Monday, May 16, 2022

AALS Section on Business Associations - Call for Papers for 2023 Annual Meeting

Dear Section Members --

On behalf of the Executive Committee for the AALS section on Business Associations, I'm writing with details of our two sessions at the 2023 AALS Annual Meeting, which will be held in San Diego, CA from January 4-7, 2023.

First, our main program is entitled, "Corporate Governance in a Time of Global Uncertainty.” We anticipate selecting up to two papers from this call for papers. To submit, please submit an abstract or a draft of an unpublished paper to Professor Mira Ganor, mganor@law.utexas.edu, on or before Friday, August 19, 2022. Authors should include their name and contact information in their submission email but remove all identifying information from their submission. Please include the words “AALS - BA- Paper Submission” in the subject line of your submission email.

Second, we are excited to announce that we will again hold a "New Voices in Business Law" program, which will bring together junior and senior scholars in the field of business law for the purpose of providing junior scholars with feedback and guidance on their draft articles. Junior scholars who are interested in participating in the program should send a draft or summary of at least five pages to Professor Summer Kim at skim@law.uci.edu on or before Friday, August 19, 2022. The cover email should state the junior scholar’s institution, tenure status, number of years in his or her current position, whether the paper has been accepted for publication, and, if not, when the scholar anticipates submitting the article to law reviews. The subject line of the email should read: “Submission—Business Associations WIP Program.”

For further details on both sessions, please see the attached calls for papers. [Ed. Note: the calls for papers are included below.]

Thank you,

James Park
Chair, AALS Business Associations Section

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Call for Papers for the
Section on Business Associations Program on
Corporate Governance in a Time of Global Uncertainty
January 4-7, 2023, AALS Annual Meeting

The AALS Section on Business Associations is pleased to announce a Call for Papers for its program at the 2023 AALS Annual Meeting in San Diego, CA. The topic is Corporate Governance in a Time of Global Uncertainty. Up to two presenters will be selected for the section’s program.

Businesses are operating at an exceptional level of global uncertainty.  Mounting pressures from myriad fronts leave boards of directors to navigate new frontiers while maneuvering lingering challenges.  In addition to adjusting to uncertain economic and financial implications of geopolitical events and the global pandemic, businesses are asked to assume a distinct social role.  Proliferation of calls for corporate disengagement from certain states comes amidst continued disruption in supply chains and mounting diversity, inequality, climate, and cybersecurity challenges, as well as increased disclosure requirements.  This panel will explore the implications of global uncertainty on corporate governance and the role of corporations and their boards in these changing times.

Submission Information:

Please submit an abstract or a draft of an unpublished paper to Mira Ganor, mganor@law.utexas.edu, on or before Friday, August 19, 2022.  Authors should include their name and contact information in their submission email but remove all identifying information from their submission.  Please include the words “AALS - BA- Paper Submission” in the subject line of your submission email.  Papers will be selected after review by members of the Executive Committee of the Section.  Presenters will be responsible for paying their registration fee, hotel, and travel expenses.

We recognize that the past couple of years have been incredibly challenging and that these challenges have not fallen equally across the academy.  We encourage scholars to err on the side of submission, including by submitting early stage or incomplete drafts.  Scholars whose papers are selected will have until December to finalize their papers.   

Please direct any questions to Mira Ganor, the University of Texas School of Law, at mganor@law.utexas.edu.

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Call for Papers
AALS Section on Business Association
New Voices in Business Law
January 4-7, 2023, AALS Annual Meeting

The AALS Section on Business Associations is pleased to announce a “New Voices in Business Law” program during the 2023 AALS Annual Meeting in San Diego, CA. This works-in-progress program will bring together junior and senior scholars in the field of business law for the purpose of providing junior scholars with feedback and guidance on their draft articles.  To complement its other session at the Meeting, this Section is especially interested in papers relating to corporate governance in a time of global uncertainty, but it welcomes submissions on all business-related topics.

PROGRAM FORMAT:  Scholars whose papers are selected will provide a brief overview of their paper, and participants will then break into simultaneous roundtables dedicated to the individual papers.  Two senior scholars will provide commentary and lead the discussion about each paper.

SUBMISSION PROCEDURE:  Junior scholars who are interested in participating in the program should send a draft or summary of at least five pages to Professor Summer Kim at skim@law.uci.edu on or before Friday, August 19, 2022.  The cover email should state the junior scholar’s institution, tenure status, number of years in his or her current position, whether the paper has been accepted for publication, and, if not, when the scholar anticipates submitting the article to law reviews.  The subject line of the email should read: “Submission—Business Associations WIP Program.”

Junior scholars whose papers are selected for the program will need to submit a draft to the senior scholar commentators by Friday, December 9, 2022.

ELIGIBILITY:  Junior scholars at AALS member law schools are eligible to submit papers.  “Junior scholars” includes untenured faculty who have been teaching full-time at a law school for ten or fewer years.  The Committee will give priority to papers that have not yet been accepted for publication or submitted to law reviews. 

Pursuant to AALS rules, faculty at fee-paid non-member law schools, foreign faculty, adjunct and visiting faculty (without a full-time position at an AALS member law school), graduate students, fellows, and non-law school faculty are not eligible to submit.  Please note that all presenters at the program are responsible for paying their own annual meeting registration fees and travel expenses.

May 16, 2022 in Business Associations, Call for Papers, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Family Business, Research/Scholarhip | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 4, 2022

Business Associations & Relationships on the Future Bar Exam: A Virtual Symposium (Part V)

It's been one week since I announced and started posting in this virtual symposium on the NextGen Bar Exam. Thanks to Josh, Ben, and John for joining me in commenting on the proposed content scope outline relating to Business Associations and Relationships.  You can find their posts here, here, and here, respectively. 

We have raised issues about terminology.  And there are a few areas that are lacking in clarity or specificity.  In addition, two important overarching points have emerged to date in our posts.  One is that it is important to indicate the source of the law being tested, since the default rules operative in various areas of LLC and corporate law are not the same in the dominant national statutory frameworks.  (I offer another example of how this may matter in the discussion of corporate director and officer fiduciary duties, below.)  The other is that the default rules in business associations law tell only part of the story.   Constitutional issues, authorized private ordering, and decisional law that both supplements and interprets state legislative enactments can all play roles.

In this post, I offer a few more points that illustrate or add to these observations.

Partnership Nomenclature

The outline notes that distinctions between or among partnerships (denominated "general partnerships" in the outline), limited liability partnerships, and limited partnerships will be tested.  That seems appropriate.  But the next few prompt all refer to "general partners."  Neither partnerships nor limited liability partnerships have general partners.  They just have partners.  Only limited partnerships distinguish general partners from limited partners.

Partnership Governance

Only the duty of loyalty between and among partners and the partnership is proposed to be tested as a matter of partnership fiduciary duties.  Why not care?  And what about the obligation of good faith and fair dealing?  These governance rules are all equally important.  And duties of care and loyalty exist in agency law, unincorporated business associations law, and corporate law.

Moreover, the outline notes under "Duty of loyalty": "This topic includes the consequences of a partner acting outside the scope of the partner’s authority to bind the partnership."  This annotation is perplexing to me.  I have two principal substantive comments about it.

First, a partner's authority to bind the partnership is a matter of agency authority--the authority to transact with third parties.  A partner's fiduciary duties are a matter of internal governance (as the relevant outline topic, "Rights of . . . partners among themselves" indicates).  Two separate parts of the Revised Uniform Partnership Act (the "RUPA") address relations with third parties and internal governance--Articles 3 and 4, respectively.  So, the annotation introduces an apples-and-oranges problem--the illumination of an internal governance rule by reference to a third-party relations rule.

Second, the duty of loyalty of partners in a RUPA partnership is relatively specific.  It consists of three exclusive components: 

(1) to account to the partnership and hold as trustee for it any property, profit, or benefit derived by the partner in the conduct and winding up of the partnership business or derived from a use by the partner of partnership property, including the appropriation of a partnership opportunity;

(2) to refrain from dealing with the partnership in the conduct or winding up of the partnership business as or on behalf of a party having an interest adverse to the partnership; and

(3) to refrain from competing with the partnership in the conduct of the partnership business before the dissolution of the partnership.

It is hard for me to see how a partner acting outside of their agency authority would implicate any of the three components of the duty of loyalty.  That conduct does not, of itself, result in the partner: deriving or taking any property, profit, or benefit of or belonging to the partnership; having conflicting interests, or competing with the partnership.

Corporations and LLCs, Generally

I agree with John that LLCs and corporations should each have their own category.  The doctrinal rules (structure, governance, and finance) are simply too different.  The general categories under each (and under partnerships, for that matter)--formation, management and control, fiduciary duties, agency, third-party liability, etc.--can be almost exactly the same.   Topics like veil piercing, pre-organizational contracting, and shareholder/member litigation that apply to both corporations and LLCs in similar ways can be noted in the outline for each with a cross-reference to the other or can be called out separately in the outline (with any unique corporate or LLC nuances addressed in that broader context).

Corporate Director (and Officer) Fiduciary Duties

While Josh and Ben have focused some pointed and valuable comments on jurisdictional differences in limited liability company fiduciary duties (comments that I endorse), I am at least as troubled by jurisdictional differences in corporate fiduciary duties.  I have written in the past in this space (here, here, and here) about the challenges in teaching corporate fiduciary duty law.  Delaware's classification of Caremark oversight duties as good faith questions actionable as breaches of the duty of loyalty runs counter to decisional law in other jurisdictions that characterizes oversight failures as breaches of the duty of care.  In sum, the relative narrowness of the fiduciary duty of care in Delaware, the capaciousness of Delaware's duty of loyalty, and the Delaware judiciary's reinterpretation of a director's obligation of good faith as a component of the duty of loyalty distinguish the law of director fiduciary duties in Delaware from the law of fiduciary duties elsewhere. 

Generally

Like others, I have doubts about the fairness and efficacy of bar exams as meaningful gatekeepers for the profession.  But I assume good faith in constructing the NextGen Bar Exam.  With that in mind, any bar exam should assess the law that licensed practitioners should know.  And it should use normative terms in signaling the law to be tested and recognize the use of normative terms in evaluating performance.  In this regard, it is important to note that there are parallel types of legal rules in agency, unincorporated business associations law, and corporate law.  There are recognized, well-worn labels for describing these component legal rules in agency and business associations law.  Why reinvent the wheel?  If parallel legal doctrine from business associations and relationships laws is to be tested, the content scope outline should use the acknowledged customary descriptors for those rules.

These comments round out my thoughts on the "Business Associations and Relationships" portion of the proposed Content Scope Outlines for the NextGen Bar Exam of the Future.  I welcome additional posts and any responses here on the BLPB, and as I noted in my initial post, comments can be filed with the National Conference of Bar Examiners hereThe comment period closes on April 18, 2022. 

April 4, 2022 in Business Associations, Corporations, Joan Heminway, LLCs, Partnership | Permalink | Comments (0)

Business Associations & Relationships on the Future Bar Exam: A Virtual Symposium (Part IV) - Guest Post from John Rice

The following symposium post comes to us from John Rice at Duquesne Law.

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I’m pleased to add my voice among those commenting as part of this virtual symposium on the recently-released Content Scope Outline for the “Business Associations & Relationships” for the NextGen Bar Exam. Despite my general skepticism of the efficacy of any bar examination, I tend to view the draft outlines as an improvement above the current exam outline. I join with my colleagues Joan, Joshua, and Benjamin in stressing how imperative it is that the NCBE specify the specific sources of law from which these topics are drawn.

In terms of substance, I favor separating LLCs into their own category rather than merely being a sub-set of corporation law. Additionally, the business litigator in me feels compelled to note that the draft outline’s description of “Shareholder and member litigation: direct and derivative litigation” is underdeveloped. I want my students to recognize litigation as a form of shareholder control over the corporation and to evaluate the standing prerequisites and demand requirement. Likewise, I would prefer more attention be paid to the specific remedies available in business disputes, including declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, and the appointment of receivers and custodians.

In this post, however, I wish to briefly move our conversation of the “Business Associations & Relationships” coverage to consider the “Foundational Skill and Associated Lawyering Task” of legal research. The NCBE has identified two “skills” under the umbrella of legal research: First, the ability to engage in statutory interpretation, and second, legal issue spotting in a “client file.” In doing so, the NCBE under-comprehends the skills associated with legal research and overlooks what I consider to be one of the most fundamental legal research skills, and that skill is one particularly well-situated to be tested in the context of business law; that is, synthesis of separate legal authorities into one analysis.

Of all the subjects identified to be tested on the NextGen Bar Exam, Business Associations is the only subject that would require a test candidate to consider the interplay of separate legal authorities: the constitutional delegations of authority, the default rules created by the applicable statutory scheme, the private ordering agreed to by contract between the parties, the case law from the jurisdiction interpreting the statute and contract, and the underlying principles of equity and fairness. For example, a question about fiduciary duty in the context of a Delaware corporation would require a candidate to draw from multiple sources of law: the line of case law recognizing the existence of fiduciary duty; the statutory limits that may be impose on fiduciary duty by the chartering documents and bylaws; and the contractual limits actually agreed to by the parties.

Joshua implicitly recognized this opportunity in his post when he discussed the significance of looking to corporate documents to understand the applicable rules for quorum. But this sort of analysis should be the goal of the bar examination’s testing of the law of business associations—not merely an incidental consequence. A minimally competent attorney—whatever that may mean—should be able to articulate the legal research and factual investigation they would need to undertake to answer a question.

In my view, the NCBE would be wise to revise the content outlines to account for how candidates may evaluate different sources of applicable law in light of one another, and to express what information—legal and factual—they would to engage in a complete analysis of the questions presented.

April 4, 2022 in Business Associations, Corporations, Joan Heminway, LLCs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 1, 2022

Call for Submissions: William & Mary Business Law Review, Volume 14 (2022-2023)

Volume 14 of the William & Mary Business Law Review is currently accepting submissions for publication in 2022 and 2023. The Journal aims to publish cutting-edge legal scholarship and contribute to significant and exciting debates within the business community. Submissions for consideration can be sent via Scholastica, or if need be, via email to wm.blr.articlesubmission@gmail.com.

April 1, 2022 in Business Associations, Corporations, John Anderson | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Business Associations & Relationships on the Future Bar Exam: A Virtual Symposium (Part II)

Thanks to Joan Heminway for kicking off our virtual symposium, here, where some of us will take a look at the recently released National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) content summaries of the material planned for future bar exams in the Content Scope Outlines .  These comments relate to the "Business Associations & Relationships” portion. 

As a general matter, I have been growing increasingly skeptical of the bar exam and its role and purpose for the profession.  I very much believe we need to facilitate a process to help ensure clients are served by competent lawyers who have the skills necessary to serve clients.  However, I am more and more convinced that bar exam does an incomplete job of testing readiness for practice, potentially ingrains some bad practices, and continues to inappropriately limit access to the profession for women and minorities. Those issues, though, are for another time.   

Following are my initial thoughts on the Business Associations and Relationships portion of the Outlines:

In the area of “Partnerships,” under “Nature of general partnerships” and “Formation, the outline states: “This topic includes the de facto treatment of improperly created incorporated entities as general partnerships.”  Here, in place of “incorporated entities” I would recommend replacing it with “corporations” or “limited liability entities.”  If they intend to limit the review to corporations, which would not be surprising given the way the “de facto corporation doctrine” is often taught, then say that. If it means improperly formed limited liability entities (intending to include LLCs, LPs or LLPs) then say that.  An “incorporated entity” is necessarily a corporation.

For the section on “Corporations and Limited Liability Companies,” I agree with Joan that the corporation concept of “articles of incorporation” is too narrow, unless they intend to pick a state or model law that uses that phrase (and if so, please tell us!).  Adding “formation document” or “creation document” could work, though most casebooks include something “charter or articles or certificate of incorporation.” 

For LLCs, I think it should say “Operating or member agreements” (not members, though maybe “members’ agreements”). 

Items “IX. Piercing the Corporate Veil” should say, “Piercing the Entity Veil” given that this section does not say whether it’s just corporations (the general section is corporations and LLCs).  A literal reading of this would suggest they only intend to test it as to corporations, but given the way courts and other commentators treat this concept, such an assumption would be (unfortunately) flawed. There is an “asterisk” by this area, which means exam takers will be expected” to know the details of the relevant doctrine without consulting legal resources.”  Here, too, it would be important to know the jurisdiction because veil piercing law is not uniform state to state, and this is even more true of LLCs than it is of corporations. The basics are similar, but states vary.  Texas, for example, requires “actual fraud” for contract-type veil piecing claims.  And veil piercing is different for LLCs, too. Compare, for example, Minnesota law and the ULLCA. 

Under “management and control” of corporations, I don’t love that they test quorum, because it’s my understanding that, in years past, they have tested on some default rules of quorum (though I have not been able to verify that). Quorum should always be checked by looking at the articles/certificate/charter and bylaws AND buy checking the state statute to make sure that the chosen path is permissible under the statute.  There is no “asterisk” by this area, which means exam takers should “have generality familiarity with the topics.” So, it’s possible the bar examiners are approaching this by testing quorum where they would provide the relevant statute and or corporate documents (or specifics would not matter for the call of the question).  If so, great, but I think it’s worth raising to ensure that’s the case.

Finally, fiduciary duties may be tested for corporations and LLC.  These, too, are general, so hopefully exam takers will be able to respond with general knowledge and supplemental information in the exam. Given the divergent nature of Delaware LLC law in this area, it would seem worthwhile to give some guidance as to the source of law, exam takers should be using in their responses.  I will, again, second Joan’s point: “I favor letting examinees know which sets of rules and norms apply to their exam responses.”

 

March 30, 2022 in Business Associations, Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, March 28, 2022

Business Associations & Relationships on the Future Bar Exam: A Virtual Symposium (Part I)

The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) recently released content summaries of the material proposed to be tested on the future bar exam.  Labeled Content Scope Outlines (the "Outlines"), they are available here.  Among them, are content descriptions under the heading "Business Associations & Relationships," pp. 7-9 of the Outlines.  This post introduces a series of posts over the next week or two on those specific parts of the Outlines.  I will start the ball rolling by making four opening comments below, each focused on a general issue.

  • Testing Guidance - The Outlines designate topics that will be "tested in a way that assumes examinees know the details of the relevant doctrine without consulting legal resources" and distinguishes them from ones that will be "tested in a way that assumes examinees have general familiarity with the topics for purposes of issue-spotting or working efficiently with legal resources provided during the exam."  I find this designation and separation helpful.
  • High-Level Content Guidance - Given that Delaware corporate and limited liability company law  (a) are national standards and (b) include provisions that are different from those in the Model Business Corporation Act and the Uniform Limited Liability Company Act, respectively, I favor letting examinees know which sets of rules and norms apply to their exam responses.  The Outlines do not offer this information.
  • Topic Annotations - At various points, the Outlines offer a short comment about the specific contents of a particular topic.  For example, they note that the topic "Vicarious liability of principal for acts of agent . . . includes distinctions between employees and independent contractors. This topic also includes delegable/nondelegable duties."  These statements are useful, although some of the annotations may still leave too much to the imagination.
  • Terminology - The Outlines use "articles of incorporation" to describe a chartering document for a corporation.  Yet, Tennessee uses the term "charter" (arguably the generalist term) and Delaware uses the term "certificate of Incorporation."  I wonder if it would be better to merely use a generic or general descriptive term like "chartering document."  Similar issues exist with respect to limited liability company "articles of organization," "certificates of formation," and "operating or members agreements."  Along similar lines, I would like to see veil piercing referred to in just that way and not as "piercing the corporate veil" when it is used to describe the veil of limited liability in limited partnerships or limited liability companies.

These comments should be enough to get us started.  I will plan to say more in a subsequent post, if time permits.

Please note that comments on the scope and depth of the subjects to be tested are being solicited and are welcomed by the NCBE.  The comment period closes on April 18, 2022.  Comments can be submitted here.

More information about the NCBE's project on the next generation of the bar exam can be found here.

March 28, 2022 in Agency, Business Associations, Joan Heminway | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 14, 2022

Business Divorce in Tennessee: Oppression, Fair Value, Attorneys' Fees, Pre-Judgment Interest, and More!

A recent opinion of the Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Nashville, Buckley v. Carlock, is chock full of great issues from the standard Business Associations course.  Specifically, the case involves allegations of controlling shareholder oppression under Tenn. Code Ann. § 48-24-301.  The plaintiff requested, and was grated, a buy-out of his shares in lieu of dissolution.

As noted in the opinion, the plaintiff raises a variety of issues on appeal, arguing:

that the trial court's valuation of his interest in TLC was "erroneous as a matter of law, or at least contrary to the weight of the evidence." He also claims that the court abused its discretion in denying him prejudgment interest. And he contends that he was entitled to attorney's fees as the prevailing party for the whole case. Lastly, he argues that the trial court erred in dismissing his claim for unjust enrichment as moot.

The Court of Appeals affirms the trial court opinion after oral argument (a note on that below).  In the process, the court validates a dissenters' rights ("fair value") approach to calculating the value of the plaintiff's shares.  It also confirms aspects of the valuation calculation.

All of these "real life" business divorce issues are illustrative of the way the statutes we teach get used in practice.  The related issues (e.g. as to attorneys' fees, the admission of witness testimony, pre-judgment interest, and unjust enrichment) all add color to the standard Business Associations fare.  This case may make for interesting teaching material.

To that point, in writing up this post, I found some buried treasure relevant to teaching.  The oral arguments for the case were recorded on Zoom and are publicly available!  The two legal counsel arguing the case are professional and knowledgeable.  All of this may help to illustrate for students the relevance of the activities they engage in during law school.

March 14, 2022 in Business Associations, Corporations, Joan Heminway, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, November 26, 2021

Presenting at the 16th Annual Meeting of the American College of Business Court Judges

I was recently honored to be invited to join a panel at the 16th Annual Meeting of the American College of Business Court Judges (ABCBJ), which was held in Jackson, Mississippi, on October 27-29. The meeting was hosted by Chancellor Denise Owens (the current president of the ACBCJ) in association with the Law & Economics Center (LEC) at George Mason University Antonin Scalia School of Law.

Chancellor Owens kicked off the event and introduced the keynote speaker, Haley Barbour (former Governor of Mississippi). Governor Barbour gave an excellent talk about the ways in which Mississippi's musical traditions have helped to improve race relations over the past century.

The meeting panels covered a broad array of topics, including:

  • Ownership, Transfer and Trading of Intellecual Property Rights.
  • The Cost of Truth, Can You Afford It?
  • Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Algorithms: Studies in Law, Economics, and Racial Bias
  • Thriving Post Pandemic - Private Practice and Expanding Regulatory Authority After COVID-19.

I joined Professors Todd Zywicki and Donald Kochan on a panel moderated by Judge Elihu Berle (Los Angeles Superior Court). The panel was entitled, Shareholder Wealth Maximization versus ESG and the Business Roundtable: The Growing Debate Over Corporate Purpose. I presented on the Securities and Exchange Commission's plans for a new mandatory climate-change-related disclosure regime. The prsentation drew from portions of a recent essay I coauthored with Professor George Mocsary, An Economic Climate Change?

The conference concluded with the tour of our new Civil Rights Museum in Jackson. It was a wonderful meeting, and I look forward to participating in future ABCBJ events!

November 26, 2021 in Business Associations, Conferences, John Anderson, Law and Economics, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Penn State Law Minority Business Development: Special Open Session (November 30, 2021, 4:00 PM - 6:45 PM EST)

This just in from friend-of-the-BLPB Sam Thompson at Penn State Law.  Sam hopes we will bring this program to the attention of those "who might be interested in learning more about this very important topic," including law school administrators, faculty, and students.  I know I plan to make others aware.

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Dear Colleagues: This semester I am teaching a course dealing with issues in Minority Business Development, a subject I took as a student literally 50 years ago in my third year at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.  Because of the importance of this topic, Penn State Law has permitted me to make the course open to anyone who is interested in this very important topic, and recordings of all of the sessions of the course are available on the Penn State Law website here.

The course is divided into the following three segments:

Part I, Introduction and in-Depth Analysis of the Minority-White Gap in Business Ownership,

Part II, The Lawyer’s Essential Tools in Representing a Minority-Owned Small Business, and

Part III, The Big Ideas for Addressing the Minority-White Gap in Business Ownership

Part I was covered over five sessions and ended with a discussion with Professor Berdejo of the Loyola Law School in LA about his recently published article in the University of Wisconsin Law Review entitled: Financing Minority Entrepreneurship.  Part II of the course focused on the Essential Tools that any lawyer needs in advising owners of a business.  Each of these sessions was led by an outstanding practitioner, including a lawyer from the following firms: McGuire Woods; Richards, Layton & Finger; Nelson Mullins; Schiff Hardin; Wachtell Lipton; and Starfield & Smith.  For this part, we principally used the Maynard et. al. Business Planning casebook. 

This brings me to Part III, The Big Ideas for Addressing the Gap, which will be held in one session on Tuesday, November 30, 2021.  This special session will be live over the Internet from 4 PM to 6:45 PM Eastern Time.  A recording of this session will also be available on the website for the course.  This Special Session is entitled Perspectives on Minority Business Development, and in this session, experts from across the country will engage in a live discussion of Minority Business Development issues. The event, which is divided into three sessions, includes perspectives of lawyers, an economist, a business school dean, tax policy experts, entrepreneurs, and Penn State Law students who are enrolled in the course.  Reactions to the presentations in the three sessions will be provided by Dana Peterson, Chief Economist at The Conference Board.  While Ms. Peterson was a banker at Citigroup, she was the co-author of a 2020 report by Citigroup entitled: Closing the Racial Inequality Gaps.  A flyer for the program is attached, and the event page for the program can be reached here.  

. . .

Regards, Sam

November 23, 2021 in Business Associations, Entrepreneurship, Joan Heminway, Lawyering, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Campbell University - Norman A. Wiggins School of Law - Hiring

Campbell University's Norman A. Wiggins School of Law in Raleigh, NC is hiring for two positions. They are especially interested in candidates in the following areas: (1) business organizations, (2) commercial law (including sales law), and/or contracts. Details here or after the break. 

Continue reading

September 14, 2021 in Business Associations, Commercial Law, Contracts, Haskell Murray, Jobs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 3, 2021

Testing Our Intuitions About Insider Trading - Part III

I suggested in my last two posts (here and here) that as Congress and the SEC contemplate reforms to our current insider trading regime, it is important for us all to explore our intuitions about what we think insider trading is, why it is wrong, who is harmed by it, and the nature and extent of the harm. If we are going to rethink how we impose criminal and civil penalties for insider trading, we should have some confidence that the proscribed conduct is wrongful and why. One way to do this is to place ourselves in the shoes of traders and ask, “What would I do?” or “What do I think about that?” With this in mind, I developed some scenarios designed to test our attitudes regarding trading scenarios that distinguish the four historical insider trading regimes (laissez faire, fiduciary-fraud, equal access, and parity of information).

In the previous post, I offered a scenario that would result in liability under equal-access and parity-of-information regimes, but not under the fiduciary-fraud and laissez-faire models. Those of you who were not convinced that the trading in that scenario was wrongful may favor one of the less restrictive models.

In today’s post, I offer two scenarios to test our attitudes regarding trading under the fiduciary-fraud model. This model recognizes a duty to disclose material nonpublic information or abstain from trading on it, but only for those who share a recognized fiduciary or similar duty of trust and confidence to either the counterparty to the trade (under the “classical” theory) or the source of the information (under the “misappropriation” theory). The trading in the following scenario would incur liability under the classical theory of the fiduciary-fraud model (as well as under the more restrictive parity-of-information and equal-access models), but not under the misappropriation theory:

A senior VP at BIG Corp., a publicly traded company, took the lead in closing a big deal to merge BIG Corp. with XYZ Corp. The shares of BIG Corp will skyrocket when the deal is announced in seven days. The senior VP asks the CEO and board of Big Corp if he can purchase shares of BIG Corp for his personal account in advance of the announcement. The CEO and board approve the senior VPs trading. The senior VP buys Big Corp. shares in advance of the announcement and he makes huge profits when the deal is announced.

Note the difference between this scenario and the scenario in last week’s post. Here the counterparties to the trade are existing Big Corp shareholders who (if they had the same information as the senior VP) presumably would not have proceeded with the trade at the pre-announcement price. The theory assumes that such trading on the firm’s information (even with board approval) breaches a fiduciary duty of loyalty to the firm’s shareholders (fair assumption?). In last week’s post, the counterparties to the trade were XYZ Corp.’s shareholders, so the board-approved trade did not breach any fiduciary duty. Do you agree that the senior VP’s trading in the scenario above is deceptive, disloyal, or harmful to shareholders? If so, do you think such trading should be subject to civil or criminal sanction (or both)?

The trading in the next scenario would incur liability under the misappropriation theory of the fiduciary-fraud model (as well as under the more restrictive parity-of-information and equal access models), but not under the classical theory:

A senior VP at BIG Corp., a publicly traded company, took the lead in closing a big deal to merge BIG Corp and XYZ Corp. The shares of BIG Corp and XYZ Corp will both skyrocket when the deal is announced in seven days. At the closing party, the CEO and Board of BIG Corp explain to everyone on the deal team that they would like to keep the deal confidential until it is announced to the public the following week. Immediately after the party, the senior VP goes back to his office and buys shares of XYZ Corp for his personal online brokerage account. The senior VP makes huge profits from his purchase of XYZ Corp shares when the deal is announced a week later.

Here the senior VP at BIG Corp. trades in XYZ Corp. shares, so he does not breach any fiduciary duty to his shareholders. Assuming a reasonable person would conclude that a request of confidentiality includes a request not to trade (fair assumption?), the VP’s trading does, however, breach a duty of loyalty to BIG Corp. Is this trading wrongful? If so, is it more/less/equally wrongful by comparison to the trading in the classical scenario above? Finally, if you do think this trading is wrongful, should it be subject to civil or criminal sanction?

Again, the hope is that walking through these scenarios will help bring some clarity to our shared understanding of when trading on material nonpublic information is wrong and harmful—and (given our answers to these questions) the nature and extent to which it should be regulated.

September 3, 2021 in Business Associations, Corporations, Ethics, John Anderson, Law and Economics, Philosophy, Securities Regulation, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 20, 2021

Testing Our Intuitions About Insider Trading - Part II

As Congress and the SEC continue to contemplate reforms to the U.S. insider-trading enforcement regime, I suggested in my last post that it is important for us all to explore our intuitions about what we think insider trading is, why it is wrong, who is harmed by it, and the nature and extent of the harm. If we are going to rethink how we impose criminal and civil penalties for insider trading, we should have some confidence that the proscribed conduct is wrongful and why. One way to do this is to place ourselves in the shoes of traders and ask, “What would I do?” or “What do I think about that?” To this end, I have developed some scenarios designed to test our attitudes regarding trading scenarios that distinguish the four historical insider trading regimes (laissez faire, fiduciary-fraud, equal access, and parity of information).

In the last post, I offered a scenario that would result in liability under a parity-of-information regime, but not under the other three. Those of you who were not convinced that the trading in that scenario was wrongful may favor one of the less restrictive models.

In this post, I offer the following scenario to test our attitudes regarding trading under an equal-access model. An equal-access regime precludes trading by those who have acquired information advantages by virtue of their privileged access to sources that are structurally closed to other market participants (regardless of whether such trading violates a duty of trust and confidence). An equal access model is narrower in scope than the parity-of-information model, but broader than the laissez-faire and fiduciary-fraud models. Consider these facts:

A senior VP at BIG Corp (a publicly traded company) took the lead in closing a big deal to merge BIG Corp with XYZ Corp (another publicly traded company). The shares of both BIG Corp and XYZ Corp will skyrocket when the deal is announced to the public in seven days. The senior VP asks the CEO and board of Big Corp if, instead of receiving the usual cash bonus that would be his due for leading such a deal, he can purchase shares of XYZ Corp for his personal account in advance of the announcement. The CEO and board approve the VP’s trading—deciding that the BIG Corp shareholders will save money from this arrangement. The VP buys XYZ Corp shares in advance of the announcement and he makes huge profits when the deal is announced.

Was the senior VP’s trading wrong or harmful? If you do not think the senior VP or Big Corp has done anything wrong or harmful in this scenario, then you will probably not favor the equal-access model for insider trading regulation—which would render this conduct illegal. You will likely favor some version of the less restrictive laissez-faire or fiduciary-fraud model instead. My next post will offer a scenario to test our intuitions about the fiduciary-fraud model (the third most restrictive regime).

Again, the hope is that walking through these scenarios will help bring some clarity to our shared understanding of when trading on material nonpublic information is wrong and harmful—and (given our answers to these questions) the nature and extent to which it should be regulated. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

August 20, 2021 in Business Associations, Ethics, John Anderson, Law and Economics, Philosophy, Securities Regulation, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 6, 2021

Kelley School of Business at Indiana University (Bloomington) Hiring

Indiana University has a top-notch Business Law and Ethics department in their business school. I know a number of their professors and they would be fabulous colleagues.

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The Kelley School of Business at Indiana University in Bloomington seeks applications for a tenured/tenure-track position or positions in the Department of Business Law and Ethics, effective fall 2022. The candidate(s) selected will join a well-established department of 28 full- time faculty members who teach a variety of courses on legal topics, business ethics, and critical thinking at the undergraduate and graduate levels. It is anticipated that the position(s) will be at the assistant professor rank, though appointment at a higher rank could occur if a selected candidate’s record so warrants.

To be qualified, a candidate must have a J.D. degree with an excellent academic record and must demonstrate the potential for outstanding teaching and excellent scholarship in law and/or ethics, as well as the ability to contribute positively to a multicultural campus. Qualified applicants with expertise in any area of law and/or ethics will be considered, and we welcome candidates with teaching interests across a broad range of legal and ethical issues in business, as well as research methods or perspectives, that would contribute to the diversity of our department and help usadvance the Kelley School’s equity and inclusion initiatives and programs.

Candidates with appropriate subject-matter expertise and interest would have the opportunity to be involved on the leading edge of a developing interdisciplinary collaboration between the Kelley School of Business and the Kinsey Institute, the premier research institute on human sexuality and relationships and a trusted source for evidence-based information on critical issues in sexuality, gender, and reproduction. Such expertise, however, is not required to be qualified and considered for the position or positions.

Interested candidates should review the application requirements and submit their application materials at https://indiana.peopleadmin.com/postings/11252. Candidates may direct questions to: Professor Josh Perry, Department Chair (joshperr@indiana.edu), or Professor Tim Fort, Search Committee Chair (timfort@indiana.edu), both at Department of Business Law and Ethics, Kelley School of Business, Indiana University, 1309 E. 10th Street, Bloomington, IN 47405.

Application materials received by September 15, 2021 will be assured of consideration. However, the search will continue until the position(s) is/are filled.

Indiana University is an equal employment and affirmative action employer and a provider of ADA services. All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to age, ethnicity, color, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, genetic information, marital status, national origin, disability status or protected veteran status.

August 6, 2021 in Business Associations, Business School, Ethics, Haskell Murray, Jobs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 19, 2021

Chambers and Martin on a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for Human Rights

The University of Connecticut School of Business hosts The Business and Human Rights Initiative, which “seeks to develop and support multidisciplinary and engaged research, education, and public outreach at the intersection of business and human rights.” Professor Stephen Park, Director of the Business and Human Rights Initiative, invited me to be a discussant at the most recent meeting of the Initiative’s workshop series. The workshop focused on Rachel Chambers' and Jena Martin's excellent paper, A Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for Human Rights. Here’s an abstract:

The global movement towards the adoption of human rights due diligence laws is gaining momentum. Starting in France, moving to the Netherlands, and now at the European Union level, lawmakers across Europe are accepting the need to legislate to require that companies conduct human rights due diligence throughout their global operations. The situation in the United States is very different: on the federal level there is currently no law that mandates corporate human rights due diligence. Civil society organization International Corporate Accountability Roundtable is stepping into the breach with a legislative proposal building on the model of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act to prohibit corporations from engaging in grave human rights violations and to give the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice the power to investigate any alleged violations.

The draft law, called the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act – Human Rights (FCPA-HR) follows the general framework of the FCPA, but with certain enumerated human rights violations as the prohibited conduct rather than bribery and corruption. The FCPA-HR continues where the FCPA left off by requiring companies to engage in substantive conduct to prevent any human rights violations from occurring in their course of business and to make regular reports regarding their compliance and success. This paper situates the draft law within the current picture for business and human rights legislation both in the United States and in Europe, identifies the strengths of using the FCPA model, and analyzes the FCPA-HR proposal, addressing the likely critiques of the proposal.

Though I have been following developments in the area of business and human rights for years, I must admit that I have not paid sufficient attention to the movement in my classroom and scholarship. Chambers’ and Martin’s paper reminds us all of the need for reform, and of the reality that legislation in this area is imminent (at home and abroad). Imposing civil and criminal liability on corporations and individuals for their direct or indirect involvement in human rights violations would force dramatic changes in corporate compliance practices. If the SEC will have primary responsibility for enforcement (as it does for the FCPA), then we can expect dramatic organizational changes at the Commission as well. With so much at stake, there is a real need for collaboration among human rights experts, lawyers, scholars, regulators, and issuers to find the right model. There’s a lot of work to do, and Chambers’ and Martin’s paper offers an excellent start. The paper remains a work in progress, but it will be available soon—I look forward to its publication!

March 19, 2021 in Business Associations, Comparative Law, Compliance, John Anderson, Securities Regulation, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 18, 2021

In Praise of Practice Problems (and Jen Reise!)

As we launch into another online/hybrid semester of legal education, I want to share a new article by Jen Randolph Reise: Moving Ahead: Finding Opportunities for Transactional Training in Remote Legal Education. Here’s the abstract:

This article builds on the many calls for teaching business acumen and transactional skills in law school with a timely insight: the shift to remote legal education creates opportunities to do so, in particular by incorporating practice problems and mini-simulations in doctrinal courses. Weaving together the literature on emerging best practices in online legal education, cognitive psychology, and the science of teaching and learning, Professor Reise argues that adding formative assessments and experiential education is effective in teaching and is critical in remote learning.

Offering vivid examples from her experience teaching Business Organizations online, she urges legal instructors to use the opportunity presented by the shift to remote education to incorporate problems and simulations as an effective way to motivate students to prepare for class, to expose them to transactional practice skills, and to effectively teach them key doctrinal concepts.

For those of you who do not know Jen, she is currently a Visiting Professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law (Twitter: @jenreise).  She and I have communicated/traded information on transactional business law teaching.  I am grateful that she brought this article to my attention--and effectively authored this post!  I look forward to continuing to engage with her on teaching and scholarship in our mutual areas of interest.

January 18, 2021 in Business Associations, Joan Heminway, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 15, 2021

Attorney-Client Privilege in Business Networks

In my ongoing work for the Tennessee Bar Association, I was alerted to a recent Delaware Chancery Court decision of note.  The decision is embodied in a December 22, 2020 letter to counsel written by Chancellor Andre G. Bouchard in the case captioned In re WeWork Litigation (Consol. Civil Action No. 2020-0258-AGB).  It offers an illustration of the attorney-client privilege challenges that may exist in business associations that operate within networks consisting of affiliated or associated business firms.

The In re WeWork Litigation letter opinion involves a document production dispute.  The controversy relates to communications engaged in by discovery custodians employed at Sprint, Inc. but working on behalf of SoftBank Group Corp.  Specifically, the Sprint employees assisted SoftBank with document discovery relating to its involvement with The We Company (“WeWork”), a plaintiff in the case.  (Sprint is not involved in any substantive way in the litigation.  However, at times relevant to the chancellor's opinion, SoftBank owned 84% of Sprint.)  The controversy centers around the conduct of Sprint CEO Michael Combes and a Sprint employee, Christina Sternberg.  Each provided SoftBank’s chief operating officer with document discovery assistance.  As Chancellor Bouchard aptly noted, these Sprint employees “wore multiple hats.”  (This comment in the letter opinion reminded me of the U.S. Supreme Court opinion in United States v. Bestfoods, in which the court quotes from Lusk v. Foxmeyer Health Corp., 129 F.3d 773, 779 (5th Cir. 1997): "directors and officers holding positions with a parent and its subsidiary can and do ‘change hats’ to represent the two corporations separately, despite their common ownership.")

Of particular relevance to the dispute, Combes and Sternberg engaged in document production matters with SoftBank’s legal counsel and used their Sprint email accounts in that activity. In response to plaintiffs' discovery requests, SoftBank determined to withhold from production 89 documents that were conveyed to or from Combes’s and Sternberg’s Sprint email accounts.  SoftBank's argument was that the communications were privileged.  The chancellor’s opinion addresses a motion to compel production of those 89 documents.

Chancellor Bouchard granted the motion to compel production of the documents, finding that Combes and Sternberg did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy when using the Sprint email accounts.  As a result, the documents could not constitute “confidential communications” under Delaware Rule of Evidence 502.  Importantly, both Combes and Sternberg were afforded--and could have used--other email accounts (affiliated with WeWork or SoftBank, respectively) in their discovery work for SoftBank.

I noted in my summary of this opinion for the Tennessee Bar Association that the case "offers important cautions to businesses desiring to ensure that communications and transmitted documents can be kept in confidence."  It is telling in this regard that proprietary email accounts were afforded to Combes and Sternberg to best ensure confidential treatment of their discovery communications, yet no attempt was made to monitor the relevant use of those email accounts as a matter of document control and discovery policy. Accordingly, I noted that it seems prudent, in light of Chancellor Bouchard’s decision, to suggest that business firms and their legal counsel review operative existing document custody and retention guidance (in the form of compliance policies and the like) to evaluate whether they include appropriate control mechanisms geared to best ensuring the confidential treatment of privileged communications and documents. As the facts of the In re WeWork Litigation opinion indicate, this may be especially important for businesses that operate within a networked system of firms.

January 15, 2021 in Business Associations, Compliance, Joan Heminway, Litigation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Should We Call it Moral Money?: Ownership Matters and Commitment Too

In my previous post on the "Study on Directors' Duties and Sustainable Corporate Governance" ("Study on Directors' Duties") that Ernst & Young prepared for the European Commission (Commission), I focused on the transformative power of corporate governance. I said that stakeholder capitalism would have a practical value if supported by corporate governance rules based on appropriate standards such as the ones provided by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Some of my pointers for the Commission were the creation of a regulatory framework that enables the representation and protection of stakeholders, the representation of “stakewatchers,” that is, non-governmental organizations and other pressure groups through the attribution of voting and veto rights and their members’ nomination to the management board (similar to German co-determination). I also suggested expanding directors' fiduciary duties to include the protection of stakeholders’ interests, accountability of corporate managers, consultation rights, and additional disclosure requirements.

In my last guest post in this series dedicated to the Study on Directors’ Duties, I ask the following questions. Do investors have a moral duty to internalize externalities such as climate change and income inequality, for example? Do firm ownership and investor commitment matter? Should investors’ money be “moral” money? 

In their study Corporate Purpose in Public and Private FirmsClaudine Gartenberg and George Serafeim utilize Rebecca Henderson’s and Eric Van den Steen’s definition of corporate purpose, that is, “a concrete goal or objective for the firm that reaches beyond profit maximization.” In their paper, Gartenberg and Serafeim analyzed data from approximately 1.5 million employees across 1,108 established public and private companies in the US. In their words:

[W]e find that employee beliefs about their firm’s purpose is weaker in public companies. This difference is most pronounced within the salaried middle and hourly ranks, rather than senior executives. Among private firms, purpose is lower in private equity owned firms. Among public companies, purpose is lower for firms with high hedge fund ownership and higher for firms with long-term investors. We interpret our findings as evidence that higher owner commitment is associated with a stronger sense of purpose among employees within the firm.

With institutional investors on the rise, these findings are important because they redirect our attention from the board of directors’ short-termism discussion to shareholders' nature, composition, ownership, and long-term commitment. When it comes to owner commitment, Gartenberg and Serafeim say:

Owner commitment could lead to a stronger sense of purpose for multiple reasons. First, to the extent that commitment translates to an ability to think about the long-term and avoid short-term pressures, this would enable a firm to focus on its purpose rather than on solely short-term performance metrics. Second, committed owners may invest to gain and evaluate more soft information about firms, which in turn may allow managers to invest in productive but hard to verify projects that otherwise would not be approved by less committed owners (e.g., Grossman and Hart, 1986). Third, committed owners might mitigate free rider problems inside the firm, allowing employees to make firm-specific investments with greater confidence that they will not be subject to holdup by firm principals (Alchian and Demsetz 1972; Williamson 1985), which in turn could enhance the sense of purpose inside the organization. A similar argument could hold for customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders, who could see a strong sense of corporate purpose from owner commitment as a credible signal that enables the development of trust or ‘relational contracts’ (Gibbons and Henderson 2012; Gartenberg et al. 2019).

Gertenberg’s and Serafeim’s paper also discloses other findings. They found that firms are more likely to hire outside CEOs when less committed investors control the firms. Additionally, those firms are more likely to pay higher executive compensation levels, particularly relative to what they pay employees. Those firms also engage more frequently in mergers and acquisitions and other corporate restructuring processes. A simple explanation for this would be that such firms have higher agency costs since their ownership is more dispersed.

If we understand the company’s ownership structure, we know the purpose of the company. Therefore, there must be an underlying mechanism to better understand the company’s ownership structure because it will help us understand the company's purpose better. 

Besides, Gertenberg’s and Serafeim’s findings spell out that financial performance and corporate ownership positively impact corporate culture, employees' satisfaction, and employee work meaningfulness. Putting it differently, the corporate culture, employees' satisfaction, and employee work meaningfulness can be standards for evaluating the impact of corporate ownership, governance, and leadership.

Now that the focus is on investors, what can they do to change corporate behavior and consequently impact stakeholders like employees? They can be actively engaged through proxy voting. In their paper Shareholder Value(s): Index Fund ESG Activism and the New Millennial Corporate Governance, Barzuza, Curtis, and Webber explain that index funds often are considered ineffective stewards. The authors also explain how index funds have claimed an active role by challenging management and voting against directors to promote board diversity and sustainability.

Still, institutional investors manage their companies’ portfolios depending on the market, which is heavily impacted by systemic shocks we know will eventually occur. The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us how volatile markets are and our current economic model is.

Corporate laws of most European Union (EU) countries determine that the board of directors must act in the company's interest (e.g., Unternehmensinteresse in Germany, l'intérêt social in France, interesse sociale in Italy, etc.). Defining what the interest of the company is has shown to be a rather tricky endeavor. Gelter explains that, in all cases, one side of the debate claims that the company's interest is different from the interest of shareholders. In the US, the purpose of the company is commingled with the idea of shareholder wealth maximization.

To overcome the tension between prioritizing shareholders' wealth maximization and corporate purpose that considers shareholders' and stakeholders' interests, the Commission should take into account the following dimensions in developing policies in corporate law and corporate governance. 

  1. Investors’ ownership and their impact on intangibles like employees’ satisfaction and employee work meaningfulness.
  2. Governance structure and how it relates to the company’s ownership structure.
  3. Governance structure and how it integrates stakeholders’ interests in the decision-making process.
  4. Board diversity and recruitment.
  5. Institutional investors’ financial resilience.

Finally, investors should demand CEOs and boards of directors show how they are changing the game and moving the needle toward a more sustainable and resilient conception of the corporation. Why? Because ownership matters and commitment too.

December 27, 2020 in Agency, Business Associations, Comparative Law, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Financial Markets, Law and Economics, M&A, Private Equity, Shareholders | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 20, 2020

“T” is for Transformative (Corporate Governance)

In my first post on the "Study on Directors' Duties and Sustainable Corporate Governance" ("Study on Directors' Duties") prepared by Ernst & Young for the European Commission, I said that corporate boards are free to apply a purposive approach to profit generation. I added that:

[a]pplying such a purposive approach will depend on moral leadership, CEOs' and corporate boards' long-term vision, clear measurement of the companies' interests and communication of those interests to shareholders, and rethinking executive compensation to encourage board members to take on other priorities than shareholder value maximization. Corporate governance has a significant transformative role to play in this context. 

This week, I focus on corporate governance’s enabling power. Therefore, “T” is for transformative corporate governance. Market-led developments can and do precede and inspire legal rules. Corporate governance rules are not an exception in this regard. To illustrate these rules’ transformative potential, I dwell on the ongoing debate around stakeholder capitalism.

First question. What is stakeholder capitalism? In a recent debate with Lucian Bebchuk about the topic, Alex Edmans explained that “stakeholder capitalism seeks to create shareholder welfare only through creating stakeholder welfare.” The definition suggests that the way to create value for both shareholders and stakeholders alike is by increasing the size of the pie.

In his book, Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach, R. Edward Freeman defines “stakeholder” as “any group or individual who can affect or is affected by the achievement of the organisation’s objectives.” (1984: p. 46). The Study on Directors’ Duties is concerned with the negative impact of corporate short-termism on stakeholders such as the environment, the society, the economy, and the extent to which corporate short-termism may impair the protection of human rights and the attainment of the sustainable development goals (SDGs). I am not going to discuss whether there is a causal link between short-termism and sustainability. In my previous post, I say that we need to take a step back to determine short-termism and whether it is as harmful as it sounds. Instead, I am interested in finding an answer to the following question. Has stakeholder capitalism practical value?

Edmans points out that “in a world of uncertainty, stakeholder capitalism is practically more useful.” It is more challenging to put a tag on various things in a world of uncertainty, and the market misvalues intangibles. Therefore, in this context, stakeholder capitalism would be a better decisional tool that improves shareholder value and profitability and shareholders' welfare.

Still, how do we measure CEO’s and directors’ accountability toward shareholders and the corporation for the choices they make? Can CEOs and directors be blamed for not caring about social causes? Is stakeholder capitalism, or as Lucian Bebchuk calls it “stakeholderism,” the right way to force managers to make the right decisions for the shareholders and the corporation?

While Edmans stays firmly behind stakeholder capitalism because he considers it has practical value in increasing shareholder wealth while increasing shareholders’ welfare, Bebchuk maintains that “stakeholderism” is “illusory” and costly both for shareholders and stakeholders. Clearly, they disagree.

However, both Edmans and Bebchuk agree on this – we need a normative framework that goes beyond private ordering and prevents companies from subjecting stakeholders to externalities such as climate change, inequality, poverty, and other adverse economic effects.

Corporate managers respond to incentives such as executive compensation, financial reporting, and shareholders' ownership. The challenge is to understand what type of corporate governance rules are more likely to nudge CEOs and managers to value other interests than shareholder wealth maximization. Would a set of principles suffice, or do we need a regulatory framework?

Freeman's definition of a stakeholder is telling because it allows us to think of corporations and governments as stakeholders for sustainable development. I am also inspired by the distinction that Yves Fassin makes in his article The Stakeholder Model Refined, between stakeholders (e.g., consumers), stakewatchers (e.g., non-governmental organizations) and stakekeepers (e.g., regulators). I suggest that the way to ensure stakeholder capitalism’s practical value is to create corporate governance rules based on appropriate standards. The SDGs afford the propriety of those standards.

Within this regulatory setting, corporate governance will fulfill its transformative potential by enabling, for example, the representation and protection of stakeholders, the representation of “stakewatchers” through the attribution of voting and veto rights and nomination to the management board (similar to German co-determination by which stakeholders like employees are appointed to the supervisory board). Corporate governance will show its transformative potential by enabling the expansion of directors' fiduciary duties to include the protection of stakeholders’ interests, accountability of corporate managers, consultation rights, and additional disclosure requirements.  

The authors Onyeka K. Osuji and Ugochi C. Amajuoyi contributed an interesting piece, titled Sustainable Consumption, Consumer Protection and Sustainable Development: Unbundling Institutional Septet for Developing Economies to the book Corporate Social Responsibility in Developing and Emerging Markets: Institutions, Actors and Sustainable Development. The book was edited by Onyeka K. Osuji, Franklin N. Ngwu, and Dima Jamali. The piece addresses the stakeholder model from the emerging economies perspective. It goes to show how interconnected we are.

December 20, 2020 in Books, Business Associations, Comparative Law, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Financial Markets, Law and Economics, Management | Permalink | Comments (6)

Sunday, December 13, 2020

First Things First: Is Short-Termism the Problem?

This is my second post in a series of blog posts on the "Study on Directors' Duties and Sustainable Corporate Governance ("Study on Directors' Duties") prepared by Ernst & Young for the European Commission.

In 2015, the world gathered at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit for the adoption of the Post-2015 development agenda. That Summit was convened as a high-level plenary meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. At this meeting, Resolution A/70/L.1, Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, was adopted by the General Assembly. In 2016, the Paris Agreement was signed. In my last post, I called both the United Nations 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement trendsetters because they kicked-off a global discussion on sustainable development at so many levels, including at the financial level.

During the 2015 United Nations Sustainable Development Summit, I recall that the Civil Society representatives called for a UN resolution on sustainable capital markets to tackle the absence of concrete actions regarding global financial sustainability following the 2008 Great Recession.

At the end of 2016, the European Commission (Commission) created the High-Level Expert Group on Sustainable Finance (HLEG). In early 2018, the HLEG published its report. Shortly after, in 2018, the European Union (EU) published the Action Plan: Financing Sustainable Growth (EU's Action Plan) based on the HLEG’s report. I want to focus for a bit on Action 10 of the EU's Action Plan: Fostering Sustainable Corporate Governance and Attenuating Short-Termism in Capital Markets. Action 10 sets forth the following:

1.To promote corporate governance that is more conducive to sustainable investments, by Q2 2019, the Commission will carry out analytical and consultative work with relevant stakeholders to assess: (i) the possible need to require corporate boards to develop and disclose a sustainability strategy, including appropriate due diligence throughout the supply chain, and measurable sustainability targets; and (ii) the possible need to clarify the rules according to which directors are expected to act in the company's long-term interest.

2.The Commission invites the ESAs to collect evidence of undue short-term pressure from capital markets on corporations and consider, if necessary, further steps based on such evidence by Q1 2019. More specifically, the Commission invites ESMA to collect information on undue short-termism in capital markets, including: (i) portfolio turnover and equity holding periods by asset managers; (ii) whether there are any practices in capital markets that generate undue short-term pressure in the real economy.

Under the EU's Action Plan, in 2019, the Commission called the three European Supervisory Authorities (ESAs) to collect evidence of undue short-term pressure from the financial sector on corporations. These supervisory authorities include the European Banking Authority (EBA), the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA), and the European Insurance and Occupational Pension Authority (EIOPA). The reports from EBA, ESMA, and EIOPA reviewed the relevant financial literature and identified potential short-term pressures on corporations.

In 2019, the European Commission Directorate-General Justice and Consumers organized a conference on "Sustainable Corporate Governance" that reunited policy-makers to discuss policy developments on corporate governance within Action 10 of the EU's Action Plan.

The Study on Directors' Duties builds on Action 10. As it reads in the Study:

[T]he need for urgent action to attenuate short-termism and promote sustainable corporate governance is clearly identified in the Action Plan on Financing Sustainable Growth, 137 put forward by the European Commission in 2018. The Action Plan recognises that, despite the efforts made by several European companies, pressures from capital markets lead company directors and executives to fail to consider long-term sustainability risks and opportunities and be overly focused on short-term financial performance. Action 10 of the Action Plan is therefore aimed at "fostering sustainable corporate governance and attenuating short-termism in capital markets." The present study implements Action 10, together with other studies aimed at investigating complementary aspects of short-termism,138 which shows European Commission's commitment to explore this complex problem from different angles and find an integrated response.

Before moving forward, it is pressing to define short-termism. In this context, obtaining empirical evidence to infer causation is important for policy advice. When it comes to defining short-termism, in a recent Policy Workshop on Directors' Duties and Sustainable Corporate Governance, Zach Sautner defined short-termism as a reflection of actions (e.g., investment, payouts) that focus on short-term gains at the expense of the long-term value of the corporation. The concept of short-termism encompasses a certain form of value destruction, an undue focus on short-term earnings or stock price, and a notion of market inefficiency. Suppose a CEO favors short-term earnings or makes decisions (e.g., buybacks) to the detriment of the corporation's long-term value. Then, if the market is efficient, it should signal that something is not right.

Still, I cannot avoid asking: is short-termism the right problem that needs fixing? The discussion around short-termism is puzzling because there is a vehement academic debate whether there even exists short-termism or whether it is as harmful as it sounds. For example, in their paper, Long-Term Bias, Michal Barzuza & Eric Talley explain how corporate managers can become hostages of long-term bias, which can be as damaging for investors as short-termism.

If short-termism and its effects are as negative as they sound, what kind of incentives do managers have to overcome it? Corporate managers act based on incentives such as executive compensation, financial reporting, and shareholders' ownership. Is this bad news for those who firmly stand behind stakeholders who can be undoubtedly impacted by the corporation's performance?

The bottom line is this. We need a clearer perspective on short-termism. Suppose one says that excessive payouts are not the problem. They are the symptom. However, even this bold statement needs to be taken with a grain of salt. It is difficult to assess if payouts (e.g., dividends, buybacks) are excessive if we do not know if there is a short-termism problem.

December 13, 2020 in Business Associations, Comparative Law, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Financial Markets, Law and Economics, Shareholders | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 6, 2020

A Purposive Approach to Corporate Governance Sustainability - Lécia Vicente Guest Post

The post below is the first in Lécia Vicente's December series that I heralded in my post on Friday.  Due to a Typepad login issue, I am posting for her today.  We hope to get the issue corrected for her post for next week. 

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My series of blog posts cover the recent "Study on Directors' Duties and Sustainable Corporate Governance" ("Study on Directors' Duties") prepared by Ernst & Young for the European Commission. This study promises to set the tone of the EU's policymaking in the fields of corporate law and corporate governance. The study explains that the "evidence collected over 1992-2018 period shows there is a trend for publicly listed companies within the EU to focus on short-term benefits of shareholders rather than on the long-term interests of the company." The main objective of the study is to identify the causes of this short-termism in corporate governance and determine European Union (EU) level solutions that permit the achievement of the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the objectives of the Paris Agreement.

Both the United Nations 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement are trendsetters, for they have elevated the discussion on sustainable development and climate change mitigation to the global level. That discussion has been captured not only by governments and international environmental institutions but also by corporations. Several questions come to mind.

What is sustainability? This one is critical considering that the global level discussion is often monotone, with the blatant disregard of countries' idiosyncrasies, the different historical contexts, regulatory frameworks, and political will to implement reforms. The UN defined sustainability as the ability of humanity "to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

The other question that comes to mind is: what is development? Is GDP the right benchmark, or should we be focusing on other factors? There is disagreement among economists on the merit of using GDP as a development measure. Some economists like Abhijit Banerjee & Esther Duflo say, "it makes no sense to get too emotionally involved with individual GDP numbers." Those numbers do not give us the whole picture of a country's development.

The Study on Directors' Duties maintains as a general objective the development of more sustainable corporate governance and corporate directors' accountability for the company's sustainable value creation. This general objective would be specifically implemented either through soft law (non-legislative measures) or hard law (legislative measures) that redesign the role of directors (this includes the creation of a new board position, the Chief Value Officer) and directors' fiduciary duties. This takes me to a third question.

What is the purpose of the company? In other words, what is it that directors should be prioritizing? In a recent blog post, Steve Bainbridge says

I don't "disagree with the assertion that the law does not mandate that a corporation have as its purpose shareholder wealth maximization" but only because I don't think it's useful to ask the question of "what purpose does the law mandate the corporation pursue?

[…] Purpose is always associated with the intellect. In order to have a purpose or aim, it is necessary to come to a decision; and that is the function of the intellect. But just as the corporation has neither a soul to damn nor a body to kick, the corporation has no intellect.

Bainbridge prefers "to operationalize this discussion as a question of the fiduciary duties of corporate officers and directors rather than as a corporate purpose."

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December 6, 2020 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Joan Heminway, Law and Economics, Management, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)