Thursday, November 5, 2015

Bar Passage and the Business Law Professor

With the recent release of bar results in many states, I have been obsessed of late about the sorry state of bar passage across the country--as well as specific bar passage issues relating to our graduates.  So, rather than (as I should and will do soon) responding to Steve Bradford's prompting post on the final JOBS Act Title III crowdfunding rules and the related proposals regarding Rules 147 and 504 under the Securities Act of 1933, as amended (as well as his follow-up post on the Rule 147 proposal), I have decided to focus on bar passage for my few minutes of air time this week.  Specifically, I want to begin to explore the question of what we can do, if anything, as business law professors to help more of our students succeed in passing the bar on the first attempt.

At a base level, this means we should endeavor to understand something about the reasons why our individual students fail the bar the first time around.  A lot has been written about the national trends (inconclusively, as a general rule).  And I am sure every law school is now analyzing the data on its own bar passage shortcomings.  But my experience teaching Barbri and my conversations with former students who have not passed the bar indicate a number of possible causes.  They include (and these are my descriptions based on that experience and those conversations, in no particular order):

  • Failing to state the applicable legal rule(s) and apply them to the facts;
  • Difficulty in processing legal reasoning in the time allotted;
  • Nerves, sleep deprivation, illness and the like; and
  • Engaging insufficiently with study materials and practice examinations.

Assuming that these anecdotal observations are, in fact, causes contributing to bar exam failures for at least some students, how might we be able to help?

Continue reading

November 5, 2015 in C. Steven Bradford, Joan Heminway, Law School, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (7)

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Radical Restructuring of Rule 147

Here’s something everyone who has ever taken Securities Regulation should know: Section 3(a)(11) of the Securities Act, the intrastate offering exemption, has a safe harbor, Securities Act Rule 147.

As Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast, my friend.”  The SEC is proposing to overturn that longstanding wisdom. If the SEC’s proposed changes to Rule 147 are adopted,Rule 147 would no longer be tied to section 3(a)(11) and section 3(a)(11) would no longer have a safe harbor. The intrastate nature of Rule 147 would be preserved, but the proposed changes would be adopted under the SEC’s general exemptive authority in section 28 of the Securities Act.

Here are the most significant changes that the SEC has proposed:

Tied to State Regulation

The premise of section 3(a)(11) and its Rule 147 safe harbor is to relegate purely intrastate offerings to state regulation. But there’s currently nothing in Rule 147 to enforce that premise; federal exemption does not depend on state regulation of the offering.

The SEC proposal would expressly tie the federal Rule 147 exemption to state regulation. An offering would qualify for the federal exemption only if it was (1) registered at the state level or (2) sold pursuant to a state exemption that imposes investment limits on purchasers and limits the amount of the offering to $5 million in any 12-month period. (This second possibility is clearly aimed at the crowdfunding exemptions that many states have recently enacted.)

Offering Amount

Rule 147 does not currently limit the amount of the offering. The SEC proposal would limit the offering amount to $5 million in any 12-month period, unless the offering is registered at the state level.

State of Incorporation

Rule 147 currently requires that the issuer be incorporated or organized in the state in which the securities are sold. Because of that, even a corporation or LLC with all of its business in a single state cannot use Rule 147 if it happens to be incorporated or organized in another state, such as Delaware.

The SEC proposes to eliminate the focus on state of incorporation or organization, and require instead that the issuer’s “principal place of business” be within the state in which the offering is made. This would be defined as the state where “the officers, partners or managers . . . primarily direct, control and coordinate” the issuer’s activities.

Doing Business in the State

Under the current rule, the issuer must meet four requirements to establish that it is doing business in the state:

  1. It must derive at least 80% of its gross revenues from operations within the state;
  2. At least 80% of its assets must be located within the state;
  3. It must intend to use and actually use at least 80% of the offering proceeds in connection with operations in the state; and
  4. Its principal office must be located in the state.

All four of those requirements must be met.

The proposed rule is much less restrictive. An issuer only has to meet any one of the following requirements:

  1. It derives at least 80% of its gross revenues from operations in the state;
  2. At least 80% of its assets are located in the state;
  3. It intends to use and uses at least 80% of the offering proceeds in connection with operations in the state; or
  4. A majority of its employees are based in the state.

(Notice the addition of the new fourth test.) It will obviously be easier to satisfy a single one of the new requirements that it is to satisfy all four of the requirements under the current rule.

Intrastate Offers and Sales

Rule 147 currently provides that the securities must be offered and sold only to state residents. In other words, it’s not enough to screen out non-residents before sale. You can’t even solicit non-residents.

The SEC proposes to eliminate the restriction on offerees. An issuer could make a general public solicitation to the world, as long as it only sells the securities to state residents. This obviously makes it much easier to make Rule 147 offerings on the Internet.

Reasonable Belief Standard

The current rule requires that all of the purchasers (and offerees) be residents of the state. If one of them is a non-resident, the exemption is lost, even if the issuer thought the person was a resident.

The proposed rule adds a reasonable belief standard. The exemption is protected as long as the issuer had a reasonable belief that the non-resident purchaser was a resident.

Resales and the Issuer’s Exemption

Both the current rule and the SEC’s proposal limit resales to non-residents. However, there’s a crucial difference between the two.

The current rule makes the exemption dependent on meeting all of the terms and conditions of the rule, including the resale limit. Thus, if a purchaser immediately resold to a non-resident, the issuer could lose the exemption.

The proposed rule, like the current rule, requires the issuer to take certain precautions to prevent resales to non-residents, but the prohibition on resales is no longer a condition of the issuer’s exemption. Thus, if the issuer took the required precautions and a purchaser resold to a non-resident anyway, the issuer would not lose the exemption.

Protection from Integration

Rule 147 currently has a provision that protects the Rule 147 offering from integration with sales pursuant to certain other exemptions six months prior to or six months after the Rule 147 offering.

The SEC proposal offers a much broader anti-integration safe harbor, similar to the integration safe harbor included in Regulation A. Offers or sales under the amended Rule 147 exemption would not be integrated with any prior offers or sales. And Rule 147 offerings would not be integrated with subsequent offers or sales that are (1) federally registered; (2) pursuant to Regulation A; (3) pursuant to Rule 701; (4) pursuant to an employee benefit plan; (5) pursuant to Regulation S; (6) pursuant to the crowdfunding exemption in section 4(a)(6); or (7) more than six months after completion of the Rule 147 offering.

There is also some protection against integration when an issuer begins an offering under Rule 147 and decides to register the offering instead.

Section 3(a)(11) Remains Available

As I mentioned earlier, the amended Rule 147 would no longer be a safe harbor for section 3(a)(11) of the Securities Act. But Section 3(a)(11) would remain available. It just wouldn’t have a safe harbor.

An issuer would be free to use the section 3(a)(11) statutory exemption, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless everything is unquestionably intrastate. It was the uncertain interpretations of section 3(a)(11) that led to Rule 147 in the first place.

A Move in the Right Direction

I think the proposed exemption is a move in the right direction. Rule 147, one of the SEC’s earliest surviving safe harbors, was a little long in the tooth. The proposed changes will make it a little more viable.


November 2, 2015 in C. Steven Bradford, Corporate Finance, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

If You're a Board Member, Don't Say This

Pat Haden is the athletic director at the University of Southern California. Until Friday, he was also a member of the College Football Playoff selection committee. And, according to this story in the L.A. Times, he is also a director of at least nine non-profits or foundations and three businesses.

According to the Times, Haden spends an average of 70 hours a week on his U.S.C. job. As a playoff selection committee member, he was expected to spend countless hours watching football games and evaluating teams.

So where does he find the time to serve as a board member? Not a problem, according to Haden. He has “never been to one meeting” of some of the nonprofits he serves. And he spends “very little” time on his board positions.

Haden’s attitude is representative of an earlier era when outside directors merely showed up at meetings and nodded their head to whatever the chairman said. Those days are long gone. Today, board members are expected to spend much more time on their board duties, at the risk of liability if they don't.

Mr. Haden, a former Rhodes Scholar, is a very bright guy, but even bright guys can say stupid things. I just hope he’s never sued. (At least one of the businesses he serves as a director is a public corporation.) A plaintiff’s lawyer could use quotes like this to mince him.

In the meantime, I suggest he read something on modern corporate governance. He has a law degree, so he shouldn’t have any trouble understanding it.

November 2, 2015 in Business Associations, C. Steven Bradford, Corporate Governance, Corporations | Permalink | Comments (5)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Nice Award, But . . .

. . . are you sure I qualify?

From a spam email I recently received:

Dear Steve,

On behalf of The International Women’s Leadership Association, it is my distinct pleasure to notify you that, in consideration of your contribution to family career, and community, you have been selected as a woman of outstanding leadership.

October 29, 2015 in C. Steven Bradford | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, October 26, 2015

Chiarella: The Launch of the Supreme Court's Insider-Trading Jurisprudence

The Second Circuit decision in the Newman case has provoked much discussion of the Supreme Court’s opinion in Dirks and how to interpret the requirements it lays out for tippee liability. But it’s important to remember that Dirks was not writing on a clean slate. This year is the 35th anniversary of the case that preceded Dirks and laid the foundation for the Supreme Court’s insider-trading jurisprudence, Chiarella v. United States.

I realize that this was not the Supreme Court’s first look at insider trading. That honor, arguably, goes to Strong v. Repide, 213 U.S. 419 (1909). But Chiarella was the court’s first discussion of insider trading under Rule 10b-5.

The facts of the Chiarella case are relatively simple. Vincent Chiarella, the defendant in the case, was an employee of Pandick Press, a financial printer. His company was hired to print announcements of takeover bids. Although the identities of the target corporations were concealed in the announcements, Chiarella was able to figure out who they were. He bought stock in the target companies and made a profit of roughly $30,000. He was convicted of a criminal violation of Rule 10b-5, but the Supreme Court overturned his conviction.

It’s important to remember the basic problem Chiarella had to deal with (or perhaps it’s fairer to say the problem as the Chiarella majority constructed it). Rule 10b-5 prohibits securities fraud. People engaged in insider trading don’t usually make false statements and, under the common law, mere silence is not usually fraud. Because of that, the majority in Chiarella rejected the notion that a mere failure to disclose nonpublic information prior to trading violates Rule 10b-5. There’s no fraud.

However, the majority pointed out that a failure to disclose can be fraudulent when the non-disclosing party has a duty to disclose to the other person “because of a fiduciary or other similar relation of trust and confidence between them.” That fiduciary duty, the majority indicated in dictum, does exist in the case of corporate insiders. But Vincent Chiarella was not an insider of the corporations whose stock he traded. Since the government had not otherwise shown that Chiarella violated a fiduciary duty by not disclosing to anyone, he was not liable under Rule 10b-5.

That’s the essence of Chiarella: nondisclosure violates Rule 10b-5 only if there’s a fiduciary duty to disclose. No fiduciary duty, no liability.

Everything that followed—Dirks; O’Hagan; the Second Circuit’s decision in Newman; even the SEC’s Rule 10b5-2—depends on Chiarella. How different things would have been if Justice Blackmun’s dissent had carried a majority. His view was that “persons having access to confidential material information that is not legally available to others” could not trade without liability under Rule 10b-5.

The ultimate irony of Chiarella is that, if the case were tried today, Vincent Chiarella would without a doubt be liable under Rule 10b-5. The Supreme Court’s subsequent decision in United States v. O’Hagan, 521 U.S. 642 (1997) makes it crystal clear that one can be liable for trading on the basis of nonpublic information obtained from one’s employer or client. But the majority in Chiarella refused, on procedural grounds, to reach that question.

October 26, 2015 in C. Steven Bradford, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Crowdfunding and Venture Capital - A Response

As Steve Bradford mentioned in his post on Monday (sharing his cool idea about mining crowdfunded offerings to find good firms in which to invest), our co-blogger Haskell Murray published a nice post last week on venture capital as a follow-on to capital raises done through crowdfunding.  He makes some super points there, and (although I was raised by an insurance brokerage executive, not a venture capitalist), my sense is that he's totally right that the type of crowdfunding matters for those firms seeking to follow crowdfunding with venture capital financing.  I also think that, of the types of crowdfunding he mentions, his assessment of venture capital market reactions makes a lot of sense.  Certainly, as securities crowdfunding emerges in the United States on a broader scale (which is anticipated by some to happen with the upcoming release of the final SEC rules under Title III of the JOBS Act), it makes sense to think more about what securities crowdfunding might look like and how it will fit into the cycle of small business finance.

Along those lines, what about debt crowdfunding as a precursor to venture capital funding?  Andrew Schwartz has written a bit about that.  Others also may have taken on this topic.  Professor Schwartz may be right that issuers will prefer to issue debt than equity--in part because it may prove to be less of an impediment to later equity financings.  But I don't necessarily have a warm feeling about that . . . .

And what about the crowdfunding of investment contracts (e.g., what I have previously called "unequity" in this article (and elsewhere, including in this further article) and perhaps even the newly popular SAFEs)?  There is no equity overhang with unequity and some other types of investment contract, but crowdfunded SAFEs, which are convertible paper, may be viewed negatively in later financing rounds--especially if the conversion rights are held by a wide group of investors.  While part of me is surprised that people are not taking the investment contract part of the potential securities crowdfunding market seriously (since folks were crowdfunding investment contracts before the JOBS Act came along--not knowing it was unlawful), the other part of me says that crowdfunded investment contracts would have a niche market at best.

So, thanks, Haskell, for the food for thought.  No doubt, more will be written about this issue as and if the market for crowdfunded securities develops.  Coming soon, says the SEC . . . .

October 21, 2015 in C. Steven Bradford, Corporate Finance, Crowdfunding, Haskell Murray, Joan Heminway, Securities Regulation, Venture Capital | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 19, 2015

Should Venture Capitalists Be Skimming Crowdfunders?

My co-blogger Haskell Murray had an interesting post on Friday about the use of crowdfunding as a strategy to attract venture capital. He points out that many companies that had successful crowdfunding campaigns on Kickstarter or Indiegogo subsequently raised venture capital. He argues that a successful crowdfunding campaign might be a signal to venture capitalists.

If you haven’t read Haskell’s post yet, it’s well worth reading. I want to take the discussion in a slightly different direction.

I don’t think venture capitalists should be waiting to see if a company has a successful crowdfunding campaign. I think they should use crowdfunding listings as leads and try to preemptively capture those companies before they complete their crowdfunding campaigns—convince the good companies to forego crowdfunding and go the venture capital route instead.

If I were a wealthy venture capitalist, I would have someone skimming through all of the crowdfunding sites, including the equity crowdfunding sites, looking for potential investments. The venture capital business is extremely competitive. Getting to the good companies before they have a successful raise is one way to one-up the competition. Once a company has shown crowdfunding success, others will want a piece.

Many of the companies doing crowdfunding will not interest venture capitalists. But it only takes a few hidden gems to make the weeding process worthwhile. And most of the weeding out could be done quite easily by inexpensive, low-level staff. Even I could spot most of the obvious losers.

I have suggested this strategy at a couple of conferences where venture capitalists were present. It will be interesting to see if any of them try it. (For some reason, professional venture capitalists don't seem all that interested in my investment advice.)

As for me, I’ll file this in my “What I would do if I had a ton of money” folder. (It’s a very full folder.)

October 19, 2015 in C. Steven Bradford, Crowdfunding, Financial Markets, Private Equity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 12, 2015

How Much Securities Law Should Be in the Basic Business Associations Course?

Last week,  I asked whether casebooks should include statutes. That post provoked a healthy debate in the comments and elsewhere. Today, I want to address another content question, this one dealing not with the content of casebooks but with the content of the Business Associations course itself. What securities law topics should be included in the basic business associations course?

The answer to that question obviously depends on whether the course is for three or four credit hours. I don’t think a comprehensive business associations course should ever be limited to three credit hours. But, if I had to teach a three-hour course, I would not cover any securities law. Agency, partnership, corporations, and LLCs are already too much to cram into a three-hour course. Adding securities topics on top of all that would, in my opinion, make the course too superficial.

Luckily, I have the hard-fought right to teach B.A. as a four-hour course. In a four-hour course, I think it’s essential to cover proxy regulation. Federal law or not, it’s mainstream corporate governance, at least for public companies, and many, perhaps most, securities regulation courses don’t cover it.

Beyond that, I’m not sure any securities coverage is absolutely essential. I spend a few minutes on the registration of securities offerings and a few minutes on Rule 10b-5 and securities fraud. I cover both topics in my Securities Regulation course, so I don’t want to cover either topic in any detail, but it’s so easy to stumble into these areas without even realizing it that every future lawyer should be warned. My main message: if you’re not a regular practitioner of securities law, call a securities lawyer. It’s too complicated to pick up on your own.

When I say I cover those topics in a few minutes, I mean no cases and, except for the text of 10b-5, no regulations. Just a brief summary by me of the potential pitfalls.

I do cover insider trading in depth. It could be relegated to the basic securities course; I cover the rest of Rule 10b-5 in Securities Regulation. But it just seems to work better in Business Associations, perhaps because of its focus on fiduciary duties. And covering it in B.A. keeps me from having to cram even more into my three-hour Securities Regulation course.

I would be interested in hearing what others think about this. Which securities law topics should be covered in the basic B.A. course and which should be relegated to Securities Regulation?  

October 12, 2015 in Business Associations, C. Steven Bradford, Law School, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (7)

Friday, October 9, 2015

Christine Hurt on LLPs in Bankruptcy

Christine Hurt has written an interesting article on limited liability partnerships in bankruptcy. It's available here.

Here's the abstract:

Brobeck. Dewey. Howrey. Heller. Thelen. Coudert Brothers. These brand-name law firms had many things in common at one time, but today have one: bankruptcy. Individually, these firms expanded through hiring and mergers, took on expensive lease commitments, borrowed large sums of money, and then could not meet financial obligations once markets took a downturn and practice groups scattered to other firms. The firms also had an organizational structure in common: the limited liability partnership.

In business organizations classes, professors teach that if an LLP becomes insolvent, and has no assets to pay its obligations, the creditors of the LLP will not be able to enforce those obligations against the individual partners. In other words, partners in LLPs will not have to write a check from personal funds to make up a shortfall. Creditors doing business with an LLP, just as with a corporation, take this risk and have no expectation of satisfaction of claims by individual partners, absent an express guaranty. In bankruptcy terms, creditors look solely to the capital of the entity to satisfy claims. While bankruptcy proceedings involving general partnerships may have been uncommon, at least in theory, bankruptcy proceedings involving limited liability partnerships have recently become front-page news.

The disintegration of large, complex LLPs, such as law firms, does not fit within the Restatement examples of small general partnerships that dissolve fairly swiftly and easily for at least two reasons. First, firm creditors, who have no recourse to individual partners’ wealth, wish to be satisfied in a bankruptcy proceeding. In this circumstance, federal bankruptcy law, not partnership law, will determine whether LLP partners will have to write a check from personal funds to satisfy obligations. Second, these mega-partnerships have numerous clients who require ongoing representation that can only be competently handled by the full attention of a solvent law firm. In these cases, the dissolved law firm has neither the staff nor the financial resources to handle sophisticated, long-term client needs such as complex litigation, acquisitions, or financings. These prolonged, and lucrative, client matters cannot be simply “wound up” in the time frame that partnership law anticipates. The ongoing client relationship begins to look less like an obligation to be fulfilled and more like a valuable asset of the firm.

Partnership law would scrutinize the taking of firm business by former partners under duty of loyalty doctrines against usurping business opportunities and competing with one’s own partnership, both duties that terminate upon the dissolution of the general partnership or the dissociation of the partner. However, bankruptcy law is not as forgiving as the LLP statutes, and bankruptcy trustees view the situation very differently under the “unfinished business” doctrine. The bankruptcy trustee, representing the assets of the entity and attempting to salvage value for creditors, instead seeks to make sure that assets, including current client matters, remain in partnership solution unless exchanged for adequate consideration, even if the partners agree to let client matters stay with the exiting partners.

This Article argues that the high-profile bankruptcies of Heller Ehrman LLP, Howrey LLP, Dewey & LeBeouf, LLP, and others show in stark relief the conflict between general partnership law and bankruptcy law. The emergence of the hybrid LLP creates an entity with general partnership characteristics, such as the right to co-manage and the imposition of fiduciary duties, but with limited liability for owner-partners. These characteristics co-exist peacefully until they do not, which seems to be at the point of dissolution. Then, the availability of limited liability changes partners’ incentives upon dissolution. Though bankruptcy law attempts to resolve this, it conflicts with partnership law to create more uncertainty.

October 9, 2015 in Bankruptcy/Reorganizations, C. Steven Bradford, Partnership, Research/Scholarhip | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 28, 2015

Lebovits on Legal-Writing Myths

I detest bad legal writing. (I detest bad writing of all kinds, but this is a law blog, so I’ll limit my rant to legal writing.) I don’t like to read it and I hate it when I (sometimes?) write it. I’m not a great writer, but I appreciate lawyers and legal scholars who can write clear, concise prose. Unfortunately, although writing is an essential element of legal practice, many lawyers do not write well.

If you care about legal writing, and you should, the Scribes Journal of Legal Writing recently published a short piece you might want to read: Legal-Writing Myths, by Judge Gerald Lebovits.

I knew after reading the first paragraph that I was going to like Judge Lebovits’s article. His first sentence rejects the prohibition on beginning a sentence with a conjunction. His second sentence rejects the prohibition on ending a sentence with a preposition. And [remember his first sentence?] his third sentence rejects the prohibition on splitting infinitives.

I was not disappointed as I read the rest of the article. In just a few pages, Judge Lebovits artfully rebuts ten myths of legal writing.

My favorite myths:

  • “Writing a lengthy brief is harder and takes more time than writing a short one.”
  • “Good legal writers rarely need time to edit between drafts.”

Check it out. It’s definitely worth reading. Judge Lebovits has written a number of other interesting articles on legal writing. You can find many of them here.

September 28, 2015 in C. Steven Bradford, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 25, 2015

SEC Crowdfunding Rules Coming in the "Very Near Term"?

Regular readers of this blog know that I have chastised the SEC on several occasions for its lengthy delay in adopting rules to implement the exemption for crowdfunded securities offerings. (It has now been 1,268 days since the President signed the bill, 998 days past the statutory rulemaking deadline, and 702 days since the SEC proposed the rules.)

The long wait may soon be over. According to BNA, SEC Chair Mary Jo White said yesterday that the SEC will finish adopt its crowdfunding rules in the "very near term."

I don't know exactly what "very near term" means to a government official. Given my luck, it probably means immediately prior to the two crowdfunding presentations I'm scheduled to give in October. Nothing like a little last-minute juggling to keep me on my toes.

September 25, 2015 in C. Steven Bradford, Corporate Finance, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, September 21, 2015

Are Fake Product Reviews or Facebook "Likes" Securities Fraud?

Haskell Murray had an interesting post on Friday about businesses buying fake reviews, followers, or friends online.  That post led me to think about another issue—if a company did that, could it be liable under Rule 10b-5 for securities fraud?

Consider this scenario: An investor is thinking about investing in a company called Ebusiness, Inc. She carefully reviews the company’s online presence and sees that Ebusiness has more followers and friends than anyone else in the industry. The reviews of its products are overwhelmingly positive. She concludes that Ebusiness is destined for greatness and buys its stock.

Later, the press discloses that most of Ebusiness’s followers and friends, and most of its online product reviews, are fake. Ebusiness paid someone else to produce them. The price of Ebusiness’s stock drops precipitously. Would Ebusiness be liable under Rule 10b-5?

Rule 10b-5 makes it unlawful "to make any untrue statement of a material fact . . . in connecton with the purchase or sale of any security. There’s no question that Ebusiness, through its paid agent, made fraudulent statements. There’s also no question that the investor relied on those fraudulent statements and suffered a loss when the truth became known. The real issue is whether those fraudulent statements were “in connection with the purchase or sale of any security,” as required by Rule 10b-5.

The courts have read the “in connection with” requirement broadly, but its meaning is still far from clear. The Second Circuit has indicated that the false statement must be disseminated “in a manner reasonably calculated to influence the investing public.” SEC v. Texas Gulf Sulphur Co. 401 F.2d 833, 862 (2d Cir. 1968). The false statements do not have to be directed specifically at investors, as long as the statement is of a sort that reasonable investors would rely on. In Re Carter-Wallace, Inc. Securities Litigation, 150 F.3d 153, 156 (2d Cir. 1998). The Carter-Wallace case held that product advertisements in medical journals could be covered by Rule 10b-5, although the primary goal of advertising is to influence consumers, not investors.

The same can be said of false "likes" and product reviews. Their primary goal is to influence consumers, not to convince investors to buy the company's stock. A reasonable investor certainly would not rely on a single "like" or product review. But, given the importance of a company's Internet presence, a reasonable investor might rely on the overall weight of likes and product reviews. Such use by an investor is certainly reasonable foreseeable.

Given the uncertainty of the case law, a definite conclusion is impossible. But it is at least possible that fraudulent product reviews or Facebook “likes” could trigger liability under Rule 10b-5. It’s probably just a matter of time before an ambitious plaintiff’s lawyer tries.

September 21, 2015 in C. Steven Bradford, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, September 14, 2015

Peer-to-Peer Lenders: Read Carefully

A student of mine studying peer-to-peer lending ran across an interesting provision in the securities filings of Prosper Marketplace,  one of the two main peer-to-peer lending sites. (The other is Lending Club.) 

Here is one of the risk factors in Prosper’s filings:

In the unlikely event that PFL receives payments on the Borrower Loan corresponding to an investor’s Note after the final maturity date, such investor will not receive payments on that Note after maturity.

Each Note will mature on the initial maturity date, unless any principal or interest payments in respect of the corresponding Borrower Loan remain due and payable to PFL upon the initial maturity date, in which case the maturity of the Note will be automatically extended to the final maturity date. If there are any amounts under the corresponding Borrower Loan still due and owing to PFL on the final maturity date, PFL will have no further obligation to make payments on the related Notes, even if it receives payments on the corresponding Borrower Loan after such date.

To understand how this works, you need to understand a little about how the Prosper site works. When a loan is funded by the peer-to-peer lenders on Prosper's site, the borrower signs a note payable to Prosper. Prosper, in turn, issues notes to the peer-to-peer lenders, but Prosper promises to make payments only to the extent that the underlying borrowers pay their notes to Prosper. In other words, Prosper is essentially just passing through any payments made by the peer-to-peer borrowers, with no additional recourse against Prosper. But, because of the limitation quoted above, Prosper won’t even pass through all loan payments. It’s free to keep any payments made after the final maturity date.

Prosper is, of course, free to structure its contracts in any way it wants, and I can understand why a provision like this would be useful. Prosper does not want to maintain records on these loans and lenders in perpetuity, and the final maturity date is a convenient cut-off point.

However, this limitation produces a potential windfall to Prosper. Payment after the final maturity date may be unlikely, but surely some borrowers will make payments after that point. If a conscientious borrower decides to pay later, Prosper pockets all of the money.

I would think the peer-to-peer lending sites, eager to attract the “crowd” to their sites, would bend over backwards to demonstrate their fairness to potential lenders, even if it does increase their administrative costs. Apparently not.

September 14, 2015 in C. Steven Bradford, Financial Markets | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, August 31, 2015

Andrew Vollmer on SEC Enforcement

Andrew Vollmer, a law professor at the University of Virginia and a former SEC deputy general counsel, has written two excellent papers on SEC enforcement.

The first, SEC Revanchism and the Expansion of Primary Liability under Section 17(a) and Rule 10b-5, is a critical look at the SEC’s decision in the Flannery administrative proceeding. If you’re a securities lawyer and you’re not familiar with Flannery, you should be. It stakes out a number of broad interpretations of liability under Rule 10b-5 and section 17(a) of the Securities Act. I (and Professor Vollmer) believe some of those positions are inconsistent with Supreme Court precedent, but the SEC’s is clearly trying to set up an argument for judicial deference under Chevron.

Professor Vollmer’s second article is Four Ways to Improve SEC Enforcement. He discusses the problems with SEC administrative proceedings and how to fix them.

Both articles are definitely worth reading.

August 31, 2015 in C. Steven Bradford, Research/Scholarhip, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, August 28, 2015

Finally, I Can Agree with SEC Commissioner Luis Aguilar

I don't agree with SEC Commissioner Luis Aguilar on many issues. But I agree with his recent call for transparency in the disqualification waiver process.

A number of SEC rules, such as some of the offering registration exemptions, are not available to companies that have engaged in certain misbehavior in the past. But the SEC has the authority to waive those disqualifications, and it often does. Or, I should say, the SEC staff often does. As Commissioner Aguilar points out, the commissioners are often unaware that a waiver has been requested. And, as with staff no-action letters, it's often unclear why some waivers are granted and others are not.

I'm not a fan of the whole idea of discretionary waivers. Allowing government employees to waive the law on a case-by-case basis with little explanation strikes me as inconsistent with the rule of law. But, if we're going to have them, the process should be as transparent as possible.

August 28, 2015 in C. Steven Bradford, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 24, 2015

Thoughts on Beginning My 30th Year of Law Teaching

I begin my 30th year of law teaching today. I can still remember that hot August day I first stepped into the huge, tiered classroom at SMU. Standing on the raised platform facing a mob of over a hundred eager students. The low hum generated by dozens of pre-class conversations. The feeling of inferiority as all those pairs of eyes checked out the newest professor.

I was scared to death. I had spent the summer reviewing the law of business associations—reading and highlighting the casebook; reading a corporate law treatise; reading law review articles. I had extensive teaching notes in front of me that first day, some of them cribbed from class notes that the late Alan Bromberg had generously shared with me. But I didn’t have a clue how to teach. For the most part, I was mimicking what my own law school professors had done, without realizing why they had done what they did.

It didn’t go well at first. I was shy and hesitant, and students could sense my lack of confidence. Many of the students weren’t as prepared as I’d hoped, and I wasn’t sure how to draw them out and build on what they understood. Some of the students weren’t that eager to learn the law of business associations, and I didn’t have a clue how to motivate them. My first-semester evaluations were horrible.

Things have changed significantly since I began teaching. I’ve changed. I’m no longer afraid as I walk into the classroom; decades of teaching have turned my fear into just a slight tinge of anxiety. The evaluations aren’t as bad; I’ve learned how to teach, and I succeed more often than not. I have even won teaching awards.

The classroom has also changed. When I started teaching, I wasn’t competing with Facebook, online shopping, and email. I don’t think anyone in my first class had a laptop. When I started teaching, PowerPoint wasn’t an option. SMU didn’t even have whiteboards; I had to regularly brush chalk off my clothes. When I started teaching, professors distributed syllabi and supplemental reading via photocopy and e-books weren’t available. Today, I distribute all supplemental material over the Internet and one of my courses is wholly online.

Some things haven’t changed that much. Some of the students are still underprepared. Some of them still aren’t that interested in business associations, taking the class only because they know it will be on the bar. And it’s still a chore to end that hum of pre-class conversations when it’s time to start.

But it’s been a great career. I enjoy what I’m doing, except when administrative hassles interfere with my teaching and research—something that, unfortunately, seems to happen more often with seniority.

If you’re new to law teaching, persevere through the challenges. Learn as your students learn and try to have fun. Law teaching is an awesome responsibility, but, in spite of the struggles, it can be an incredibly rewarding experience. I hope you too can look back after thirty years with a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment.

If you're a student, give those new teachers a break. They're learning, just like you. Take out your frustrations on the old fogies like me.

August 24, 2015 in C. Steven Bradford, Law School, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (6)

Friday, August 21, 2015

Salman Rushdie on When to Stop Editing

One of the hardest things for me as a writer is knowing when I'm done. September's Harvard Business Review (p. 128) has a great quote from Salman Rushdie on that question. They asked him how he knows he's finished a book. He says:

"There's a point at which you're not making it better; you're just making it different. You have to be good at recognizing that point."

August 21, 2015 in C. Steven Bradford, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 17, 2015

Everyone Who Uses PowerPoint Should Watch this Video

Bad PowerPoint is ubiquitous. PowerPoint presentations are like writing: anyone can do them, but few people can do them well. And the number of people who think they do them well is much greater than the number of people who actually do.

As anyone who has attended a legal conference can attest, many of us don't have a clue about how to design effective PowerPoint presentations. The result is distracted audiences, confusing presentations, and ineffective teaching.

The fault is not in the PowerPoint tool. The fault is in how people use the tool. As Peter Norvig has said,

PowerPoint doesn’t kill meetings. People kill meetings. But using PowerPoint is like having a loaded AK-47 on the table: You can do very bad things with it.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I spoke at this summer’s annual conference of the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI). My topic was How to Ruin a Presentation with PowerPoint. That presentation is now available on YouTube.

My presentation focuses on some of the most common mistakes people make in creating PowerPoint presentations and discusses how to improve your PowerPoint presentations. My comments aren’t limited to the Microsoft product. Almost everything I say is also applicable to other presentation software and most of what I say also applies to graphics created for videos.

My focus is on slide design and content, not on the intricacies of PowerPoint. I don’t try to teach you all the magic things PowerPoint can do or make you a power user of PowerPoint. In fact, many of the amazing things PowerPoint can do aren't particularly good for presentations. Instead, I point out the horrors of bad PowerPoint and give people some simple hints for making more effective presentations.

The hour-long presentation is here, if you want to watch it.

The CALI conference, as usual, included a number of excellent presentations on teaching with technology and innovations in legal education. You can see all of the videos here.

If you're an academic interested in technology, you really ought to attend one of the CALI annual conferences. There's a nice mix of law school technologists, librarians, and faculty. I always learn something new. Everyone I know who has gone has come away wanting to go again.

August 17, 2015 in C. Steven Bradford, Conferences, Teaching, Technology | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, August 10, 2015

Kosuri on the Art of Business Lawyering (and How to Teach It)

As I continue my (futile?) quest to exhaust my electronic reading pile before the fall semester begins, I recently read a nice article on business lawyering: Praveen Kosuri, Beyond Gilson: The Art of Business Lawyering, 19 LEWIS & CLARK L. REV. 463 (2013), also available on SSRN here.

Kosuri asks what distinguishes great business lawyers, and develops a three-tiered pyramid of the skills that transactional business lawyers need. At the bottom of the pyramid are what Kosuri calls foundational skills: reading and understanding contracts; research and drafting; financial literacy; and a basic knowledge of business law. The next level of the pyramid, which Kosuri calls transitional skills, includes negotiation; structuring deals; risk management; and transaction cost engineering. The top level of the pyramid, which Kosuri calls optimal skills, includes understanding business; understanding people; problem-solving; and advising.

Kosuri then considers who would be best at teaching each of those categories of skills and how to teach them. I don’t agree with everything he says, but the article is insightful and certainly worth reading.

Here’s the abstract:

Thirty years ago, Ronald Gilson asked the question, “what do business lawyers really do?” Since that time legal scholars have continued to grapple with that question and the implicit question of how business lawyers add value to their clients. This article revisits the question again but with a more expansive perspective on the role of business lawyer and what constitutes value to clients.

Gilson put forth the theory of business lawyers as transaction cost engineers. Years later, Karl Okamoto introduced the concept of deal lawyer as reputational intermediary. Steven Schwarcz attempted to isolate the role of business lawyer from other advisors and concluded the only value lawyers added was as regulatory cost managers. All of these conceptions of business lawyering focused too narrowly on the technical skills employed, and none captured the skill set or essence of the truly great business lawyer. In this article, I put forth a more fully developed conception of business lawyer that highlights skills that differentiate great business lawyers from the merely average. I then discuss whether these skills can be taught in law schools and how a tiered curriculum might be designed to better educate future business lawyers.

August 10, 2015 in C. Steven Bradford, Law School, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, August 3, 2015

The University of Nebraska is Hiring

My law school, the University of Nebraska, is hiring. Here are the details:


Entry-Level or Experienced Faculty Position

The UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA COLLEGE OF LAW invites applications for entry-level and lateral candidates for one or more tenure-track or tenured faculty positions. Our curricular needs include Business Associations, Evidence, Wills and Trusts, and Civil Procedure. Other needs include courses related to

  • Criminal Law (e.g., Federal Criminal Law or White Collar Crime, Criminal Procedure 2, Post­Conviction Remedies, or Criminal Sentencing);
  • Health Care (e.g., Federal Regulation of Health Care Providers, Health Care Finance, Torts, Administrative Law, Medical Malpractice, Privacy Law, Law and Medicine, Public Health Law, Bioethics and the Law, and the Law of Provider and Patient);
  • Litigation Skills and Related Courses (e.g., Trial Advocacy, Civil Rights Litigation, Pretrial Litigation or other litigation skills courses, Conflicts of Laws);
  • Business Law (e.g., Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Insurance Law, Bankruptcy, Corporate Restructuring, Nonprofit Organizations, Risk Management / Compliance, or White Collar Crime);
  • Patent Law and International Intellectual Property;
  • Family Law;
  • Education Law; and
  • Election Law.

Minimum Required Qualifications: J.D Degree or Equivalent, Superior Academic Record, Demonstrated Interest in Relevant Substantive Areas. Title of Asst/Assoc/or Full Professor will be based on qualifications of applicant.  Please fill out the University application, which can be found at http://employment.unl.edu/postings/45473, and upload a CV, a cover letter, and a list of references.  General information about the Law College is available at http://law.unl.edu/. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is committed to a pluralistic campus community through affirmative action, equal opportunity, work-life balance, and dual careers.  Review of applications will begin on August 20, 2015, and continue until the position is filled. Contact Associate Dean Richard Moberly, Chair, Faculty Appointments Committee, University of Nebraska College of Law, Lincoln, NE 68583-0902, or send an email to lawappointments@unl.edu.


 Civil Clinical Position

The UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA COLLEGE OF LAW invites applications for entry-level and lateral candidates for a tenure-track faculty position to teach in its Civil Clinic. The position may also include teaching a classroom law school course on evidence, pretrial litigation, trial advocacy, or related subjects. In Fall 2016, Nebraska Law will open a new, state-of-the-art clinic building to house all of its clinics together.
Minimum Required Qualifications: J.D Degree or Equivalent, Superior Academic Record, Demonstrated Interest in Relevant Substantive Areas. Title of Asst/Assoc/or Full Clinical Professor will be based on qualifications of applicant.  General information about the Law College is available at http://law.unl.edu/. Please fill out the University application, which can be found at http://employment.unl.edu/postings/45475, and upload a CV, a cover letter, and a list of references. The University of Nebraska‑Lincoln is committed to a pluralistic campus community through affirmative action, equal opportunity, work-life balance, and dual careers. Review of applications will begin on August 20, 2015 and continue until the position is filled. Contact Associate Dean Richard Moberly, Chair, Faculty Appointments Committee, University of Nebraska College of Law, Lincoln, NE 68583-0902, or send an email to lawappointments@unl.edu.

 

I'm not on our Appointments Committee, but feel free to contact me if you have any questions, particularly about our business law needs.

August 3, 2015 in Business Associations, C. Steven Bradford, Jobs, Law School | Permalink | Comments (0)