Monday, May 30, 2016
This year, my research and writing season has started off with a bang. While grading papers and exams earlier this month, I finished writing one symposium piece and first-round-edited another. Today, I will put the final touches on PowerPoint slides for a presentation I give the second week in June (submission is required today for those) and start working on slides for the presentation I will give Friday.
All of this sets into motion a summer concert conference, Barbri, and symposium tour that (somewhere along the line) got a bit complicated. Here are the cities and dates:
New Orleans, LA - June 2-5
Atlanta, GA - June 10-11
Nashville, TN - June 17
Chicago, IL - June 23-24
Seattle, WA - June 27
I know some of my co-bloggers are joining me along the way. I look forward to seeing them. Each week, I will keep you posted on current events as best I can while managing the research and writing and presentation preparations. The topics of my summer research and teaching run the gamut from insider trading (through by-law drafting, agency, unincorporated business associations, personal property, and benefit corporations) to crowdfunding. A nice round lot.
This coming week, I will be at the Law and Society Association annual conference. My presentation at this conference relates to an early-stage project on U.S. insider trading cases. The title and abstract for the project and the currently envisioned initial paper (which I would, of course, already change in a number of ways) are as follows:
May 30, 2016 in Business Associations, Conferences, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Joan Heminway, Research/Scholarhip, Securities Regulation, Social Enterprise, Teaching, White Collar Crime, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, May 27, 2016
A few months ago, Inside Higher Ed ran a story that noted "that grades continue to rise and that A is the most common grade earned at all kinds of colleges." (emphasis added). This finding surprised me. I knew grade inflation was becoming more and more common, but I did not expect A to be the most common grade earned, especially in the undergraduate setting.
The article reported that A's accounted for "more than 42 percent of grades" and "A's are now three times more common than they were in 1960." (emphasis added).
This grade inflation trend is a mistake, in my opinion. And it is a trend that is impacting graduate schools as well. At the law school I attended, they moved from a 100-point scale and a 78-point mean when I attended, to letter grades and a much higher mean GPA. I understand why my alma mater made the move; they were very different than other law schools, even at the time, and a student with an 85% average had a tendency to be discounted by employers, even if that person was in the top 10% of her class. Business graduate schools may well have led the grade inflation charge, probably driven, at least in part, by employers who would only reimburse for a B or better in a class. Again, I think grade inflation is a mistake.
Is grade inflation simply an extension of the participation trophy phenomenon? "Entitled" might be the most common adjective I hear used to describe students today. "65% of Americans Say Millennials Are “Entitled,” 58% of Millennials Agree." And if these students grew up being rewarded for just showing up, why wouldn't they be entitled? For the most part, I agree with Pittsburg Steeler, James Harrison, who famously returned his children's participation trophies. To be clear, I think there is a place for team (and individual) achievement trophies and for most improved trophies, but trophies for just showing up seems to encourage mediocrity.
I also understand this mother's point of view, who argued in favor of participation trophies, given the situation of her "mildly intellectually disabled" son. She is concerned for "kids who don't have the chance to ever be the star athlete [or student] no matter how hard they work for it" and hopes for recognition "that not everyone is born with the same abilities." When teaching, my heart does go out to the C-student who appears to be doing his best, while a slacker gifted student may be able to get a B with minimal effort. We should encourage the determined C-student, but also teach him that achievement takes time and effort and is more difficult for some. I believe that former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden defined success well when he wrote: "Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best you are capable of becoming." I want my children and my students to know that I care about them regardless of their relative achievement. I want them to know that doing their very best is all that can be rightly expected. But I do not want to shelter them from the reality of failure. And I want them to realize that life is not always fair. And I want to help them to find a career well-suited for them, which may be aided by comparison to others over time.
In light of all of this, how should we respond in our grading?
I think there has to be a discussion at the college and university level. Individual teachers are in a tough position. At most schools, a professor who believes that Cs are average, and As are only for true excellence, would be a significant outlier and could wreck individual student GPAs. Personally, I think colleges and universities need to establish a presumptive mean grade (and maybe some distribution requirements as well). The grade mean would have to have some flexibility, especially for smaller classes, where the high achieving students may be concentrated or absent from particular classes. I know there are some who find a required grade mean limiting, and an established mean is not without faults, but I think it is a more fair system and limits the race to grade inflation that is sure to occur if more flexibility is granted.
While effort should be recognized and encouraged, grades and trophies should represent relative achievement. Competition is a reality of business. You don't get clients just by trying hard; you get clients by being the best. Students and athletes need to learn to compete, push through failure, and at some point realize that it may be best to move on to a different area.
Thursday, May 26, 2016
It is that time of year again when law profs are up to their ears in grading exams. (Unless one teaches on the continent, where exams are oral.) Given my location in the UK, I thought I would provide a few insights on what we do here. These are my own personal reflections and I may not be able to generalise about what gets done across the board, though in the UK we probably have more uniformity of policies among law schools and universities generally than in the US. What I am about to say is nowhere near complete in coverage. I want to focus here only on some differences which caught my particular attention as an American teaching in the UK.
Preliminarily, we don’t use the word “grading.” The term is “marking.” This is terminological. They mean the same thing. I’ll stick to the American terminology here.
We allocate grading and just about every other task to be done in a British law school through something called a “workload allocation.” A workload allocation is a bit of distributive justice. It is meant to allocate work in the school fairly among all faculty (we say staff but I’ll stick to the US word). So, if you are called upon to chair a busy committee, you get credit for that in the workload. The workload will include time for you to do scholarship if scholarship is part of your job.
Here comes the interesting part for those of you saddled with large classes and large amounts of exam grading: exam grading is also subject to the workload allocation. You may be asked to grade in a course (a ‘module’) you did not teach.
Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Some time ago, I wrote the post Better Teaching Idea: Try to Notice When the Wind Is at Your Back. That post emerged from some observations while running, and today's post has the same origin.
This month I have been trying to up my miles again for no particular reason. I don't run for races. I run to run. And to feel like I am at least doing something to stay in some semblance of good shape (it's not really working). I now run 4 miles most days. Maybe a little more or less, but that's the norm this month. The past two days, I ran from my house, which is at the top of a hill. It is more of a mountain when I am running up it. (I promise, I am getting somewhere with this.)
I often go down to the rail trail along the river, which is a mostly flat, pretty place to run. The last two days, I have been running from my house. This means that if I want to get any distance in, I need to go down the mountain. And, of course, it means I need to get back to the top. Now, I could stay at the top. It's relatively flat on our street, and I can run a quarter of a mile down and back and stay at the top of the mountain. That's a lot of down and backs to get in four miles. No thanks. It's easier, but not much fun. (Note: you can follow along my running escapades on Twitter @jfershee and Nike+.)
My usual route from my house takes my down the mountain, then back up the mountain, where I turn around and retrace my steps. That means I am running up the steepest part of the run at mile 3.5. It's not always my favorite part of the run, even if it is my most triumphant. As I was slogging my way back up the mountain, my mind wandered and I caught myself thinking again, "It would have been a lot easier to just stay at the top." And it is. It's true in running, and it's true in most everything else we do.
It doesn't matter how you get to the top. Once you're there, it's easier to stay there than it was to get there. It may take a lot of work to get to the top. For most people, it does. But someone can just take you to the top, too. Once you're there, it's easier to stay there. And once you leave, it's hard to get back up.
Knowing all of this is important. And it is important to remember that not everyone has the same amount to climb to get to the top of whatever it is they are climbing. I did not come from money, but I had everything I needed. I am a straight, white male. The data show that starts you ahead of the game. I went to good public schools. I went to college. And law school. This required a lot of work to move ahead, but the opportunity was there for me in a way it isn't for many.
It's easy to start thinking that everyone is starting from the same point. And it's a lot easier to notice the people who are ahead of you on the way up. It's not that often that we look back, which can skew our perspective in unproductive ways.
As teachers, it's important to recognize that we can be part of helping our students move up their mountain. And they may not be starting from the same place we were. They may have further to go. Some may have less. It's our job to help them get where they want go. As a corollary, it's also important to remember that just because they might have farther to go, it's not our job to limit the mountains they can climb. To the contrary, it's our job to help them see that the sky truly is the limit.
That's my take away for the day: as hard as it is to keep climbing to the top, don't ever think you're doing it alone. Appreciate who helped you. Keep slogging. And when you get to the top, don't forget to see if you can help someone else up.
Friday, May 6, 2016
The Institute for Law Teaching and Learning 2016 summer conference is focusing on "the many ways that law schools are preparing students to enter the real world of law practice." The conference is being held at Washburn University School of Law. The agenda and registration information are available here.
It is commencement season – our commencement at Belmont University is tomorrow. Commencement season means commencement speeches. Commencement speeches often comes with an extra helping of cliché advice. If I had to guess, no piece of cliché advice is more common in commencement speeches than “follow your passion in your career.”
For example, in Steve Job’s famous Stanford commencement speech he said:
You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.
Jim Carey, in an otherwise pretty original and somewhat odd commencement speech, included some of the cliché “follow your passion” advice when he said:
My father could have been a great comedian, but he didn’t believe that was possible for him, and so he made a conservative choice. Instead, he got a safe job as an accountant, and when I was 12 years old, he was let go from that safe job and our family had to do whatever we could to survive. I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which was that you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.
Like almost any cliché, the “follow your passion” instruction contains some wisdom. I do think there are students who take conventional jobs out of fear, and fear shouldn’t drive a decision as important as career choice. That said, I also think this cliché advice can do a good bit of harm. I see students overly focused on trying to find work that fits with their current interests --- music, sports, travel, etc. --- or work that they think will “change the world" and make them feel good in the process. As a result, students often ignore work that may seem ordinary, but is just as important, if not as glamorous.
Accounting, mentioned in Jim Carey’s speech, is actually one of those areas that students often pass over as “ordinary work” or turn to reluctantly, out of fear. Few people I know have a natural passion for accounting. But I have seen a passion for accounting develop over time. As the philosopher William James said:
Action seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not.
Most work is “ordinary” work. Even the splashy work celebrated in commencement speeches (and indirectly celebrated by the choice of commencement speakers) has ordinary elements, or was, at the very least, preceded by less unique work. I worry that students, attempting to follow the advice of Jobs, Carey, and others, bounce from job to job trying to find work that makes them feel good immediately and all the time. While I don’t necessary think “do what you love” is bad advice, I think it needs to be tempered with “find work the world needs and that fits your talents,” “do good work wherever you are,” and “know that most work is needed and important, even if it does not grab headlines.” I wish we took more time at our universities to celebrate the day-in, day-out grind of the faithful, ordinary worker. And I am trying to impart to my students that their future work matters, even if it seems common and doesn’t receive much recognition.
Wednesday, May 4, 2016
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.
Thursday, April 28, 2016
Hello, everyone - I'm passing this along in case any of our readers have an interest, or know anyone who might have an interest. And if anyone needs convincing as to why they should spend a semester or a year in New Orleans, email me privately and allow me to extol the city's virtues.
Tulane Law School is currently accepting applications for a visiting tax professor for either the Fall of 2016 or for the entire 2016-2017 Academic Year. Visitors would be expected to teach basic Income Tax and other tax related courses. Applicants at any career stage are encouraged. To apply, please submit a CV along with a statement of interest and any supporting documentation. Applications and questions may be directed to Vice Dean Ronald J. Scalise Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tulane University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer committed to excellence through diversity. All eligible candidates are invited to apply.
Monday, April 18, 2016
Call for Panels and Papers
Society of American Law Teachers (SALT) Teaching Conference
in partnership with the
LatCrit-SALT Junior Faculty Development Workshop
Friday and Saturday, September 30 and October 1, 2016
The John Marshall Law School, Chicago, Illinois
From the Classroom to the Community: Teaching and Advancing Social Justice
In 2015, law school applications hit a fifteen-year low. The drop reflects a radically changed employment market and a prevailing view that law school is no longer a sound investment. To attract qualified applicants and respond to a changing marketplace, many law schools have embraced experiential learning mandates and other “practice-ready” curricular shifts. The plunge in applications has also prompted law schools to lower admissions standards. In turn, the admission of students with below-average LSAT scores and modest college grade point averages has created new concerns about bar passage, job placement, and prospects for longterm professional success.
In this environment, the legal academy is faced with unprecedented challenges. On one hand, pressure exists to ensure that students are adequately prepared to navigate a courtroom, draft legal documents, and exhibit other “practice-ready” skills upon graduation. At the same time, law professors are urged to cover a wide spectrum of theory, rules, and doctrine to increase prospects for bar passage. In the struggle to achieve both goals, the critical need to integrate social justice teaching into the curriculum is often overlooked, rejected as extraneous, or abandoned in light of time constraints.
To the contrary, social justice teaching plays an essential role in improving legal analysis, enhancing practical skills, and cultivating professional development. Moreover, social justice teaching can help instill passion, commitment, and focus into students burdened with debt and facing an uncertain job market. Most important, as the legal marketplace contracts, access to counsel for lower- and middle-income people continues to grow -- creating a pressing need for effective and committed pro bono lawyers.
In response to new educational and professional challenges, law schools and the legal profession must join in a concerted effort to integrate social justice teaching into the classroom and expand social justice throughout the community. This conference will provide opportunities to engage in broad, substantive, and supportive discussions about the role of legal education and the legal profession in teaching students to become effective social justice advocates and the ways faculty can set an example through their own activism.
Suggested topics include, but are not limited to:
1. Innovative methods to incorporate social justice concepts into the law school curriculum.
2. Strategies to encourage students to become more engaged in academic and community activism.
3. Collaborative efforts between law schools and the legal profession to respond to the need for greater
access to legal services.
4. Techniques to help law students and new lawyers develop resilience, stamina, and “grit” to face the
enduring challenges of social justice advocacy.
5. Responses to the ever-increasing cost of legal education and its impact on social justice and access
We welcome other related topics and encourage a variety of session formats. You may submit a proposal as an individual speaker, as a panel, or group. Whatever your topic and format, please use the required format as provided below for your proposal.
Please send your proposals to Hugh Mundy (email@example.com) by June 15, 2016.
Other members of the SALT Teaching Conference Committee include Margaret Barry (firstname.lastname@example.org), Emily Benfer (email@example.com), Davida Finger (firstname.lastname@example.org), Allyson Gold (email@example.com), and Aníbal Rosario Lebrón (firstname.lastname@example.org). Please share information about
the Teaching Conference with your colleagues, particularly new and junior faculty, who are not yet members of SALT. Visit www.saltlaw.org for additional details.
Required Format for Proposed Presentations
Please submit all proposals by using the bolded headings set forth below.
1. Title of proposed presentation
2. Presenter name and contact information
Submit contact information for each individual who will participate in the presentation; however, you must identify one person to serve as the primary contact person. The contact person is responsible for receiving and transmitting information about the SALT conference to the other members of the panel.
Presenter’s school (as listed in the AALS Directory) and mailing address
Office phone number
Mobile phone number
Other panel members (if applicable):
Presenter’s school (as listed in the AALS Directory)
3. Summary of the proposed presentation.
The description or narrative portion of the proposal should accurately and succinctly describe the content, format, and anticipated duration of the presentation. The ideal length of the summary is approximately one page of double-spaced text.
4. Related papers or documents (if applicable).
We do not expect all submissions to include related scholarship or documents- especially at this early point in the process; however, if you have any related documents that help to support or illustrate your proposed presentation, feel free to attach them to your submission.
Imagine This: First-Semester Second-Year Students in Your Business Associations Class Who Already Have a Sense of Transactional Practice . . .
This is not a pipe dream! I honestly believe that in the fall of 2017, this will be a reality for me. (I typically teach Business Associations in the fall semester to a large number of students who understand "cases," not "deals.")
The reason for my good spirits and honest belief in the positive change in my students? Our new 1L curriculum, which is rolling out this fall. No doubt, we will find some changes that need to be made as we implement our relatively bold plan. But I am truly excited that the new first-year curriculum exposes every student to a transactional experience in the first year of law school.
There are many reasons for implementing this kind of change, of course. Among other things, this new approach to the first year at UT Law responds to suggestions that we got from our students and represents an effort to better connect the 1L year to our upper division curriculum (on which we have spent a lot of time over the years). The new 1L transactional offering is part of a larger plan constructed by a College of Law committee, chaired by my colleague (and e-discovery queen) Paula Schaefer, that spent several years looking at our overall curriculum and that of many other schools before fashioning a number of alternative options for the faculty to review.
The implementation involves a lot of work. Many colleagues are chipping in to construct new courses and re-fashion existing courses to meet the new curricular requirements. It takes a village. I am grateful for all of the work being put in. I work with a great bunch of folks.
An article in the National Jurist last week describes the new 1L curriculum in general. Our academic policies, however, add some detail. I quote from them below, with some reformatting for easier reading in this space.
For students entering in or after Fall 2016, the first-year curriculum is as follows:
Civil Procedure I* (3)
Contracts I (3)
Criminal Law (3)
Lawyering & Professionalism (1) Legal Process I (3)
Torts I* (3)
Civil Procedure II (3)
Contracts II (3)
Legal Process II (3)
Torts II (2)
Transactional Lawyering Lab (1)
*First-year students enroll in an experiential section of either Civil Procedure I or Torts I. The experiential sections include three graded, simulation-based assignments. Each simulation places students in the role of lawyer, raises professionalism issues, requires students to perform a lawyering skill, and results in a written and/or oral work product. In addition to a final examination, the course also includes a midterm exam that includes at least one essay question.
We are pretty excited to get this new curricular show on the road. I look forward to sharing more with you as we see how students react in the short term and long term. But my UT Law colleagues and I are very hopeful that this new approach to the first year will lay a strong foundation for upper division academic work and for practice.
Thursday, April 14, 2016
Today in my Business and Human Rights class I thought about Ann's recent post where she noted that socially responsible investor Calpers was rethinking its decision to divest from tobacco stocks. My class has recently been discussing the human rights impacts of mega sporting events and whether companies such as Rio Tinto (the medal makers), Omega (the time keepers), Coca Cola (sponsor), McDonalds (sponsor), FIFA (a nonprofit that runs worldwide soccer) and the International Olympic Committee (another corporation) are in any way complicit with state actions including the displacement of indigenous peoples in Brazil, the use of slavery in Qatar, human trafficking, and environmental degradation. I asked my students the tough question of whether they would stop eating McDonalds food or wearing Nike shoes because they were sponsors of these events. I required them to consider a number of factors to decide whether corporate sponsors should continue their relationships with FIFA and the IOC. I also asked whether the US should refuse to send athletes to compete in countries with significant human rights violations.
Because we are in Miami, we also discussed the topic du jour, Carnival Cruise line's controversial decision to follow Cuban law, which prohibits certain Cuban-born citizens from traveling back to Cuba on sea vessels, while permitting them to return to the island by air. Here in Miami, this is big news with the Mayor calling it a human rights violation by Carnival, a County contractor. A class action lawsuit has been filed seeking injunctive relief. This afternoon, Secretary of State John Kerry weighed in saying Carnival should not discriminate and calling upon Cuba to change its rules.
So back to Ann's post. In an informal poll in which I told all students to assume they would cruise, only one of my Business and Human Rights students said they would definitely boycott Carnival because of its compliance with Cuban law. Many, who are foreign born, saw it as an issue of sovereignty of a foreign government. About 25% of my Civil Procedure students would boycott (note that more of them are of Cuban descent, but many of the non-Cuban students would also boycott). These numbers didn't surprise me because as I have written before, I think that consumers focus on convenience, price, and quality- or in this case, whether they really like the cruise itinerary rather than the ethics of the product or service.
Tomorrow morning (Friday), I will be speaking on a panel with Jennifer Diaz of Diaz Trade Law, two members of the US government, and Cortney Morgan of Husch Blackwell discussing Cuba at the ABA International Law Section Spring Meeting in New York. If you're at the meeting and you read this before 9 am, pass by our session because I will be polling our audience members too. And stay tuned to the Cuba issue. I'm not sure that the Carnival case will disprove my thesis about the ineffectiveness of consumer pressure because if the Secretary of State has weighed in and the Communist Party of Cuba is already meeting next week, it's possible that change could happen that gets Carnival off the hook and the consumer clamor may have just been background noise. In the meantime, Carnival declared a 17% dividend hike earlier today and its stock was only down 11 cents in the midst of this public relations imbroglio. Notably, after hours, the stock was trading up.
April 14, 2016 in Ann Lipton, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Human Rights, International Law, Law School, Marcia Narine, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, March 18, 2016
Law school can and should be an enriching intellectual experience. For many, however, the three years of law school can also be extremely unhealthy.
What responsibility, if any, do we have as legal academics to encourage healthy behavior by our students? How do we do so?
Many law students have horrendous sleep, exercise, and eating habits. Many of these habits carry over into practice, and probably play at least some role in the numerous, documented health and addiction issues facing law students and lawyers. For undergraduate students, many schools mandate physical education and/or nutrition courses. Should these courses be offered to or mandatory for law students?
Are there things that we are doing as legal educators that encourage unhealthy habits? For example, is testing only once a semester part of the problem or is it simply preparing them for stressful, important events like the bar exam or a big trial?
Just opening this topic for discussion; I don't think I have good answers yet. Feel free to respond in the comments or send me thoughts via e-mail. I think I lean toward letting law students make their own decisions in this area, especially because some students are older, second-career types. But, given all the problems law students and lawyers face, I wonder if it would be valuable to require something like a one-credit, ungraded course of health and nutrition, which include some exercise time and general health instruction.
Friday, March 4, 2016
For those of you who talk about the recent problems at Volkswagen in your classes, this recently posted article may be useful. I connected with Charles Elson briefly when I lived in Delaware, and he is certainly an authority on corporate governance. The article is available here and the abstract is posted below.
Although the primary cause of the emissions scandal at Volkswagen appears to have been misfeasance and malfeasance on a corporate-wide scale, we argue that such a problematic culture existed at Volkswagen because of the composition of the board itself in combination with the unique governance structure known as “co-determination,” that defines many German companies, including VW. There are three major problems from a corporate governance standpoint with the Volkswagen board. First, is the interest-conflicting nature of the dual-class stock held by the dominant shareholding Porsche and Piech families. Second, is the presence of a government as a major shareholder. And third is the organization of its characteristically German “two-tier” board around the principle of co-determination, which mandated significant labor representation. We argue that each of these elements of the VW ownership and governance structure contributed in varying degrees to the board failure of oversight that led to the management decision to evade emissions regulations.
Presidential candidate Donald Trump has repeatedly stated that he never plans to eat Oreo cookies again because the Nabisco plant is closing and moving to Mexico. Trump, who has starred in an Oreo commercial in the past, is actually wrong about the nature of Nabisco’s move, and it’s unlikely that he will affect Nabisco’s sales notwithstanding his tremendous popularity among some in the electorate right now. Mr. Trump has also urged a boycott of Apple over how that company has handled the FBI’s request over the San Bernardino terrorist’s cell phone.
Strangely, I haven’t heard a call for a boycott of Apple products following shareholders’ rejection of a proposal to diversify the board last week. I would think that Reverend and former candidate Al Sharpton, who called for the boycott of the Oscars due to lack of diversity would call for a boycott of all things Apple. But alas, for now Trump seems to be the lone voice calling for such a move (and not because of diversity). In fact, I’ve never walked past an Apple Store without thinking that there must be a 50% off sale on the merchandise. There are times when the lines are literally out the door. Similarly, despite the #Oscarssowhite controversy and claims from many that the boycott worked because the Oscars had historically low ratings, viewership among black film enthusiasts was only down 2% this year.
So why do people constantly call for boycotts? According to a Freakonomics podcast from January, they don’t actually work. Historians and economists made it clear in interviews that they only succeed as part of an established social movement. In some cases they can backfire leading to a "buycott," as it did for Chik Fil A. The podcast also put into context much of what we believe are the boycott “success stories,” including the Montgomery Bus Boycott with Rosa Parks and the sit in movement related to apartheid in the 1980s.
I have spent much of my time looking at disclosure legislation that is based in part on the theory that informed consumers and socially-responsible investors will boycott or divest holdings (see here, here, and here). In particular, I have focused on the Dodd-Frank conflict minerals corporate governance disclosure and why I don’t think that using name and shame laws work—namely because consumers talk a good game in surveys but actually don’t purchase based on social criteria nearly as much as NGOs and legislators believe.
The SEC was supposed to decide whether to file a cert petition to the Supreme Court on the part of the conflict minerals legislation that was struck down on First Amendment grounds by March 9th but they now have an extension until April. Since I wrote an amicus brief in the case at the lower level, I have a particular interest in this filing. I had planned my business and human rights class on disclosures and boycotts around that cert. filing to make it even more relevant to my students, who will do a role play simulation drafted by Professor Erika George representing civil society (NGOs, investors, and other stakeholders), the electronics industry, the US government (state department, Congress, and SEC), Congolese militia, the Congolese government, and the Congolese people. The only group they won’t represent is US consumers, even though that’s the target group of the Dodd-Frank disclosure. I did tweak Professor George’s materials but purposely chose not to add in the US consumer group. After my students step out of their roles, we will have the honest discussions about their own views and buying habits. I’ll try not to burst any boycott bubbles.
March 4, 2016 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Human Rights, International Business, International Law, Law School, Legislation, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Shareholders, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (1)
Thursday, February 25, 2016
Next week is our Spring Break and I plan to catch up on some television and movie watching. Many of my former business associations students have raved about the show Billions, described online as follows:
Wealth, influence and corruption collide in this drama set in New York. Shrewd U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades is embroiled in a high-stakes game of predator vs. prey with the ambitious hedge-fund king, Bobby Axelrod. To date, Rhoades has never lost an insider trading case -- he's 81-0 -- but when criminal evidence turns up against Axelrod, he proceeds cautiously in building the case against Axelrod, who employs Rhoades' wife, psychiatrist Wendy, as a performance coach for his company. Wendy, who has been in her position longer than Chuck has been in his, refuses to give up her career for her husband's legal crusade against Axelrod. Both men use their intelligence, power and influence to outmaneuver the other in this battle over billions.
Now that my students are watching it, I feel compelled to do so as well, and not just because Australian papers play up the copious amounts of money and sex depicted in the series. I’m glad that my students are watching any television show that deals with the financial industry but even more gratified that they are emailing me telling me that now they understand some of the concepts that they see in this show and others such as HBO’s Silicon Valley.
Are there any other television shows or movies I should catch up on during Spring Break in between grading, writing, and watching Suits (for my Civil Procedure students)? I like to keep up with what my students watch because I use some of the story lines for in class hypos and exam questions. I also ask students to write reflection papers applying what they have learned in class and analyzing what Hollywood got wrong. I look forward to your suggestions.
Our Kentucky "brother," Tom Rutledge, sent me a link to a super blog post yesterday on Mortgage Grader Inc. v. Ward & Olivo, a limited liability partnership case currently before the New Jersey Supreme Court. Tom's focus in his post was the limited liability aspect of the case, which is fascinating--and more than a bit unsettling for those practicing in jurisdictions like New Jersey and Kentucky that require law firms organizing limited liability partnerships to maintain malpractice insurance. The question before the court: whether, in the absence of an express provision in the partnership statute, the failure of a law firm organized as a limited liability partnership to maintain required malpractice insurance results in the loss of the partnership's limited liability status. The trial court ruled that the lapse of malpractice insurance caused a loss of limited liability status; the appeals court reversed.
But Tom also mentions another aspect of the case in his post that I want to call out here. Specifically, he notes references in the appellate court opinion to the conversion of a partnership to a limited liability partnership. Here's what he says on that point:
One potentially disturbing aspect of the language used by the Court of Appeals and in the oral argument is the notion that the loss of LLP status and the treatment of the firm as a general partnership is some sort of conversion. But it isn’t. An LLP is a general partnership that has elected into a special status – it is still a general partnership but for the rule of partner limited liability. . . .
This comment reminded me of co-blogger Josh Fershee's super-helpful obsession (maybe too strong a word?) with "limited liability corporation" as an incorrect judicial (and other) descriptor of the limited liability company business form. (See, e.g., his December 2015 post here.) And far be it from me to disagree with either of these guys in making their respective points about these labeling inaccuracies!
As a separate point, I want to call out the fact that this area of partnership law can be important both for bar examinations (thinking of all those folks suffering through that test this week . . .) and IRL. In fact, I was asked a question recently about the Tennessee provision on limited liability elections by a BARBRI student. (Little-known fact: I teach the Tennessee BARBRI segments on agency, unincorporated entities, and personal property.) The student's question did not inappropriately refer to a conversion of a partnership into a limited liability partnership, but it did point out several differences in Tennessee law in this area that I want to mention.
Monday, February 22, 2016
Friday, February 19, 2016
I am posting this at the request of our Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Alex Long:
The University of Tennessee invites applications for a possible visiting professor for the fall or spring semester in 2016-17. The position would involve teaching Business Associations and one other business-related course (including, perhaps, Contracts I or II). If interested, please submit a CV and cover letter via email to Alex Long, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs & Professor of Law, The University of Tennessee College of Law at email@example.com. Prior teaching experience (law school or broader university teaching) is strongly preferred. The closing date for applications is Monday, February 29, 2016.
I also am happy to respond to questions about this opening.
Thursday, February 18, 2016
Today I tried an experiment in flipping the classroom. Instead of lecturing in class, I sent my Civil Procedure students a number of videos to watch in advance so that we could work through complex problems during class. I admit that I did this because I dread teaching supplemental jurisdiction, but I was surprised by the positive feedback that I received from the students. This is a topic that confuses students every year and although we are not finished with the unit, it does seem less painful this time around. I did not use my own videos, but I will be developing some soon for both Civil Procedure and for the next time I teach Business Associations.
I use a modified version of the flipped classroom already for Business Associations when I send the students YouTube clips to help them increase their understanding on complex issues but it doesn’t come close to having the whole lecture on video so that we can focus on drafting or working through hypos. In my Transnational Business and Human Rights Class I also use videos and extensive at home readings and limited lecture so that we can do simulations, but again, that is not the classic flipped classroom model.
Have any of you experimented with a flipped classroom for all or some of your business courses? If so, what are the pros and cons? Please comment below or send me a private email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday, February 5, 2016
Starting on the first day of my Advanced Business Associations course, I attempt to tease out the policy underpinnings and theoretical conceptions of entity law and, in particular, corporate law. This turns out to be a somewhat difficult task, since most students in the course, to the extent that they remember anything at all from their experience in the foundational Business Associations course, are more focused on what a corporation is and does than why we might have one in the first place. As the semester proceeds and the readings unfold, the students get more comfortable talking about the rationale for certain aspects of the corporate form and why corporate law structures and operating rules promise to achieve the goals of those organizing a firm as a corporation. But it's a slow process.
I have to believe that some of my fellow law professors face similar challenges with their students. I also believe that instructors in other educational settings face analogous difficulties when they incorporate abstract notions into the teaching of more "black letter" (for want of a better term at this point in my day) concepts. My approach has been to assign readings of primary and secondary material and use classroom discussion time and projects to reveal things about why the corporation exists, why venturers form them (as opposed to conducting business as sole proprietors or using another business form), and what issues we observe and might expect to observe as among corporate constituents as time unfolds. So, I plan to cover everything from the general role of entity law in fostering the conduct of business (by offering off-the-shelf rules for use by venturers in structuring and operating businesses) to notions of corporate personhood and the role of the corporation in society.
I am wondering if there is an alternative to my approach that any of you use in a similar course, or whether there is a particularly good set of foundational readings that you use to approach this set of issues in a business law offering. At the end of this semester, I will have taught this course in this general format twice, and I will be taking stock to shore it up to make sure the third time's a charm. [FYI, I start the semester with Bebchuk and Bainbridge, take a tour through the public company using the Disney case and its corporate documents, then move on to compare/contrast the publicly held firm with closely held corporations and unincorporated business associations before moving into some depth topics (M&A, complex business litigation, corporate social responsibility and the benefit corporation, etc.). It is a two-hour course.] Suggestions and other thoughts in comments or by email are welcomed.