Friday, December 19, 2014
In each of the classes I have taught I have offered extra credit for a reflection paper on how the media portrays the particular subject because most Americans, including law students, form their opinions about legal issues from television and the movies. Sometimes the media does a great job. I’m told by my friends who teach and practice criminal law that The Wire gets it right. Although I have never practiced criminal law, I assume that ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder, in which first-year students skip their other classes to both solve and commit murders, is probably less accurate. I do have some students who now watch CNBC because I show relevant clips in class. After a particularly heated on-air debate, one student called the network “the ESPN for business people.”
I’m looking for new fiction movies or TV shows to suggest to my students next semester. In addition to the standard business movies and documentaries, what makes your list of high-quality business-related shows? Friends, colleagues, and students have suggested the following traditional and nontraditional must-sees:
1) Game of Thrones (one student wrote about it in the partnership context)
2) House of Cards (not purely business, but shows how business and politics intersect)
3) House of Lies (a look at the world of management consulting)
4) Silicon Valley (one episode I saw talked about entity selection)
5) The Newsroom (during the last season writers tackled insider trading, hostile takeovers, and white knights)
6) Sons of Anarchy (I don’t watch this one so I can’t judge)
7) Shark Tank (not always a complete or accurate depiction but entertaining)
I look forward to your suggestions and to some binge-watching over the holidays.
Thursday, December 11, 2014
In many companies, executives and employees alike will give a blank stare if you discuss “human rights.” They understand the terms “supply chain” and “labor” but don’t always make the leap to the potentially loaded term “human rights.” But business and human rights is all encompassing and leads to a number of uncomfortable questions for firms. When an extractive company wants to get to the coal, the minerals, or the oil, what rights do the indigenous peoples have to their land? If there is a human right to “water” or “food,” do Kellogg’s, Coca Cola, and General Mills have a special duty to protect the environment and safeguard the rights of women, children and human rights defenders? Oxfam’s Behind the Brands Campaign says yes, and provides a scorecard. How should companies operating in dangerous lands provide security for their property and personnel? Are they responsible if the host country’s security forces commit massacres while protecting their corporate property? What actions make companies complicit with state abuses and not merely bystanders? What about the digital domain and state surveillance? What rights should companies protect and how do they balance those with government requests for information?
The disconnect between “business” and “human rights” has been slowly eroding over the past few years, and especially since the 2011 release of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Businesses, law firms, and financial institutions have started to pay attention in part because of the Principles but also because of NGO pressures to act. The Principles operationalize a "protect, respect, and remedy" framework, which indicates that: (i) states have a duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including businesses; (ii) businesses have a responsibility to comply with applicable laws and respect human rights; and (iii) victims of human rights abuses should have access to judicial and non-judicial grievance mechanisms from both the state and businesses.
Many think that the states aren’t acting quickly enough in their obligations to create National Action Plans to address their duty to protect human rights, and that in fact businesses are doing most of the legwork (albeit very slowly themselves). The UK, Netherlands, Spain, Italy and Denmark have already started and the US announced its intentions to create its Plan in September 2014. A number of other states announced that they too will work on National Action Plans at the recent UN Forum on Business and Human Rights that I attended in Geneva in early December. For a great blog post on the event see ICAR director Amol Mehra's Huffington Post piece.
What would a US National Action plan contain? Some believe that it would involve more disclosure regulation similar to the Dodd-Frank Conflict Minerals Rule, the Ending Trafficking in Government Contracting Act, Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the Burma Reporting Requirements on Responsible Investment, and others. Some hope that it will provide additional redress mechanisms after the Supreme Court’s decision in Kiobel significantly limited access to US courts on jurisdictional grounds for foreign human rights litigants suing foreign companies for actions that took place outside of the United States.
But what about the role of business? Here are five observations from my trip to Geneva:
1) It's not all about large Western multinationals: As the Chair of the Forum Mo Ibrahim pointed out, it was fantastic to hear from the CEOs of Nestle and Unilever, but the vast majority of people in China, Sudan and Latin American countries with human rights abuses don’t work for large multinationals. John Ruggie, the architect of the Principles reminded the audience that most of the largest companies in the world right now aren’t even from Western nations. These include Saudi Aromco (world’s largest oil company), Foxconn (largest electronics company), and India’s Tata Group (the UK’s largest manufacturing company).
2) It’s not all about maximization of shareholder value: Unilever CEO Paul Pollman gave an impassioned speech about the need for businesses to do their part to protect human rights. He was followed by the CEO of Nestle. (The opening session with both speeches as well as others from labor and civil society was approximately two hours long and is here). In separate sessions, representatives from Michelin, Chevron, Heinekin, Statoil, Rio Tinto, Barrick, and dozens of other businesses discussed how they are implementing human rights due diligence and practices into their operations and metrics, often working with the NGOs that in the past have been their largest critics such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Oxfam. The US Council for International Business, USCIB, also played a prominent role speaking on behalf of US and international business interests.
3) Investors and lenders are watching: Calvert; the Office of Investment Policy at OPIC, the US government’s development finance institution; the Peruvian Financial Authority; the Supervision Office of the Banco Central do Brasil; the Vice Chair of the Banking Association of Colombia; the European Investment Bank; and Swedfund, among others discussed how and why financial institutions are scrutinizing human rights practices and monitoring them as contractual terms. This has real world impact as development institutions weigh choices about whether to lend to a company in a country that does not allow women to own land, but that will provide other economic opportunities to those women (the lender made the investment). OPIC, which has an 18 billion dollar portfolio in 100 countries, indicated that they see a large trend in impact investing.
4) Integrated reporting is here to stay: Among other things, Calvert, which manages 14 billion in 40 mutual funds, focused on their commitment to companies with solid track records on environmental, social, and governance factors and discussed the benefits of stand alone or integrated reporting. Lawyers from some of the largest law firms in the world indicated that they are working with their clients to prepare for additional non-financial reporting, in part because of countries like the UK that will mandate more in 2016, and an EU disclosure directive that will affect 6,000 firms.
5) Is an International Arbitration Tribunal on the way?: A number of prominent lawyers, retired judges and academics from around the world are working on a proposal for an international arbitration tribunal for human rights abuses. Spearheaded by lawyers for better business, this would either supplement or possibly replace in some people’s view a binding treaty on business and human rights. Having served as a compliance officer who dealt extensively with global supply chains, I have doubts as to how many suppliers will willingly contract to appear before an international tribunal when their workers or members of indigenous communities are harmed. I also wonder about the incentives for corporations, the governing law, the consent of third parties, and a host of other sticking points. Some raised valid concerns about whether privatizing remedies takes the pressure off of states to do their part. But it’s a start down an inevitable road as companies operate around the world and want some level of certainty as to their rights and obligations.
On another note, I attended several panels in which business executives, law firm partners, and members of NGOs decried the lack of training on business and human rights in law schools. Even though professors struggle to cover the required content, I see this area as akin to the compliance conversations that are happening now in law schools. There is legal work in this field and there will be more. I look forward to integrating some of this information into an upcoming seminar.
In the meantime, I tried to include some observations that might be of interest to this audience. If you want to learn more about the conference generally you can look to the twitter feed on #bizhumanrights or #unforumwatch, which has great links. I also recommend the newly released Top 10 Business and Human Rights Issues Whitepaper.
December 11, 2014 in Business Associations, Conferences, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, International Business, Jobs, Law School, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, December 8, 2014
In the comments to my post last week on teaching fiduciary duty in Business Associations, Steve Diamond asked whether I had blogged about why we changed our four-credit-hour Business Associations course at The University of Tennessee College of Law to a three-credit-hour offering. In response, I suggested I might blog about that this week. So, here we are . . . .
Thursday, December 4, 2014
I had planned to blog about the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights this week, but my head is overflowing with information about export credits, development financing, a possible international arbitration tribunal, remarks by the CEOs of Nestle and Unilever, and the polite rebuff to the remarks by the Ambassador of Qatar by a human rights activist in the plenary session. Next week, in between exam grading, I promise to blog about some of the new developments that will affect business lawyers and professors. FYI, I apparently was one of the top live tweeters of the Forum (#bizhumanrights #unforumwatch) and gained many valuable contacts and dozens of new followers.
In the meantime, I recommend reading this great piece from the Legal Skills Prof Blog. As I prepare to teach BA for the third time (which I hear is the charm), I plan to refine the techniques I already use and adopt others where appropriate. The link is below.
Monday, December 1, 2014
I recently read a very interesting article on legal education, The MIT School of Law? A Perspective on Legal Education in the 21st Century, by Daniel Martin Katz, scheduled to appear in the 2014 U. Ill. L. Rev.
Katz, an associate professor at Michigan State, considers the impact of the information revolution and changes in the market for legal services on legal education. He considers how a hypothetical law school might market itself and its students. The key, according to Katz, “is to stop trying to be the ‘50th or 100th best Harvard and Yale’ and instead to concentrate on outflanking these and other institutions by becoming leaders in law’s major emerging employment sectors.” Rather than consider how to incrementally change existing law schools, Katz tries to work backward from what he thinks the future market for lawyers will be like to how a law school should be structured to serve that market. Not surprisingly, Katz concludes that knowledge of technology, math, engineering and science will be important for future lawyers—thus, the MIT School of Law in the article’s title.
I’m a little late getting to this, but it’s a very interesting, provocative article—well worth reading. Katz’s article is part of the Illinois Law Review's tribute to Larry Ribstein. That entire issue is worth a close look when it is available.
Wednesday, November 26, 2014
This is the time of year when we craft exam questions and grading grids in anticipation of exams.
Aside from Teaching Law by Design (a fabulous resource that I recommend for all new teachers as a great continuing resource for even those grizzled from years in the trenches), I have used few formal resources to guide my exam writing and grading process. Fortunately, I work with creative, collaborative and generous colleagues who all shared lots of samples and tips when I first started writing exams. Before committing myself to my Corporations exam this year, I decided to see what is out there to guide exam construction and grading. Finding little that was useful on SSRN or Westlaw, I turned to a broader search, which brought me to a general test instruction guideline produced by Indiana University, aptly titled: How to Write Better Tests. It had the following information regarding essay exams that serve as a useful reminder about why we are so meticulous in constructing our grading rubrics and creating grading schemes that, to the greatest extent possible, reduce our individual biases.
Consider the limitations of the limitations of essay questions:
1. Because of the time required to answer each question, essay items sample less of the content.
2. They require a long time to read and score.
3. They are difficult to score objectively and reliably. Research shows that a number of factors can bias the scoring:
A) Different scores may be assigned by different readers or by the same reader at different times
B) A context effect may operate; an essay preceded by a top quality essay receives lower marks than when preceded by a poor quality essay.
C) The higher the essay is in the stack of papers, the higher the score assigned.
D) Papers that have strong answers to items appearing early in the test and weaker answers later will fare better than papers with the weaker answers appearing first.
To combat these common issues the guidelines recommend:
- anonymous grading (check)
- grading all responses to question 1 before moving on to question 2, and so on (check)
- reorganizing the order of exams between questions (check)
- deciding in advance how to handle ambiguous issues (check, thanks to my grading rubric)
- be on the alert for bluffing (CHECK!)
If anyone has found a particularly useful resource regarding exam construction and grading, please share in the comments. I am sure everyone would benefit.
Happy Thanksgiving BLPB readers!
Monday, November 24, 2014
Happy Thanksgiving you all! With my co-blogger colleagues here on the BLPB writing various Thanksgiving posts on retail-related and other holiday-oriented business law issues (here and here), I find myself in a Thanksgiving-kind-of-mood. I honestly have so much to be thankful for, it's hard to know where to start . . . . But apropos of the business law focus of this blog, I am choosing today to be thankful for my students. They make my job really special.
This semester, I have been teaching Business Associations in a new three-credit-hour format (challenging and stressful, but I have wanted to teach Business Associations in this format for fifteen years) and Corporate Finance (which I teach as a planning and drafting seminar). I have 69 students in Business Associations and ten in Corporate Finance. I have two class meetings left in each course.
The 69 students in Business Associations have been among the most intellectually and doctrinally curious folks to which I have taught this material. I have talked to a lot of them after class about the law and its application in specific contexts. Two stayed after class the other day to discuss statutory interpretation rules with me in the context of some problems I gave them. This large group also includes a number of students who have great senses of humor, offering us some real fun on occasion in class meetings and on the class TWEN site. They are not always as prepared as I would like (and, in fact, some of the students have expressed to me their disappointment in their colleagues' lack of preparedness and participation), but they pick up after each other when one of them leaves a mess in his or her wake (volunteering to be "co-counsel" for a colleague--a concept I introduce in class early in the semester). I enjoy getting up on Monday mornings to teach them at 9:00 am.
Corporate Finance includes a more narrow self-selected group. Almost all of these students have or are actively seeking a job in transactional or advocacy-oriented business law. They handed in their principal planning and drafting projects a bit over a week ago, projects that they spend much of the semester working on. (These substantial written projects are described further in this transcribed presentation.) Now, each student is reviewing and commenting on a project drafted by a fellow student. Both the project and the review are constructed in a circumscribed format that I define. I am excited to read their work on these projects, given the great conversations I have had with a number of them over the course of the semester as they puzzled through financial covenants, indemnification provisions, antidilution adjustments, and the like. Great stuff. I teach this class from 1:00 pm to 2:15 pm two days a week--a time in the day when I generally am most sleepy/least enthusiastic to teach. But these folks ask good questions and seem to genuinely enjoy talking about corporate finance instruments and transactions, making the experience much more worthwhile.
So, I am very thankful for each and all of these 79 students. I may not feel that way after I finish all the grading I have to do, but for now, I am both grateful and content. And I didn't consume a single calorie getting there (which is more than I will be able to say Thursday night . . .). Just looking at the picture at the top of this post makes my stomach feel full and me feel heavier. Ugh.
Friday, November 14, 2014
As a relatively new parent, I have been amazed at the insatiable curiosity of our son (19-months old). Like most parents, I think my son is special, but I see this curiosity in most children around his age. These young children want to investigate everything and will try anything. They make a lot of mistakes, but they are constantly learning and they seem to love learning.
Curiosity comes quite naturally. Obedience, however, needs to be taught.
As a professor, I wish I could bottle my son’s curiosity and feed it to my students.
As a parent, I wish my young son obeyed as well as (most of) my students do.
But I wonder, do we sometimes trade curiosity for obedience? Sir Ken Robinson has spoken about the problem of schools killing creativity. (Creativity and curiousity are related, I think). As a parent and as a professor, his talk is challenging.
If you are not prepared to be wrong you will never come up with anything original…we are now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst things you can make. We are educating people out of their creative capacities…Picasso once said this, he said that “all children are born artists; the challenge is to remain an artist as we grow up”…we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it, or rather we get educated out of it.
Sir Ken Robinson's talk is somewhat depressing, because much of it rings true. His talk has been watched over 29 million times. Unfortunately, I couldn’t clearly identify his proposed solution. Maybe I need to dig into his more detailed work.
How do we teach discipline (which may be a better goal than mere obedience) without killing curiosity and creativity? I do not think discipline and curiosity are mutually exclusive, but they seem to be in tension a fair bit. As a parent, I am already terrified that my son will lose his curiosity. As a professor, I want to help my students recapture theirs.
Any thoughts would be appreciated.
Thursday, November 13, 2014
1) Difference between LLCs, corporations and partnerships
2) Del. and ULLCA coverage of fiduciary duties, and especially the issue of contractual waiver and default
19) No right to distributions, and no right to vote for distributions if manager-managed
20) No right to salary or employment
21) Taxable liability for LLC membership
22) Exit rights—voluntary withdrawals vs. restricted withdrawals, and whether or not that comes with the ability to force the return of an investment or a new status as a creditor of the LLC
23) Liability for improper distributions
24) Veil piercing, particularly given the lack of corporate formalities
I would love some feedback from practitioners as well. What do law students and practicing lawyers need to know about LLCs? What's missing from this list? What should I get rid of? Please feel free to comment below or to email your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.
November 13, 2014 in Business Associations, C. Steven Bradford, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Delaware, Law School, LLCs, Marcia Narine, Partnership, Teaching, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (1)
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
About four years ago, despite decades of actively avoiding the idea, I started running. I am no Forrest Gump, but I run 3.5 miles on a reasonably regular basis– usually four or five times a week, sometimes more, and rarely less. My primary running locations, North Dakota and then along the Monongahela River in West Virginia, are both quite windy. The North Dakota winds so are significant, that they can mimic hills, which is what allowed cyclist Andy Hampsten to train for hills in “one of the flattest areas in the world.”
I do a lot of out-and-back runs – out 1.75 miles and back along the same route. During such runs, I often notice a similar phenomenon: I may not have any idea it’s windy if the wind is at my back when I start running. When I get to my turnaround, though, I find a stiff wind in my face. This happens enough that I should probably figure out it is windy before I get to the turnaround, especially since it can lead to a faster pace on the way out, but I still rarely notice. I just think I’m having a good pace day.
In contrast, it’s pretty hard to miss when the wind is in your face. Everything feels hard. Everything feels sluggish and slow. And it feels like, all of a sudden, you have barriers in your way.
During these runs, it often makes me think about how many other places (in the figurative sense) this happens. We all have our challenges, and we often have much to overcome. But some have more challenges than others. Because our individual challenges are real, it can be easy to miss that we may have fewer challenges than other people have.
The things that are barriers to our goals are sometimes obvious to us. For example, as those in the current job hunt for a law professorship likely know, a lack of a top-14 law degree can be a significant limit on the number of options one might have entering the legal academy. It certainly felt like a barrier to certain jobs when I was on the market, anyway.
Because of that, it would be easy to discount other benefits I have because of who I am. I grew up in a safe neighborhood with good schools. I am a white male, which means people have expectations for me that are different than others. There is a level of presumed competence. And, comparatively, presumed authority and ability. If there's no more text visible, please click below to read the whole post.
Thursday, November 6, 2014
I have previously blogged about Institutional Shareholder Services’ policy survey and noted that a number of business groups, including the Chamber of Commerce, had significant concerns. In case you haven’t read Steve Bainbridge’s posts on the matter, he’s not a fan either.
Calling the ISS consultation period “a decision in search of a process,” the Chamber released its comment letter to ISS last week, and it cited Bainbridge's comment letter liberally. Some quotable quotes from the Chamber include:
Under ISS’ revised policy, according to the Consultation, “any single factor that may have previously resulted in a ‘For’ or ‘Against’ recommendation may be mitigated by other positive or negative aspects, respectively.” Of course, there is no delineation of what these “other positive or negative aspects” may be, how they would be weighted, or how they would be applied. This leaves public companies as well as ISS’ clients at sea as to what prompted a determination that previously would have seen ISS oppose more of these proposals. This is a change that would, if enacted, fly in the face of explicit SEC Staff Guidance on the obligations to verify the accuracy and current nature of information utilized in formulating voting recommendations.
The proposed new policy—as yet undefined and undisclosed—is also lacking in any foundation of empirical support… Indeed, a number of studies confirm that there is no empirical support for or against the proposition ISS seems eager to adopt.
[Regarding equity plan scorecards] there is no clear indication on the part of ISS as to what weight it will assign to each category of assessment—cost of plan, plan features, and company grant practices… this approach benefits ISS (and in particular its’ consulting operations), but does nothing to advance either corporate or shareholder interests or benefits. The Consultation also makes clear that, for all ISS’ purported interest in creating a more “nuanced” approach, in fact the proposed policy fosters a one-size-fits-all system that fails to take into account the different unique needs of companies and their investors.
Proxy votes cast in reliance on proxy voting policies based upon this Consultation cannot—by definition—be reasonably designed to further shareholder values.
ISS had a number of other recommendations but they didn’t raise the ire of Bainbridge and the Chamber. For the record, Steve is angry about the independent chair shareholder proposals, but please read his well-documented posts and judge for yourself whether ISS missed the mark. The ISS’ 2015 US Proxy Voting Guidelines were released today. Personally, I plan to raise some of the Guidelines discussing fee-shifting bylaws and exclusive venue provisions in both my Civil Procedure and Business Associations classes.
Let’s see how the Guidelines affect the next proxy season—the recommendations from the two-week comment period go into effect in February.
November 6, 2014 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
The West Virginia University College of Law is seeking applications and nominations to replace our former dean, Joyce McConnell, who is now the provost of the University. The College of Law just completed the addition of a new wing (part of a $26 million infrastructure project), and has made significant and exciting progress. We're seeking a dean who can help continue that trend.
Admitting my bias, WVU is a great place to be. It's beautiful, especially in the fall, and we have access to much more than many people recognize. In addition to a solid opportunities to enjoy music and the arts in Morgantown, we're a lot closer to other areas of interest, if big city access is desired. We're 75 miles to Pittsburgh; about 3 hours and 15 minutes to Baltimore, Washington, DC, and Cleveland, OH; 6 hours to New York City; a little less to Niagara Falls; 5 hours to Philadelphia, PA, and Lexington, KY. You get the idea.
The posting is below. Please apply if you are interested, and please share this with anyone else you think might be interested. And, of course, please feel free to contact me directly with any questions.
The full posting is available at the link above or just click the button below.
Monday, October 20, 2014
I typically teach Corporate Finance as a planning and drafting course to 3L law students in the fall semester each academic year. (See my part of this transcription for some details.) This year is no different in that regard. I really like my Corporate Finance class this fall. The students all seem pretty motivated (although not in every class meeting) and are asking relevant "how to" questions in class.
I am in the midst of teaching my unit on convertible, exchangeable, and derivative instruments at the moment. This semester, I am teaching that unit in three 75-minute parts (after teaching one 75-minute class on hybrid instruments). The first part is an introduction to the instruments themselves. What are they and how do they operate? Where are the provisions authorizing them in state corporate law statutes? What do they look like and what are the key components of the operative (conversion, exchange, or exercise) provisions? The second part is a dive into the poison pill as an intriguing example. The third part is a look at common litigation issues affecting parties' rights under these kinds of instruments (focusing on things like the characterization of transactions not expressly provided for in determining the applicability and effect of antidilution adjustment provisions and interactions between conversion and redemption provisions).
I really enjoy teaching this part of the course, but I keep feeling like I am missing something. Do any of you teach planning and drafting in a corporate finance context? Do you focus on these instruments? If so, what topics do you teach and hone in on? I am writing a casebook for use in this kind of course and would love to make it relevant to as many folks as possible. Please respond in the comments here or in an email message. I would appreciate your feedback and guidance.
While you are at it (or even if you're not), I also would be grateful if folks would weigh in on whether hybrid instruments should be taught separately from or together with convertibles, exchangeables, and derivatives. Do you/would you teach convertibles, exchangeables, and derivatives as a type of hybrid instrument? Or would you call an instrument "hybrid" only if it, e.g., combines core elements of debt and equity at the same time? I look forward to reading what you have to say on any of this.
Friday, October 17, 2014
(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, by Patrick Delahanty from Louisville, United States)
Alison Lundergan Grimes and I both graduated from Rhodes College, a small liberal arts college in Memphis, TN. I have not spoken to Alison since college, so I was surprised to see her mentioned on CNN a number of weeks ago as the democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Kentucky. Since then, she has been in the news quite a bit. She will face Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, in what has turned into one of the hotter Senate races this year.
Even in college I did not know Alison well, but we did take a public speaking class together. Alison was the type of student who was often in a suit and pearls in class, while I wore flip flops year-round and whatever wrinkled, Goodwill-purchased clothes were the most clean. She was a Chi Omega (easily the most refined group on campus), and I was a part of the football team for all four years (if there was a rowdier group on campus than the football team, it was the rugby club, which I joined because my playing time on the football team was minimal).
The public speaking class that Alison and I took together was definitely one of the most practical classes I took. Each student gave short speeches almost every day, and we were video-taped. We then watched and critiqued the videos as a class. Almost all of us had at least a few nervous habits, but we all appeared to break them after our nervous habits were seen on the screen and pointed out in front of the entire class. It was all quite embarrassing, but effective. I think there were only about a dozen of us in the class, which made this sort of personal attention possible. Our final exam was a presentation to an audience of 100 or more people, and our professor had lined up enough options for each of us, which must have taken a lot of time to organize.
I had some opportunities to do public speaking in law school. I know those who competed in moot court and trial advocacy had even more opportunities, but I think we should try to give our students even more chances to hone their public speaking skills. Regardless of post-graduation job, almost all students will need public speaking skills, even if their audiences are small. I try to include student presentations in as many of my classes as I practically can.
While we can all work public speaking into at least some of our classes, a required class fully dedicated to public speaking might be worthwhile. Do any law schools do this? I know public speaking is usually a part of a legal writing or litigation class, but I have not heard of a required course devoted specifically to public speaking.
Update: I should note that Alison is also legally trained. She is a graduate of American University's Washington College of Law.
Thursday, October 16, 2014
I plan to write a more traditional blog post later if I have time, but I am in the midst of midterm grading hell. I was amused today in class when a student compared the drama of the Francis v. United Jersey Bank case with the bankruptcy, bank, and mortgage fraud convictions of husband and wife Joe and Teresa Guidice from the reality TV hit the Real Housewives of New Jersey.
I had provided some color commentary courtesy of Reinier Kraakman and Jay Kesten’s The Story of Francis v. United Jersey Bank: When a Good Story Makes Bad Law, and apparently Mrs. Pritchard’s defenses reminded the student of Teresa Guidice’s pleas of ignorance. Other than being stories about New Jersey fraudsters, there aren’t a lot of similarities between the cases. Based on my quick skim of the indictment I don’t think that Teresa served on the board of any of the companies at issue--Joe apparently had an LLC and was the sole member, and the vast majority of the counts against the couple relate to their individual criminal conduct. In addition, Teresa is also going to jail, and no one suffered that fate in United Jersey. But luckily, she may see a big payday from a purported book deal and reality TV show spinoff after she’s out, possibly disproving the adage that crime doesn’t pay.
Friday, October 3, 2014
I am back teaching law students again this semester, in addition to teaching business school students. Last class, I did my "mid-course" teaching evaluations in the law school, which I do voluntarily each semester to gauge how the courses are going for the students. Almost always, I pick up on some important trends from the responses. One somewhat frustrating thing, however, is that students often want contradicting things. (e.g., "the previous class review is extremely helpful" and "the previous class review is a complete waste of time.")
The Lon Fuller quote below, from his article On Teaching Law, 3 Stan. L. Rev. 35, 42-43 (1950), helped me realize that some of the contradition, even within the same individual, is natural and expected.
Herein lies a dilemma for student and teacher. The good student really wants contradictory things from his legal education. He wants the thrill of exploring a wilderness and he wants to know where he stands every foot of the way. He wants a subject matter sufficiently malleable so that he can feel that he himself may help to shape it, so that he can have a sense of creative participation in defining and formulating it. At the same time he wants that subject so staked off and nailed down that he will feel no uneasiness in its presence and experience no fear that it may suddenly assume unfamiliar forms before his eyes.
No teacher is skillful enough to satisfy these incompatible demands. I don't think he should try. Rather he should help the student to understand himself, should help him to see that he wants (and very naturally and properly wants) inconsistent things of his legal education. Much frustration will be avoided if the student realizes that an unresolved antinomy runs through his education, and that this antinomy cannot be resolved so long as men want of life, as they do of the preparation for life called education, both security and adventure.
Thursday, October 2, 2014
For the second time, I have assigned my BA students to write their own shareholder proposals so that they can better understand the mechanics and the substance behind Rule 14-a8. As samples, I provided a link to over 500 proposals for the 2014 proxy season. We also went through the Apple Proxy Statement as a way to review corporate governance, the roles of the committees, and some other concepts we had discussed. As I reviewed the proposals this morning, I noticed that the student proposals varied widely with most relating to human rights, genetically modified food, environmental protection, online privacy, and other social factors. A few related to cumulative voting, split of the chair and CEO, poison pills, political spending, pay ratio, equity plans, and other executive compensation factors.
After they take their midterm next week, I will show them how well these proposals tend to do in the real world. Environmental, social, and governance factors (political spending and lobbying are included) constituted almost 42% of proposals, up from 36% in 2013, according to Equilar. Of note, 45% of proposals calling for a declassified board passed, with an average of 89% support, while only two proposals for the separation of chair and CEO passed. Astonishingly, Proxy Monitor, which looked at the 250 largest publicly-traded American companies, reports that just three people and their family members filed one third of all proposals. Only 4% of shareholder proposals were supported by a majority of voting shareholders. Only one of the 136 proposals related to social policy concerns in the Proxy Monitor data set passed, and that was an animal welfare proposal that the company actually supported.
I plan to use two of the student proposals verbatim on the final exam to test their ability to assess whether a company would be successful in an SEC No-Action letter process. Many of the students thought the exercise was helpful, although one of the students who was most meticulous with the assignment is now even more adamant that she does not want to do transactional law. Too bad, because she would make a great corporate lawyer. I have 7 weeks to convince her to change her mind.
October 2, 2014 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Law School, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, October 1, 2014
Yesterday, I shared with my faculty during our teaching conversations* my research and thinking on gender equality in the classroom. How do we handle gender in the classroom? My guess is that most of us teaching honestly strive to achieve and believe that we create a gender-neutral, or more accurately an equally-facilitative classroom environment. You can image the horror I felt when I received voluntary, anonymous student feedback last spring that said “you may not mean to or know you are doing this, but you treat men and women differently in class.” From whose perspective was this coming? How differently? And who gets the better treatment? I was baffled. As a female law professor, I was hoping that I got a pass on thinking critically about gender because I am female, right? Wrong.
This feedback launched my research into the area and a self-audit of the ways in which I may be explicitly treating students differently, implicitly reinforcing gender norms, and unintentionally creating a classroom environment that is different from my ideal.
Below are some observations and discoveries about my own behavior and a summary of some relevant research.
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
There is a growing drumbeat for banning laptops in the classroom, as a recent New Yorker article explained. The current case for banning laptops appeared on a Washington Post blog (among other places), in a piece written by Clay Shirky, who is a professor of media studies at New York University, and holds a joint appointment as an arts professor at NYU’s graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program in the Tisch School of the Arts, and as a Distinguished Writer in Residence in the journalism institute.
The piece makes a compelling case for banning laptops, and I agree there are a number of good reasons to do so. I’ll not recount the whole piece here (I recommend reading it), but here’s a key passage:
Anyone distracted in class doesn’t just lose out on the content of the discussion but creates a sense of permission that opting out is OK, and, worse, a haze of second-hand distraction for their peers. In an environment like this, students need support for the better angels of their nature (or at least the more intellectual angels), and they need defenses against the powerful short-term incentives to put off complex, frustrating tasks. That support and those defenses don’t just happen, and they are not limited to the individual’s choices. They are provided by social structure, and that structure is disproportionately provided by the professor, especially during the first weeks of class.
I am sympathetic to this line of thinking, and I am even more sympathetic to another point made in the article: that the laptop distractions can leak from one student engaging in social media or other non-classroom activities to those around them. That is a serious concern.
Still, I don’t ban laptops in my classes, though I have thought about it. I let students use them in my larger-enrollment classes: Business Organizations, which usually is near the cap of 70, and Energy Law, which is usually in the 34-55 range. There is no doubt the risk of distraction in those courses is higher than in others. Interestingly, in my last two seminar-style classes, I did not have a ban, either, but students rarely used laptops. They opted-in for the discussions (self-selection for certain topics can certainly help on that front).
I continue to think about how I want to proceed, but for now, I see value in allowing my students the option to choose how they wish to engage. There have been some other defenses of the idea of keeping laptops in the classroom (see, e.g., here), but my views are an amalgam of different styles and rationales.
First, part of learning, especially in becoming a life-long learner (which is what lawyers need to be), one must choose to engage. Law students are grown ups, and they must learn how they learn. They must decide. I won’t be there when they get to their job and they have to use the computer to actually do the work of a lawyer. They will, at some point, have to decide when to focus and when to play.
Second, I value diversity of styles in the classroom. That is, if most other professors are using open-book exams or take home exams, mine will probably be closed book, and closed note. I have taught using quizzes, blog posts, midterms, short papers, etc., to add some variety to the experience. Now that more classes, at least at my school, are without laptops, it actually gives me a reason to consider keeping them.
Finally, at least so far, allowing laptops is part of my deal with students. It’s part of how I connect and model for them my view and expectation that they are grown ups. I give them power, and I expect them to act appropriately. As my friend, former colleague, and teaching mentor Patti Alleva (recognized as one of the nation's best law teachers) explained in a recent National Law Journal piece, teaching is ultimately about respect and what she calls “intentionality.” She explains:
The simple fact is that teaching does not always produce learning, even if thoughtfully done. Creating that causal link between the two can be a mystifying challenge, especially given the infinite number of unknowable factors and forces that may reduce a teacher's effectiveness or a student's willingness or ability to learn.
. . . .
Teachers, as fiduciaries of their students' educational experience, owe them compassionate deference, based on a benefit of the doubt, coupled with high but reasonable expectations for a meaningful learning collaboration.
. . . .
Ultimately, the best professors are themselves students who learn as much as they teach. And they seek, not to impose ideas on students, but to help equip them with the metacognitive tools to test those ideas and use them in service of problem-solving. Hopefully, students will develop their own senses of respect — for the legal profession, for themselves as aspiring lawyers and for the learning partnership we share. So, if years ago, in that tense seminar room, each of us left with respect for our disagreements and for the pedagogic processes that allowed us to critically and creatively examine, and grow from, those differences, then invaluable learning did take place that day with respect providing a bridge between teaching and learning when other things may have temporarily obscured the connection.
I hope that as teachers we can all appreciate that we, like our students, have different views on the best way to teach and to learn. Just because we choose different paths, it doesn't make any path wrong. As long as the path is thoughtfully chosen, with a purpose and a goal, there’s a good chance it’s right for that teacher, in that moment, for that class. And if it’s not, the key is not about dwelling on the mistake. It’s about learning, adjusting, and doing a better job next time, because the best teachers really are the ones who are trying to “learn as much as they teach.”
Thursday, September 18, 2014
Teaching the definition of a "security" to business associations students who: 1) want to be litigators; 2) are afraid of math, finance, and accounting; 3) don't know anything about business; 4) only take the class because it's required; and 5) aren't allowed to distract themselves with electronics in class is no small feat.
Thankfully, as we were discussing the definition and exemptions, we also touched on IPOs. Many of the students knew nothing about IPOs but were already Alibaba customers and going through some of the registration statement made them understand the many reasons companies want to avoid going public. Of course, now that we went through some of the risk factors, my students who seemed gung ho about the IPO after watching some videos about the hype were a little less excited about it (good thing because they probably couldn't buy anyway).
Now if I can only figure out how to jazz up the corporate finance chapter next week.
September 18, 2014 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Law School, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (2)