiple part series from WVU Law Prof. Josh Fershee from the Business Law Prof Blog and Prof. Elaine Waterhouse Wilson from the Nonprofit Law Prof Blog, who combined forces to evaluate benefit corporations from both the nonprofit and the for-profit sides. The previous installment can be found here (NLPB) and here (BLPB).)
What It Is: So now that we’ve told you (in Part I) what the benefit corporation isn’t, we should probably tell you what it is. The West Virginia statute is based on Model Benefit Corporation Legislation, which (according to B Lab’s website) was drafted originally by Bill Clark from Drinker, Biddle, & Reath LLP. The statute, a copy of which can be found, not surprisingly, at B Lab’s website, “has evolved based on comments from corporate attorneys in the states in which the legislation has been passed or introduced.” B Lab specifically states that part of its mission is to pass legislation, such as benefit corporation statutes.
As stated by the drafter’s “White Paper, The Need and Rationale for the Benefit Corporation: Why It is the Legal Form that Best Addresses the Needs of Social Entrepreneurs, Investors, and, Ultimately, the Public” (PDF here), the benefit corporation was designed to be “a new type of corporate legal entity.” Despite this claim, it’s likely that the entity should be looked at as a modified version of traditional corporation rather than at a new entity.
To read the rest of the post, please click below.
Tuesday, September 2, 2014
Last week, news of the proposed Burger King & Tim Horton's merger fueled the already raging fire on corporate inversions as the Miami-based burger chain announced plans, through the merger, to possibly relocate to Canada. As I have written about on this blog, here and here and in the Huffington Post, inversions may offer US companies tax savings.
Stephen E. Shay, a professor of practice at Harvard Law School, provides a short article (12 pages) describing the tax issues in corporate inversions and possible regulatory fixes. This article is very helpful in taking the debate from the headlines into a more complex legal analysis illuminating the tax consequences and offering a better understanding of the legal remedies available. Worth the read.
At the New York Times Dealbook, Andrew Ross Sorkin notes that public pension funds have been lately silent on the issue of corporate inversions. (See co-blogger Anne Tucker on inversions here and here.) Sorkin writes, "Public pension funds may be so meek on the issue of inversions because they are conflicted."
Maybe I am reading too much into his choice of words, but "meek" implies more to me than "moderate" or "mild" and instead conveys a value judgment that fund managers have an obligation to speak out. I am not pretty sure that's not true.
I definitely don't like companies heading offshore for mild gains, and I don't think I would support such a choice, but as a director, I'd sure analyze the option before deciding. Fund managers, too, have obligations to look out for their stakeholders, and unless I had a clear charge on this front or thought the inverting company was clearly wrong, I'd probably stay quiet, too.
Although the meek may inherit the earth, at least at this point, I might substitute "meek" with "cautious" or even "prudent." But that's just me.
Monday, September 1, 2014
Larry Cunningham has a further post on his forthcoming book, Berkshire Beyond Buffett: The Enduring Value of Values, over at Concurring Opinions. The post includes an excerpt from Chapter 8 of the book, Autonomy, and links to the full text of the chapter, available on SSRN for free (!) download. Larry's and my earlier posts on the book here on the BLPB can be found here, here, here, and here.
Here's a slice of the excerpt included in the Concurring Opinions post:
. . . Berkshire corporate policy strikes a balance between autonomy and authority. Buffett issues written instructions every two years that reflect the balance. The missive states the mandates Berkshire places on subsidiary CEOs: (1) guard Berkshire’s reputation; (2) report bad news early; (3) confer about post-retirement benefit changes and large capital expenditures (including acquisitions, which are encouraged); (4) adopt a fifty-year time horizon; (5) refer any opportunities for a Berkshire acquisition to Omaha; and (6) submit written successor recommendations. Otherwise, Berkshire stresses that managers were chosen because of their excellence and are urged to act on that excellence.
Cool stuff . . . .
On Friday, Bill Haslam, the Governor of the State of Tennessee, spoke at a session sponsored by the C. Warren Neel Corporate Governance Center on The University of Tennessee's Knoxville campus. He is our former city mayor and a hometown favorite for many. I always enjoy his talks.
His talk on Friday focused on how Tennessee is attracting businesses and jobs and how education--including higher education--plays a role. But before he honed in on that topic, he asked an intriguing, albeit basic, question that operates on theoretical, political, and practical planes. That question: How is government similar to and different from private enterprise? He wanted audience participation. I waited to see how everyone would react. He got lots of good answers that cut across economics, management, finance, and governance.
Provocatively (at least for me), he characterized his gubernatorial role as akin to the role of a chief executive officer in a corporation. He has served as a corporate manager (president of his family's firm and the CEO of a division of another firm), and his vision of the state gubernatorial role is clearly framed by that experience. He actually called the legislature his "board of directors" in his role as governor.
Well, after that analogy, I just had to contribute to the discussion with a comment. I endorsed the governor's view of his position, but I also noted that the executive, as the head of a separate branch of a government of three branches, has power independent of the power afforded to the legislature. That is when things got interesting, at least for me.
I began my twenty-ninth year of law school teaching this week. It has now been thirty-six years since I entered law school as a student. Except for four years of practice, I have been there ever since.
The world has changed significantly, but legal education hasn't changed much.
When I entered law school in 1978,
- the Internet was still unknown to the general public, a concept that scientists and the government were still developing.
- The personal computer was just beginning to take off, and no one I knew had one.
- Laptops were where your child sat.
- Lexis computerized research was just beginning.
- PowerPoint presentations did not exist.
- You bought your telephone, securely connected to your wall, from Ma Bell.
It’s amazing, given all the changes since then, how little has changed in legal education.
When I began law school, grades were determined primarily by a single end-of-semester exam. In most cases, they still are.
When I began law school, the focus was on the development of analytical skills, and clinical education was secondary. Not much change there (yet).
When I began law school, professors were using chalk and blackboards. They’re now using whiteboards and PowerPoint slides, but primarily just to display what they used to write on the blackboard.
When I began law school, students were required to purchase expensive textbooks consisting primarily of edited cases and questions. The textbook market was dominated by West, Foundation Press, and Little Brown. The publishers’ names have changed, but not much else.
When I began law school, law firms were practically begging students to take jobs, and summer clerkships were one long summer camp, filled with fine dining and entertainment and minimal work expectations. Well, I guess some things have changed.
Can you imagine if the rest of the world changed at the same pace as legal education? You would be spending your evenings watching TV programs on the three networks. You would have to be home to take a phone call—and, if you needed to talk to someone outside your town, it would cost you a fortune. If you needed information, you could drive to the library.
If legal education were a phone company, we’d all have landlines and we’d be debating whether to change to a Princess.
Sunday, August 31, 2014
"business is...so in thrall to finance, that capital accumulation is their primary goal, rather than value creation" http://t.co/J9yA0hkJTs— Stefan Padfield (@ProfPadfield) August 31, 2014
“we now have more business income in non-C-corporate form than we do in C-corporate form.” http://t.co/TwbimVCxcB— Frank Pasquale (@FrankPasquale) August 30, 2014
"Litigation filed in federal court is associated with a significantly higher takeover premium" http://t.co/SKyT3MXvwW— Stefan Padfield (@ProfPadfield) August 29, 2014
This is huge: 9th Cir. Court rules FedEx drivers in California are employees, not contractors: http://t.co/0nI4K53cON— Paul M. Secunda (@psecundaWrkProf) August 28, 2014
"China and India are moving towards mandatory, not voluntary, CSR [corporate social responsibility] regimes" http://t.co/eDTYGdypW8— Stefan Padfield (@ProfPadfield) August 26, 2014
Saturday, August 30, 2014
Adam Levitin at Credit Slips has an interesting breakdown of MBS litigation settlements. He points out that of the $94.6 billion in settlement funds, only 2% has gone to private investors alleging securities-fraud-type claims.
First, it shows that legislative reforms and court rulings have seriously impeded the effectiveness of securities class action litigation. If ever there were an area ripe for private securities litigation, private-label RMBS is it, yet almost all of the recoveries are from six settlements. This should be no surprise, but it's rare to see numbers put on the effect. This is what securities issuers and underwriters have long wanted, and the opposition has mainly been the plaintiffs' bar, but perhaps investors will take note of the effect too.
Second, the distribution shows how badly non-GSE investors got shafted. Remember, that private-label securitization was over 60% of the market in 2006. Yet investors have recovered only 38% of that which the GSEs/FHFA have recovered, and most of that is from the trustee settlements or proposed settlements (I'm not sure that any have actually closed). Private securities litigation has recovered a mere 4% of what the GSEs/FHFA have recovered.
The real question is whether investors have learned that they cannot rely on either trustees or the securities laws to protect them from fraud, and if they have, what they plan to do about it. One sensible thing would be simply to invest in other asset classes. The other would be to try and reform the trustee system and/or the securities laws.
I'm sure there are many reasons for the disparity, but I think one major contributor is a series of rulings narrowing the definition of standing in the class action context.
(okay, that was my attempt to jazz up a procedural post)
Anyway, these standing issues are now pending - sort of - before the Supreme Court, as I previously posted. What's interesting is that these standing rulings have had a dramatic effect on private investors' ability to bring claims, but they aren't usually mentioned in the same breath as other, more obvious, limitations on securities class actions.
[More under the jump]
Friday, August 29, 2014
CALIFORNIA WESTERN SCHOOL OF LAW in San Diego invites applications for an entry-level, tenure-track faculty position to begin in the fall of 2015. Our curricular needs are in Family Law, Business Law, and Clinical Teaching. We are particularly, though not exclusively, interested in candidates who are interested in teaching in our Clinical Internship Program, as well as in one of the above-mentioned subject areas. Candidates who would contribute to the diversity of our faculty are strongly encouraged to apply. Interested candidates should email their materials to Professor Scott Ehrlich, Chair of the Faculty Appointments Committee, at firstname.lastname@example.org. California Western is San Diego’s oldest law school. We are an independent, ABA-approved, not-for-profit law school committed to producing practice-ready lawyers. California Western is an equal opportunity employer.
BPLB's own Joshua Fershee, Professor of Law with the Center for Energy and Sustainable Development at West Virginia University College of Law, was quoted in a Greenwire story on the Kinder Morgan deal. You can read an excerpt below
Kinder Morgan deal leaves questions for investors
Mike Lee, E&E reporter Published: Thursday, August 28, 2014
Kinder Morgan Inc. may have to do more to convince its investors that its proposed $44 billion merger with its subsidiaries is in their best interest.
The company -- the nation's biggest operator of oil and gas pipelines -- took a series of steps to ensure there were no conflicts of interest during the negotiations, and the subsidiaries negotiated for a higher bid from the parent, Kinder Morgan said in a filing<http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1506307/000104746914007230/a2221196zs-4.htm>intended to persuade investors to vote for the merger.
The question will be: Did the company go far enough? Kinder Morgan faced similar questions when it went private in 2007 and when it bought El Paso Corp. in 2011.
The market's reaction -- prices for all three companies have risen since the deal was announced -- shows that investors are willing to overlook a temporary downside if a company has a long-term plan, said Joshua Fershee, a law professor at West Virginia University.
Kinder Morgan's CEO "knows what he's doing, and he's articulated a plan that says upfront, 'Here's where we're going to take the hit,'" Fershee said.
Rebecca Schuman authored a recent article in Slate entitled Syllabus Tyrannus: The decline and fall of the American university is written in 25-page course syllabi.
In the article Schuman complains that in the last twenty years syllabi have grown from 1-2 page simple documents with only the course location, required books, and assignments to “Ten, 15, even 20 pages of policies, rubrics, and required administrative boilerplate, some so ludicrous (“course-specific expected learning outcomes”) that I myself have never actually read parts of my own syllabi all the way through.”
While I won’t go as far as Professor Paul Horwitz goes in criticizing Schuman’s writing, I do want to push back a bit on her critique of “course-specific expected learning outcomes.”
I admit that bloated syllabi can be a bit cumbersome, but drafting what we at Belmont call “course objectives” can be a helpful process and can lead to important changes in the course. Believe it or not, each semester I look at my course objectives, evaluate whether they were met, and revise my courses as necessary. My course objectives have reminded me that I shouldn’t drop that undergraduate group presentation assignment, no matter how difficult it gets logistically. My course objectives have also reminded me that I just can’t switch to all multiple-choice exams, even if those tests are incredibly common in undergraduate courses today. (To be fair to those who teach undergraduate courses, they typically have 4-8 assessments in a course as opposed to 1-2 in a law school course).
Anyway, I think some of Schuman’s comments on syllabi bloat are valid, but this increase in disclosure is seen throughout our society as shown in Ben-Shahar & Schneider’s More than You Wanted to Know. While some of the disclosures may be a waste of time and resources, I found the drafting of course objectives helpful and think it will benefit the students through the more thoughtful structure of my courses (even if the students do not take the time to read the objectives themselves).
Finally and somewhat related, Professor Jennifer Bard notes (with some helpful links) that the ABA is now requiring law schools to draft learning outcomes. If law schools take this process seriously, I think it could be a useful exercise. If law schools just see it as another drain on resources and complete it mindlessly, then it is unlikely that those law schools or their students will benefit.
Thursday, August 28, 2014
Given that I haven’t seen anything similar for legal studies positions in business schools, I decided to aggregate the position posts that I have seen below. I will update the list with business school legal studies positions that are left in the comments or e-mailed to me. I am limiting the list to long-term and full-time (not visiting or adjunct) positions, and, if the information is provided, I will note whether the position is tenure-track or not.
Last Updated 9/18/14
The Boston University School of Management invites applications for a full-time, non-tenure-track Clinical Professor in Ethics, effective July 1, 2015. We seek to appoint a senior faculty member who possesses an international reputation in business ethics. Applicants are welcome from business academic disciplines including: accounting, organizational behavior, finance, business law, information systems, marketing, strategy and strategic management, and operations management. The position will be housed in a department within the School based upon the successful candidate's discipline.
Successful candidates will have an established record of teaching and writing in the area of ethics that may include any business discipline; demonstrated teaching abilities at the graduate level; and a terminal degree in business, management, or related areas.
DO NOT APPLY THROUGH THE BOSTON UNIVERSITY HR WEBSITE.
We are an equal opportunity employer and all qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability status, protected veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by law. We are a VEVRAA Federal Contractor.
Interested candidates should electronically submit a letter of application and curriculum vita by November 15, 2014 via email@example.com and addressed to:
Professor Karen Golden-Biddle, Chair
Globalization Search Committee
Boston University School of Management
595 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215