Monday, November 27, 2023
It always is a great pleasure to pass along and promote the work of a colleague. And today, I get to post about the work of a UT Law colleague! Many of you know Tomer Stein, who came to join us at UT Law back in the summer. He is such an ideal colleague and, like many of us, has broad interests across business finance and governance.
This post supports a recent draft governance piece, the title of which is the same as this post--Of Directorships: Reconfiguring the Theory of the Firm. You can find the draft here. The abstract is included below.
This Article develops a novel account of directorships and then uses it to reconfigure the theory of the firm. This widely accepted theory holds that firms emerge to satisfy the economic need for carrying out vertically integrated business activities under a fiduciary contract that substitutes for the owners’ multiple agreements with contractors and suppliers. As per this theory, the fiduciary contract is inherently incomplete, yet often preferable: while it cannot address all future contingencies in the firm, it will effectively direct all unaccounted-for firm events by placing them under the owners’ purview as a matter of default, or residual right. Under this contractual mechanism, firm owners, such as corporate shareholders, acquire the status of residual claimants who have the power to decide on all contractually unenumerated contingencies.
This view of the firm is conceptually flawed and normatively mistaken. Firms do carry vertically integrated business activities managed by their fiduciaries, but those fiduciaries—agents, trustees, and directors—are not functional equivalents from either the legal or economic standpoint. Unlike agents and trustees who receive commands from principals and settlors, respectively, directors manage the firm’s business by exercising decisional autonomy. Conceptually, shareholders who hire directors do not run the firm’s business as residual claimants. Rather, it is the directors who manage the firm as residual obligors—all contractually unaccounted for contingencies are placed under the fiduciary’s purview as a matter of obligation. This feature makes directorship an attractive management mechanism that often outperforms other fiduciary mechanisms, and the residual-claimant structure that stands behind them, in a broad variety of contexts. By developing this critical insight, the Article proposes not only to reconfigure the prevalent theory of the firm, but also to redesign both federal and state laws in a way that will facilitate directorships not only in corporations, but also across several indispensable dimensions of our financial, communal, and familial organizations.
As someone who understands both the central role of the director in corporate governance and the incomplete and inaccurate principal/agent relationship between shareholders and directors, I have enthusiasm for this project! But I also am intrigued by the thought that the ideas in the paper can be translated to non-business institutions and groups.
Read on, and enjoy!
Monday, November 20, 2023
The title of this post is the name of the advanced business associations law course I will teach in the spring. I got the idea for this course after talking to students about decreasing enrollments in advanced business law courses. Although they attributed much of the decrease to grade shopping, they also noted that they and their peers often base course registration decisions on course names (from which they make assumptions) without reading the course descriptions. So, a course named "Advanced Business Associations," no matter how creatively it is taught (and I teach it as a discussion seminar), is not likely to attract positive attention. When I floated using the HBO Max series Succession as a jumping off point for a discussion seminar on business law, they responded favorably. The rest is, as they say, history. The proof of the pudding will be in the registration numbers.
The idea for the Succession-oriented course came to me quite naturally. I already was writing an essay on fiduciary duties relating to the series--forthcoming in the DePaul Law Review in a special volume focusing on Succession. So, it was only a small jump to think about teaching more broadly from the many business law situations in the four seasons of the show.
Some of my friends from West Publishing heard about my teaching plans when they were visiting UT Law recently. They mentioned the course to their colleague, Leslie Y. Garfield Tenzer, who produces a podcast for West Academic, Legal Tenzer: Casual Conversations on Noteworthy Legal Topics. Leslie reached out and asked me to record an episode with her on the series and my course, which I recently did. The podcast was released last week. You can find it here.
My Succession course syllabus is still under construction. If you have a favorite episode that you would like me to include--one that illustrates concepts from business governance or finance--let me know. I admit that I am excited to teach from the material in Succession, a series that I enjoyed watching.
Friday, October 13, 2023
I started by asking the audience members to consider what legal areas are most affected by GAI? Although there are many, I'll focus on data privacy and employment law in this post.
Data Privacy and Cybersecurity
This topic also came up today at a conference at NCCU when I served as a panelist on cybersecurity preparedness for lawyers.
Why is this important?
ChatGPT was banned in Italy for a time over concerns about violations of the GDPR. The Polish government is investigating OpenAI over privacy issues. And there are at least two class action lawsuits in California naming Microsoft and OpenAI. Just yesterday, a US government agency halted the use of GAI due to data security risks.
It’s also much easier for bad actors to commit cybercrime because of the amount of personal data they can scrape and analyze and because deepfake technology allows impersonation of images and voices in a matter of seconds. The NSA and FBI have warned people to be worried about misinformation and cyberthreats due to the technology. On a positive note, some are using GAI to fight cybercrime.
Surveillance and facial recognition technology can violate privacy and human rights. Governments have used surveillance technology to tamp down on and round up dissidents, protestors, and human rights defenders for years. Now better AI tools makes that easier. And if you haven't heard some of the cautions about Clearview AI and the misidentification of citizens, you should read this article. A new book claims that this company could "end privacy as we know it."
What should (you and) your clients do?
- Ensure algorithms minimize collection and processing of personal data and build in confidentiality safeguards to comply with privacy laws
- Build in transparency for individuals to control how data is collected and used
- Turn on privacy settings in all AI tools and don’t allow your data to be used for training the large language models
- Turn off chat history in settings on all devices
- Prevent browser add-ons
- Check outside counsel guidelines for AI restrictions (or draft them for your clients)
- Work with your IT provider or web authority to make sure your and your clients’ data is not being scraped for training
- Use synthetic data sets instead of actual personally identifiable information
- Ensure that you have a Generative AI Security Policy
- Check vendor contracts for AI usage
- Enhance cybersecurity training
- Conduct a table top exercise and make sure that you have an incident response plan in place
- Check cyberinsurance policies for AI clauses/exclusions
What about the employment law implications?
According to a Society for Human Resources Management Member Survey about AI usage:
• 79% use AI for recruiting and hiring
• 41% use AI for learning and development
• 38% use AI for performance management
• 18% use AI for productivity monitoring
• 8% use Ai for succession planning
• 4% use AI or promotional decisions
GAI algorithms can also have significant bias for skin color. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released research showing that "not just dark African-American faces, but also Asian faces were up to 100 times more likely to be failed by these systems than the faces of white individuals.”
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has taken notice. In a panel discussion, Commissioner Keith Sonderling explained, “carefully designed and properly used, AI has potential to enhance diversity and inclusion, accessibility in the workplace by mitigating the risk of unlawful discrimination. Poorly designed and carelessly implemented, AI can discriminate on a scale and magnitude greater than any individual HR professional.” The EEOC also recently settled the first of its kind AI bias case for $365,000.
What to do
- Use AI screening tools to disregard name, sec, age, national origin, etc.
- Use bots for interviews to eliminate bias because of accents
- Check local laws such as New York City's automated decision tools guidance for employers
- Be careful about training large language models on current workforce data because that can perpetuate existing bias
- Review the EEOC Resource on AI
Questions to Ask Your Clients:
• How are you integrating human rights considerations into your company's strategy and decision-making processes, particularly concerning the deployment and use of new technologies?
• Can you describe how your company's corporate governance structure accounts for human rights and ethical considerations, particularly with regards to the use and impact of emerging technologies?
• How does your company approach balancing the need for innovation and competitive advantage with the potential societal and human rights impact of technologies like facial recognition and surveillance?
• As data becomes more valuable, how is your company ensuring ethical data collection and usage practices?
• Are these practices in line with both domestic and international human rights and privacy standards?
• How is your organization addressing the potential for algorithmic bias in your technology, which can perpetuate and exacerbate systemic inequalities?
• What steps are you taking to ensure digital accessibility and inclusivity, thereby avoiding the risk of creating or enhancing digital divides?
• How is your company taking into account the potential environmental impacts of your technology, including e-waste and energy consumption, and what steps are being taken to mitigate these risks while promoting sustainable development?
• Are you at risk of a false advertising or unfair/deceptive trade practices act claim from the FTC or other regulatory body due to your use of AI?
Whether or not you're an AI expert or use GAI in your practice now, it's time to raise these issues with your clients. Future posts will address other legal issues and the ethical implications of using AI in legal practice.
October 13, 2023 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Employment Law, Ethics, Human Rights, Law Firms, Lawyering, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, August 7, 2023
I am excited to highlight the recent posting by Matteo Gatti of his draft paper entitled Corporate Governing: Promises and Risks of Corporations as Socio-Economic Reformers. I got a preview of this work at the National Business Law Scholars Conference back in June. The title of the paper is both descriptive and clever, as the abstract below reveals.
Corporations are involved in public affairs: racial equity, women’s rights, LGBTQIA rights, climate efforts are just a few examples of an increasingly long list of areas in which corporations are active and vocal. One phenomenon is well-known: corporations promote, contrast, or finetune governmental initiatives through political messaging. In addition, corporations perform quasi-governmental functions when the actual government cannot (because of its dysfunction) or does not want to (because of its political credo) perform such functions. Economists, legal scholars, and policymakers are split as to whether corporations should take this role.
This Paper contributes to the literature in several ways. First, it maps various areas of reform by corporations in the socio-economic sphere. Then, it provides legal and policy frameworks for corporate governing by analyzing the underlying conducts under our current laws and by evaluating its multifaceted normative merits: Is there a business case for corporate governing? Is corporate governing strategically wise for corporations? Does it help social advocacy and society at large? Does corporate governing undermine actual government and imperil democratic institutions? Further, this Paper assesses corporate governing by looking into its promises and risks from a corporate and from a societal perspective and singles out two risks. First, corporate governing cannot help society in fields in which corporations have a conflicting interest, like on themes such as antitrust, tax, labor, privacy, financial and corporate reform. Second, with corporations having a greater role in policymaking, citizens may become less accustomed to expecting reform via traditional politics: addressing this risk requires efforts from citizens, civil society, and politicians to preserve democratic values and institutions—corporate governance can help but cannot be the driving force.
The article offers helpful, coherent observations about and analyses of the roles business firms play--and should play--in political governance, as well as the possible effects of those political governance engagements. I look forward to spending more time with this work!
Monday, July 10, 2023
Ciao, from Italy.
Tomorrow, I have the privilege of sharing my work in an international symposium at the University of Genoa at the invitation of Vanessa Villanueva Collao. This symposium offers a unique opportunity for transnational collaboration among corporate governance scholars. We also are celebrating Vanessa's completion of her J.S.D. degree (University of Illinois 2023).
I am presenting my paper, forthcoming in the Michigan State Law Review, on civil insider trading in personal networks. This is the companion paper to my article on criminal insider trading in personal networks, recently published in the Stetson Business Law Review and part of my larger, long-term project on U.S. insider trading in friendships and family situations. As many readers may know, this project has fascinated me for a number of years now. Each phase of the project offers new insights. And each audience helps provide valuable food for thought. I am confident that the participants in and audience members at tomorrow's symposium will be no exception. I look forward to the interchanges on my work and the work of others being featured.
The program for the symposium is included below. You will see more than a few fascinating members of the U.S. corporate governance law academic community (and friends of the BLPB) on the program for this event! It is always good to reconnect with colleagues, especially our contributors and readers.
Friday, July 7, 2023
Depending on who you talk to, you get some pretty extreme perspectives on generative AI. In a former life, I used to have oversight of the lobbying and PAC money for a multinational company. As we all know, companies never ask to be regulated. So when an industry begs for regulation, you know something is up.
Two weeks ago, I presented the keynote speech to the alumni of AESE, Portugal’s oldest business school, on the topic of my research on business, human rights, and technology with a special focus on AI. If you're attending Connecting the Threads in October, you'll hear some of what I discussed.
I may have overprepared, but given the C-Suite audience, that’s better than the alternative. For me that meant spending almost 100 hours reading books, articles, white papers, and watching videos by data scientists, lawyers, ethicists, government officials, CEOs, and software engineers.
Because I wanted the audience to really think about their role in our future, I spent quite a bit of time on the doom and gloom scenarios, which the Portuguese press highlighted. I cited the talk by the creators of the Social Dilemma, who warned about the dangers of social media algorithms and who are now raising the alarms about AI's potential existential threat to humanity in a talk called the AI Dilemma.
I used statistics from the Future of Jobs Report from the World Economic Forum on potential job displacement and from Yale's Jeffrey Sonnenfeld on what CEOs think and are planning for. Of the 119 CEOs from companies like Walmart, Coca-Cola, Xerox and Zoom, 34% of CEOs said AI could potentially destroy humanity in ten years, 8% said that it could happen in five years, and 58% said that could never happen and they are “not worried.” 42% said the doom and gloom is overstated, while 58% said it was not. I told the audience about deepfakes where AI can now mimic someone's voice in three seconds.
But in reality, there's also a lot of hope. For the past two days I've been up at zero dark thirty to watch the live stream of the AI For Good Global Summit in Geneva. The recordings are available on YouTube. While there was a more decidedly upbeat tone from these presenters, there was still some tamping down of the enthusiasm.
Fun random facts? People have been using algorithms to make music since the 60s. While many are worried about the intellectual property implications for AI and the arts, AI use was celebrated at the summit. Half of humanity's working satellites belong to Elon Musk. And a task force of 120 organizations is bringing the hammer down on illegal deforestation in Brazil using geospatial AI. They've already netted 2 billion in penalties.
For additional perspective, for two of the first guests on my new podcast, I've interviewed lawyer and mediator, Mitch Jackson, an AI enthusiast, and tech veteran, Stephanie Sylvestre, who's been working with OpenAI for years and developed her own AI product somehow managing to garner one million dollars worth of free services for her startup, Avatar Buddy. Links to their episodes are here (and don't forget to subscribe to the podcast).
If you’re in business or advising business, could you answer the following questions I asked the audience of executives and government officials in Portugal?
- How are you integrating human rights considerations into your company's strategy and decision-making processes, particularly concerning the deployment and use of new technologies?
- Can you describe how your company's corporate governance structure accounts for human rights and ethical considerations, particularly with regards to the use and impact of emerging technologies?
- How are you planning to navigate the tension between increasing automation in your business operations and the potential for job displacement among your workforce?
- How does your company approach balancing the need for innovation and competitive advantage with the potential societal and human rights impact of technologies like facial recognition and surveillance?
- In what ways is your company actively taking steps to ensure that your supply chain, especially for tech components, is free from forced labor or other human rights abuses?
- As data becomes more valuable, how is your company ensuring ethical data collection and usage practices? Are these practices in line with both domestic and international human rights and privacy standards?
- What steps are you taking to ensure digital accessibility and inclusivity, thereby avoiding the risk of creating or enhancing digital divides?
- How is your company taking into account the potential environmental impacts of your technology, including e-waste and energy consumption, and what steps are being taken to mitigate these risks while promoting sustainable development?
- What financial incentives do you have in place to do the ”right thing” even if it’s much less profitable? What penalties do you have in place for the “wrong” behavior?
- Will governments come together to regulate or will the fate of humanity lie in the hands of A few large companies?
Luckily, we had cocktails right after I asked those questions.
Are you using generative AI like ChatGPT4 or another source in your business 0r practice? If you teach, are you integrating it into the classroom? I'd love to hear your thoughts.
July 7, 2023 in Business School, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Human Rights, Intellectual Property, Lawyering, Legislation, Management, Marcia Narine Weldon, Science, Teaching, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, June 26, 2023
The University of Tennessee College of Law's business law journal, Transactions: The Tennessee Journal of Business Law, recently published my essay, "The Fiduciary-ness of Business Associations." You can find the essay here. This essay--or parts of it, anyway--has been rattling around in my brain for a bit. It is nice on a project like this to be able to get the words out on a page and release all that tension building up inside as you fashion your approach.
The abstract for the essay is included below.
This essay offers a window and perspective on recent fiduciary-related legislative developments in business entity law and identifies and reflects in limited part on related professional responsibility questions impacting lawyers advising business entities and their equity owners. In addition—and perhaps more pointedly—the essay offers commentary on legal change and the legislative process for state law business associations amendments in and outside the realm of fiduciary duties. To accomplish these purposes, the essay first provides a short description of the position of fiduciary duties in U.S. statutory business entity law and offers a brief account of 21st century business entity legislation that weakens the historically central role of fiduciary duties in unincorporated business associations. It then reflects on these changes as a matter of theory, policy, and practice before briefly summarizing and offering related reflections in concluding.
Although I always welcome thoughts on my work, I am especially interested in your thoughts on this essay. It relates to all three of my activities as a law professor--my scholarship, teaching, and service. And I know that fiduciary duty waivers and opt-ins have different impacts in different business sectors . . . . So, let me know what you think.
June 26, 2023 in Corporate Governance, Corporations, Entrepreneurship, Ethics, Joan Heminway, Lawyering, Legislation, LLCs, Management, Partnership, Research/Scholarhip, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (4)
Monday, May 22, 2023
Earlier today, I had the honor of making a brief presentation at a luncheon honoring both the 20th anniversary of the Corporate Governance Center at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a dear colleague and mentor, C. Warren Neel, who passed away at the end of March. Set forth below are the reflections I shared at the luncheon--in relevant part. These are my prepared remarks, but I often comment extemporaneously, rather than read. So, please understand that I did not exactly say what is set forth below, although it accurately captures the content I delivered.
+ + +
Lawyers must be lawyers, and so I start with law.
On July 30, 2002, President George W. Bush signed into law the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002—the most broad-based federalization of corporate governance since the adoption of the federal securities law regime itself in the 1930s. It was in the shadow of that landmark legislation that The University of Tennessee’s Corporate Governance Center—now appropriately named the Neel Corporate Governance Center—was born. Like the legislation itself, the Corporate Governance Center cast a wide net. As an interdisciplinary research program that includes the College of Law and the College of Business Administration, the Corporate Governance Center brought to the campus (and I am using Warren Neel’s own words here, from an email message he wrote in support of my tenure) “an interdisciplinary approach to the critical issues of corporate governance.”
I remember the first all-hands meeting to solidify the structure and build-out of the Corporate Governance Center. We met next door (Stokely Management Center) in a classroom. After introductions, Warren kicked things off, as I recall, and then Joe Carcello led us by sharing the vision for the center and soliciting information about our research agendas that could be used to construct research collaborations and build out the center’s website and other promotional materials.
Back then, Warren and Joe envisioned categorizing the work of each of us into one of three substantive “buckets” mirroring the three key committees of a public company’s board of directors (other than the executive committee): audit, compensation, and nominating. I was the unpopular kid at the party when I noted that my work intersected all three buckets. That was the beginning of a recognition that working across departments might not be as simple as it initially seemed. We spent years together untangling that mess—a mess we still revisit with new Ph.D. students and (sometimes) faculty who join our merry band.
Little did I know then all that we would go through so much together.
Little did I know then that both Warren and Joe would become such dear friends and scholarly sparring partners.
Little did I know then that Warren, the accidental dean, would become my accidental mentor.
There is not enough time here today to unpack all of that. But suffice it to say that, after many Corporate Governance Center research forums and lectures and, more importantly, my periodic breakfasts with Warren and Tracie Woidtke (during which we entertained Corporate Governance Center distinguished speakers—maybe no one else was willing to get up that early?), Warren rubbed off on me more than a bit. I never could agree with him on a legal rule to separate the CEO and board chair functions or on mandatory term limits for corporate directors. But I deeply appreciated the analogies he could draw between and among political, academic, and corporate governance. And his insights on audit committee process and documentation from his many years as a board member were so well taken. He especially loved to talk about his board memberships at Saks, Inc. and Healthways, Inc. (now Tivity Health, Inc.) at our breakfasts.
Also, I admired the strong position he took on the need for more transparency in the disclosure of Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) inspection reports. In particular, Warren favored disclosure of the quality control criticisms included in Part II of those inspection reports. Some of you, like me and Tracie, may have heard him argue forcefully on that topic more than once.
Since Warren’s death, I have reflected often on these memories and Warren’s elemental place in my career here at UTK. As I earlier indicated, like Warren’s deanship at the College of Business, his role as my mentor was largely unplanned. But i had good fortune in a number of things that turned out to be the perfect storm that has created a satisfying academic career here at UTK over the past 23 years. They included:
• leaving law practice to become an academic:
• settling here in Knoxville, at UTK, during the dot-com bust and just as fraud at many of our country’s largest public companies was becoming apparent;
• being contacted by Warren and Joe to join the Corporate Governance Center as a research fellow; and
• as a result, spending quality time with Warren.
“Those accidents would not have resulted in my career if, perhaps, I were at some university other than the University of Tennessee.” Those words are Warren’s—not mine—taken from the Epilogue of his 2010 book, The Accidental Dean. I cannot think of a better way of capturing my own thoughts, honoring Warren, and celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Corporate Governance Center than by quoting Warren's own wise words.
I do appreciate the opportunity to be before you today to talk about the Neel Corporate Governance Center and my accidental mentor, Warren Neel. Thank you.
Monday, April 24, 2023
Friend-of-the-BLPB Tom Rutledge alerted me earlier today to a Thomson Reuters piece on the TripAdvisor reincorporation litigation that quotes not one but two of our blogger colleagues: Ann Lipton and Ben Edwards (in that order). Ann is quoted (after a mention and quotation of one of her recent, more entertaining tweets) on the Delaware judicial aspects of the case. Ben is quoted on the Nevada corporate law piece. So great to see these two offering their legal wisdom on this interesting claim.
Ann's tweet (perhaps predictably) offers a different "take" on Nevada law than Ben's press statements.
Ann: “I tell my students, Nevada is where you incorporate if you want to do frauds . . . .”
Ben: “The folks here are people acting in good faith, trying to do what’s right – not cynically racing to the bottom . . . .”
And then Ben gets the last word: “Nevada . . . has become a home for billionaires leaving Delaware in a huff.”
Friday, March 17, 2023
I am honored to be speaking later today on ESG, blockchains, and corporate governance at this symposium at Wake Forest University School of Law. This practitioner-centered symposium promises to offer significant information useful to my teaching and scholarship. My fellow speakers hail from law firms and other organizations across the United States. I am excited to share and learn!
Thursday, February 16, 2023
As I noted in a post a few weeks ago, I am presenting on corporate fiduciary duties tonight as the Roy/Demoulas Distinguished Professor of Law and Business at the Waystar/ROYCO School of Law. The title of my presentation is: What the Roys Should Learn from the Demoulas Family (But Probably Won't). The presentation will run from 9:00 pm to 10:00 pm Eastern on Zoom at the following link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/86783560319?pwd=cTJza2N6elFyVGhBUFVjdk1Gb2oxQT09.
If you do not know about the Demoulas family and their fiduciary duty tangles up in Massachusetts, my presentation will inform you (and may even get you interested). Members of the family were locked in litigation with each other for over 20 years. Much of that litigation relates to alleged breaches of corporate and trust fiduciary duties. And for those who have not watched the HBO Max series Succession, I will offer a window on some of the characters and plot lines, tying them in to observations about the Demoulas family.
I welcome your attendance and participation!
Wednesday, February 15, 2023
I'm an avid reader of Matt Levine's Money Stuff newsletter. Yesterday, he discussed a recently posted article by Dhruv Aggarwal, Albert H. Choi, and Yoon-Ho Alex Lee, Meme Corporate Governance. Although I've not yet had time to review the paper, it's now on my reading list, and I thought other BLPB readers might want to add it to theirs too! Here's the abstract:
"In 2021, several publicly traded companies, such as GameStop and AMC, experienced a dramatic influx of retail investors in their shareholder base. This Article analyzes the impact of the “meme stock surge” phenomenon on the companies, particularly with respect to their governance outcomes and structures. The paper presents three principal findings. First, as a preliminary matter, we show how the “meme stock” frenzy was affected by the introduction of the commission-free trading platform, such as Robinhood, in 2019. We show empirically that the meme stock companies experienced a larger trading volume when commission-free trading was widely introduced. Second, we examine how the influx of retail shareholders has directly affected the governance outcomes at the meme stock companies. The main finding is that, notwithstanding the promise of more active shareholder base, meme stock companies have experienced a significant decrease in participation by their shareholders, including voting and making shareholder proposals. Third, we examine other popular governance metrics—such as ESG and board diversity indices—and show that while the diversity index has not improved, the ESG measure has gotten worse for the meme stock companies. While there is an issue of generalizability, our findings show that the influx of retail shareholders at meme stock companies have not translated into more “democratic” governance regimes."
Friday, February 3, 2023
My mind is still reeling from my trip to Lisbon last week to keynote at the Building The Future tech conference sponsored by Microsoft.
My premise was that those in the tech industry are arguably the most powerful people in the world and with great power comes great responsibility and a duty to protect human rights (which is not the global state of the law).
I challenged the audience to consider the financial price of implementing human rights by design and the societal cost of doing business as usual.
In 20 minutes, I covered AI bias and new EU regulations; the benefits and dangers of ChatGPT; the surveillance economy; the UNGPs and UN Global Compact; a new suit by Seattle’s school board against social media companies alleging harmful mental health impacts on students; potential corporate complicity with rogue governments; the upcoming Supreme Court case on Section 230 and content moderator responsibility for “radicalizing” users; and made recommendations for the governmental, business, civil society, and consumer members in the audience.
Thank goodness I talk quickly.
Here are some non-substantive observations and lessons. In a future post, I'll go in more depth about my substantive remarks.
1. Your network is critical. Claire Bright, a business and human rights rock star, recommended me based on a guest lecture I did for her class. My law students are in for a treat when she speaks with them about the EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (that she helped draft) next month.
2. Your social media profile is important. Organizers looked at videos that had nothing to do with this topic to see how I present on a stage. People are always watching.
3. Sometimes you can’t fake it until you make it. This is one of the few times where I didn’t know more than my audience about parts of my presentation. I prepared so that I could properly respect my audience’s expertise. For example, I watched 10 hours of video on a tech issue to prepare one slide just in case someone asked a question during the networking sessions.
4. Speak your truth. Going to a tech conference to tell tech people about their role in human rights and then going to a corporate headquarters to do the same isn’t easy, but it’s necessary and I had no filter or restrictions. I didn't hold back talking about Microsoft-backed ChatGPT even though they invited me to Lisbon for the conference. It was an honor to speak to Microsoft employees the day after the conference with Claire, Luis Amado, former head of B Lab Europe, and Susana Guedes to discuss sustainability, ESG, diversity, and incentivizing companies and employees to do the right thing, even when it's not popular.
5. Explore and leave the hotel even when you’re tired. I was feeling run down last Friday night and wanted to stay in bed with some room service. Manuela Doutel Haghighi (one of my new favorite people) organized a dinner at an Iranian restaurant owned by a former lawyer with 6 badass women, and I now have new colleagues and collaborators.
Stay tuned for my next post where I'll cover some of my remarks.
February 3, 2023 in Compliance, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Human Rights, International Business, Lawyering, Marcia Narine Weldon | Permalink | Comments (0)
Saturday, January 21, 2023
As some of you may have heard, following on the success of the Yada Yada Law School, administered by friend-of-the-BLPB Greg Shill, a group of law faculty are getting together to teach classes in the waystar/ROYCO School of Law this semester. Classes start this week. Class meetings will be held weekly, on prescribed days, at 6pm-7pm Pacific/8pm-9pm Central/9pm-10pm Eastern. The first two sessions are as follows:
Tuesday, January 24:
Professor Diane Kemker
Introduction: Using “Succession” (And Scripted Entertainment) to Teach Law: How and Why
[Assignment: Required: any/all of “Succession,” Seasons 1-3; Optional/recommended: any/all of “Yellowstone,” Seasons 1-5]
Wednesday, February 1:
Professor Megan McDermott
Greg Needs a Lawyer. Is He Getting an Ethical One?
[Assignment: Season 3, Ep. 2]
I will be presenting on February 16 on What the Roys Should Learn from the Demoulas Family (But Probably Won't), a lesson on corporate law fiduciary duties.
General information is provided in the syllabus included below. A full schedule of class sessions will be available soon. I will publish that, too. I hope many of you will plan on attending.
“Succession and the Law”
About the course
This is a completely unofficial course for lawyers and law professor fans (or anti-fans!) of the HBO show, “Succession.” It has been organized for informal educational/entertainment purposes only! Over the course of the spring semester, as we await the premiere of Season 4, we will look back at past episodes from a legal point of view. Depending on when Season 4 begins, we may also schedule some additional group “watch parties” and real-time discussion groups.
We have assembled a terrific group of faculty from across the country and across a variety of disciplinary specialties.
We are Prof. Diane Kemker and Prof. Susan Bandes, the organizers of our fun course on “‘Succession’ and the Law.” Diane has a background in professional responsibility and wills and trusts, and Susan is one of the nation’s most-cited experts in criminal law and procedure. Both of us have a longstanding interest in the use of popular culture for legal pedagogy. In the spring of 2023, Diane will be a Visiting Professor of Law at DePaul University College of Law, from which Susan retired/took emeritus status in 2017.
Meeting time: 6pm-7pm Pacific/8pm-9pm Central/9pm-10pm Eastern
Meeting day: Our class will meet on a weekly basis by Zoom. Please note that we will meet on different nights of the week in different weeks, but always at the same time.
Meeting ID: 867 8356 0319
We have created a Facebook group, waystar/RoyCo School of Law, to support the class. It will be a place for ongoing discussion of the show, of our sessions, and related issues. To be added, please send a Direct Message to Diane Kemker.
Professor Diane Kemker ([email protected])
Visiting Professor of Law, DePaul University College of Law and Southern University Law Center
Dean and Gerri Kellman Professor of Professional Responsibility, waystar/RoyCo School of Law
Professor Susan Bandes ([email protected])
Centennial Distinguished Professor of Law, Emerita, DePaul University College of Law
Greg Hirsch Professor of Affectionate Litigation
Professor Anat Alon-Beck
Associate Professor of Law, Case Western Reserve University School of Law
Professor Karyn Bass-Ehler
Assistant Chief Deputy Attorney General, Illinois Attorney General's Office
Professor Gillian Calder
University of Victoria (Canada) Law
Professor Joan MacLeod Heminway
Interim Director of the the Institute for Professional Leadership, Rick Rose Distinguished Professor of Law
The University of Tennessee College of Law
Roy/Demoulas Distinguished Professor of Law and Business
Professor Lenese Herbert
Professor of Law
Howard University School of Law
Professor Rebecca Johnson
Associate Director, Indigenous Law Research Unit
Director, Graduate Program
University of Victoria (Canada) Law
Professor Richard McAdams
Bernard D. Meltzer Professor of Law
University of Chicago Law School
Professor Megan McDermott
Associate Teaching Professor
University of Wisconsin School of Law
Honorary Fellow at the Collingwood Centre for Ethics and Civility (Eastnor, England)
Professor Benjamin Means
Professor of Law and John T. Campbell Chair in Business and Professional Ethics
University of South Carolina School of Law
Professor Douglas Moll
Beirne, Maynard & Parsons, L.L.P. Professor of Law
University of Houston Law Center
Professor Robin Wagner
Pitt, McGehee, Palmer, Bonanni & Rivers
NRPI Adjunct Lecturer of Employment Law
All meetings are at 6pm-7pm Pacific/8pm-9pm Central/9pm-10pm Eastern
Monday, January 16, 2023
I have given several talks on ESG (environmental, social, and governance) matters in the past few months. And, of course, it is a subject discussed in the classroom. As we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today (and this week), I could not help but feel that his work provided a foundation for—somehow embraced—current ESG discussions and actions. So, I went poking around on the Internet.
I guess I am not the only one who noticed this connection.
On the environmental part of ESG, Los Padres ForestWatch offers that:
Dr. King’s actions and teachings led to many important acts being passed in congress including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It’s through this work that Dr. King created a movement that was meant for us to understand how we are mutually tied together and that all life is interrelated. It’s this structure of thinking that has led many to believe that his work was the early structure for the Environmental Justice Movement. We see after Dr. King’s passing that environmentalists were able to pass the Clean Air Act of 1970, the Clean Water Act of 1972 and the Endangered Species Act. All of which that had a direct effect on communities of color which are often marginalized and impacted heavily by climate change.
Yet, Dr. King's social issue impacts—including especially the social justice effects of his work—are far more central to communities and corporations. Jeff Hilimire notes in a piece published on the Hands on Atlanta's website, that "[a]fter fighting for human rights for all Americans, Dr. King began to focus on employment and corporations as the next evolution of equality. He believed that companies have a responsibility to be forces of good in the world, and that their influence could make powerful change." Finally, Natalie Runyon at Thomson Reuters Institute hints at governance accountability when she notes in an online article that, while Dr. King would view current ESG efforts favorably, "Dr. King . . . stated that words are not enough—action must follow, with measurement to demonstrate progress."
I will be giving Dr. King's connection to ESG more thought this week as we celebrate his legacy. But regardless of Dr. King's level of responsibility for ESG, his work resonates for me in ESG discussions and debates.
Saturday, January 14, 2023
An ambitious question, yes, but it was the title of the presentation I gave at the Society for Socio-Economists Annual Meeting, which closed yesterday. Thanks to Stefan Padfield for inviting me.
In addition to teaching Business Associations to 1Ls this semester and running our Transactional Skills program, I'm also teaching Business and Human Rights. I had originally planned the class for 25 students, but now have 60 students enrolled, which is a testament to the interest in the topic. My pre-course surveys show that the students fall into two distinct camps. Most are interested in corporate law but didn't know even know there was a connection to human rights. The minority are human rights die hards who haven't even taken business associations (and may only learn about it for bar prep), but are curious about the combination of the two topics. I fell in love with this relatively new legal field twelve years ago and it's my mission to ensure that future transactional lawyers have some exposure to it.
It's not just a feel-good way of looking at the world. Whether you love or hate ESG, business and human rights shows up in every factor and many firms have built practice areas around it. Just last week, the EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive came into force. Like it or not, business lawyers must know something about human rights if they deal with any company that has or is part of a supply or value chain or has disclosure requirements.
At the beginning of the semester, we discuss the role of the corporation in society. In many classes, we conduct simulations where students serve as board members, government officials, institutional investors, NGO leaders, consumers, and others who may or may not believe that the role of business is business. Every year, I also require the class to examine the top 10 business and human rights topics as determined by the Institute of Human Rights and Business (IHRB). In 2022, the top issues focused on climate change:
- State Leadership-Placing people at the center of government strategies in confronting the climate crisis
- Accountable Finance- Scaling up efforts to hold financial actors to their human rights and environmental responsibilities
- Dissenting Voices- Ensuring developmental and environmental priorities do not silence land rights defenders and other critical voices
- Critical Commodities- Addressing human rights risks in mining to meet clean energy needs
- Purchasing Power- Using the leverage of renewable energy buyers to accelerate a just transition
- Responsible Exits- Constructing rights-based approaches to buildings and infrastructure mitigation and resilience
- Green Building- Building and construction industries must mitigate impacts while avoiding corruption, reducing inequality, preventing harm to communities, and providing economic opportunities
- Agricultural Transitions- Decarbonising the agriculture sector is critical to maintaining a path toward limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees
- Transforming Transport- The transport sector, including passenger and freight activity, remains largely carbon-based and currently accounts for approximately 23% total energy-related CO2 global greenhouse gas emissions
- Circular Economy- Ensure “green economy” is creating sustainable jobs and protecting workers
The 2023 list departs from the traditional type of list and looks at the people who influence the decisionmakers in business. That's the basis of the title of this post and yesterday's presentation. The 2023 Top Ten are:
- Strategic Enablers- Scrutinizing the role of management consultants in business decisions that harm communities and wider society. Many of our students work outside of the law as consultants or will work alongside consultants. With economic headwinds and recessionary fears dominating the headlines, companies and law firms are in full layoff season. What factors should advisors consider beyond financial ones, especially if the work force consists of primarily lower-paid, low-skilled labor, who may not be able to find new employment quickly? Or should financial considerations prevail?
- Capital Providers- Holding investors to account for adverse impacts on people- More than 220 investors collectively representing US$30 trillion in assets under management have signed a public statement acknowledging the importance of human rights impacts in investment and global prosperity. Many financial firms also abide by the Equator Principles, a benchmark that helps those involved in project finance to determine environmental and social impacts from financing. Our students will serve as counsel to banks, financial firms, private equity, and venture capitalists. Many financial institutions traditionally focus on shareholder maximization but this could be an important step in changing that narrative.
- Legal Advisors- Establishing norms and responsible performance standards for lawyers and others who advise companies. ABA Model Rule 2.1 guides lawyers to have candid conversations that "may refer not only to law but to other considerations such as moral, economic, social and political factors, that may be relevant to the client's situation." Business and human rights falls squarely in that category. Additionally, the ABA endorsed the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights ten years ago and released model supply chain contractual clauses related to human rights in 2021. Last Fall, the International Bar Association's Annual Meeting had a whole track directed to business and human rights issues. Our students advise on sanctions, bribery, money laundering, labor relations, and a host of other issues that directly impact human rights. I'm glad to see this item on the Top 10 list.
- Risk Evaluators- Reforming the role of credit rating agencies and those who determine investment worthiness of states and companies. Our students may have heard of S&P, Moody's, & Fitch but may not know of the role those entities played in the 2008 financial crisis and the role they play now when looking at sovereign debt. If the analysis from those entities are flawed or laden with conflicts of interest or lack of accountability, those ratings can indirectly impact the government's ability to provide goods and services for the most vulnerable citizens.
- Systems Builders- Embedding human rights considerations in all stages of computer technology. If our students work in house or for governments, how can they advise tech companies working with AI, surveillance, social media, search engines and the spread of (mis)nformation? What ethical responsibilities do tech companies have and how can lawyers help them wrestle with these difficult issues?
- City Shapers- Strengthening accountability and transformation in real estate finance and construction. Real estate constitutes 60% of global assets. Our students need to learn about green finance, infrastructure spending, and affordable housing and to speak up when there could be human rights impacts in the projects they are advising on.
- Public Persuaders- Upholding standards so that advertising and PR companies do not undermine human rights. There are several legal issues related to advertising and marketing. Our students can also play a role in advising companies, in accordance with ethical rule 2.1, about persuaders presenting human rights issues and portraying controversial topics related to gender, race, indigenous peoples, climate change in a respectful and honest manner.
- Corporate Givers- Aligning philanthropic priorities with international standards and the realities of the most vulnerable. Many large philanthropists look at charitable giving as investments (which they are) and as a way to tackle intractable social problems. Our students can add a human rights perspective as advisors, counsel, and board members to ensure that organizations give to lesser known organizations that help some of the forgotten members of society. Additionally, Michael Porter and Mark Kramer note that a shared-value approach, "generat[es] economic value in a way that also produces value for society by addressing its challenges. A shared value approach reconnects company success with social progress. Firms can do this in three distinct ways: by reconceiving products and markets, redefining productivity in the value chain, and building supportive industry clusters at the company's locations." Lawyers can and should play a role in this.
- Business Educators- Mainstreaming human rights due diligence into management, legal, and other areas of academic training. Our readers teaching in business and law schools and focusing on ESG can discuss business and human rights under any of the ESG factors. If you don't know where to start, the ILO has begun signing MOUs with business schools around the world to increase the inclusion of labor rights in business school curricula. If you're worried that it's too touchy feely to discuss or that these topics put you in the middle of the ESG/anti-woke debate, remember that many of these issues relate directly to enterprise risk management- a more palatable topic for most business and legal leaders.
- Information Disseminators- Ensuring that journalists, media, and social media uphold truth and public interest. A couple of years ago, "fake news" was on the Top 10 and with all that's going on in the world with lack of trust in the media and political institutions, lawyers can play a role in representing reporters and media outlets. Similarly, lawyers can explain the news objectively and help serve as fact checkers when appearing in news outlets.
If you've made it to the end of this post, you're either nodding in agreement or shaking your head violently in disagreement. I expect many of my students will feel the same, and I encourage that disagreement. But it's my job to expose students to these issues. As they learn about ESG from me and the press, it's critical that they disagree armed with information from all sides.
So can the next generation of lawyers save the world? Absolutely yes, if they choose to.
January 14, 2023 in Business Associations, Business School, Compliance, Conferences, Consulting, Contracts, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Human Rights, International Business, International Law, Law Firms, Law School, Lawyering, Management, Marcia Narine Weldon, Private Equity, Shareholders, Stefan J. Padfield, Teaching, Technology, Venture Capital | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, December 9, 2022
I'm a huge football fan. I mean real football-- what people in the US call soccer. I went to Brazil for the World Cup in 2014 twice and have watched as many matches on TV as I could during the last tournament and this one. In some countries, over half of the residents watch the matches when their team plays even though most matches happen during work hours or the middle of the night in some countries. NBC estimates that 5 billion people across the world will watch this World Cup with an average of 227 million people a day. For perspective, roughly 208 million people, 2/3 of the population, watched Superbowl LVI in the US, which occurs on a Sunday.
Football is big business for FIFA and for many of its sponsors. Working with companies such as Adidas, Coca-Cola, Hyundai / KIA, Visa, McDonald's, and Budweiser has earned nonprofit FIFA a record 7.5 billion in revenue for this Cup. Fortunately for Budweiser, which paid 75 million to sponsor the World Cup, Qatar does not ban alcohol. But in a plot twist, the company had to deal with a last-minute stadium ban. FIFA was more effective in Brazil, which has banned beer in stadiums since 2003 to curb violence. The ban was temporarily lifted during the 2014 Cup. I imagine this made Budweiser very happy. I know the fans were.
This big business is a big part of the reason that FIFA has been accused of rampant corruption in the award of the Cup to Russia and Qatar, two countries with terrible human rights records. The Justice Department investigated and awarded FIFA hundreds of millions as a victim of its past leadership's actions related to the 2018 and 2022 selections. Amnesty International has called these games the "World Cup of Shame" because of the use of forced labor, exorbitant recruitment fees, seizure of passports, racism, delayed payments of $220 per month, and deaths. Raising even more awareness, more than 40 million people have watched comedian John Oliver's 2014 , 2015, and 2022 takedowns of FIFA.
The real victims of FIFA's corruption are the millions of migrant workers operating under Qatar's kafala system. I remember sitting at a meeting at the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva when an NGO accused the Qatar government of using slaves to build World Cup Stadiums. I also remember both FIFA and the International Olympic Committee pledging to consider human rights when selecting sites in the future. Indeed, FIFA claims that human rights were a "key factor" when choosing the Americas to host the 2026 Cup.
With all of the talk about ESG including human rights and anti-discrimination from FIFA, Coca Cola, Budweiser and others related to the World Cup, how do those pronouncements square with FIFA's ban on team captains wearing the One Love Rainbow Arm Band? Qatar has banned same sex relations so seven EU team captains had planned to wear the arm bands as a gesture to "send a message against discrimination of any kind as the eyes of the world fall on the global game." This was on brand with FIFA 's own strong and repeated statements against racism after several African players suffered from taunts and chants from fans in stadiums. FIFA reiterated its stance after the death of George Floyd. Just today, FIFA issued another statement against discrimination, noting that over 55% of players received some kind of discriminatory online abuse during the Euro 2020 Final and AFCON 2022 Final.
It's curious then that despite FIFA's and the EU team's pledges about anti-discrimination, just three hours before a match, the teams confirmed that they would not wear the arm bands after all. Apparently, they learned that players could face yellow card sanctions if they wore them. Qatar also bans advocacy and protests about same sex relationships. Unlike the stadium beer ban, this wasn't new.
And the human rights abuse allegations against FIFA aren't new. I've blogged about FIFA and the issues I encountered when meeting human rights activists in Brazil several times including here. So I will end with the questions I asked years ago about FIFA and its sponsors and add the answers as I know them today.
1) Is FIFA, the nonprofit corporation, really acting as a quasi-government and if so, what are its responsibilities to protect and respect local communities under UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights? Answer: FIFA has pledged to comport with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, but its arm band ban shows otherwise.
2) Does FIFA have more power than the host country and will it use that power when it requires voters to consider a bidding country’s human rights record in the future? Answer: See the answer to #3. Also, it will be interesting to see what FIFA demands of 2026 host Florida, a state which is divesting of funds with a focus on ESG and which has proposed anti-ESG legislation.
3) If Qatar remains the site of the 2022 Cup after the various bribery and human rights abuse investigations, will FIFA force that country to make concessions about alcohol and gender roles to appease corporate sponsors? Answer: Nope
4) Will/should corporate sponsors feel comfortable supporting the Cup in Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022 given those countries’ records and the sponsors’ own CSR priorities? Answer: Yep, despite public statements to the contrary. It's just too lucrative.
5) Does FIFA’s antidiscrimination campaign extend beyond racism to human rights or are its own actions antithetical to these rights? Answer: Yes the campaign does but again, the arm band ban shows otherwise.
6) Are the sponsors commenting publicly on the protests and human right violations? Should they and what could they say that has an impact? Should they have asked for or conducted a social impact analysis or is their involvement as sponsors too attenuated for that? Answer: Amnesty International is seeking corporate support for compensation reform, but hasn't been very successful.
7) Should socially responsible investors ask questions about whether companies could have done more for local communities by donating to relevant causes as part of their CSR programs? Answer: In my view, yes. The UN has guidance on this as well.
8) Are corporations acting as "bystanders", a term coined by Professor Jena Martin? Answer: Yes.
9) Is the International Olympic Committee, a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization, taking notes? Answer: Yes. Despite or perhaps because of the outrage over selecting China for the Olympics, the IOC has recently approved a Strategic Framework on Human Rights.
10) Do consumers, the targets of creative corporate commercials and viral YouTube videos, care about any of this? Answer: It depends on the demographics, but I would say no. How do I know this? Because I teach and write about business and human rights and I have still scheduled my grading of exams and meetings around the World Cup. Advertisers can't miss out on having 25% of the world's eyeballs on their products. And FIFA knows that the human rights noise will all go away for most fans as soon as the referee blows the whistle to start the match.
In any event, my business and human rights students will enjoy grappling with the ugly side of the beautiful game next semester as we work on proposals for the city of Miami to live up to its 2021 commitments to human rights whether FIFA does or not.
December 9, 2022 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Games, Human Rights, Law School, Marcia Narine Weldon, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, November 25, 2022
Zhaoyi Li, Visiting Assistant Profoessor of Law at the Univeristy of Pittsburgh School of Law, has published a new article, Judicial Review of DIrectors' Duty of Care: A Comparison Between U.S. & China. Here's the abstract:
Articles 147 and 148 of the Company Law of the People’s Republic of China (“Chinese Company Law”) establish that directors owe a duty of care to their companies. However, both of these provisions fail to explain the role of judicial review in enforcing directors’ duty of care. The duty of care is a well-trodden territory in the United States, where directors’ liability is predicated on specific standards. The current American standard, adopted by many states, requires directors to “discharge their duties with the care that a person in a like position would reasonably believe appropriate under similar circumstances.” However, both the business judgment rule and Delaware General Corporate Law (“DGCL”) Section 102(b)(7) shield directors from responsibility for their actions, which may weaken the impact of the duty of care requirement on directors’ behavior.
To better allocate the responsibility for directors’ violations of the duty of care and promote the corporations’ development, it is essential that Chinese company law establish a unified standard of review governing the duty of care owed by directors to companies. The majority of Chinese legal scholars agreed that a combination of subjective and objective standards would function best. Questions remain regarding how to combine such standards and implement them. In order to promote the development of China’s duty of care, these controversial issues need to be solved. This article argues that China’s Company Law should hold a first-time violator of the duty of care liable only in cases of gross negligence but hold directors liable in the cases of ordinary negligence if they have violated the duty of care in the past.
Tuesday, November 1, 2022
Professor Caleb Griffin (University of Arkansas School of Law) offered testimony before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs in June of 2022 on problems associated with the fact that the “Big Three” index fund managers (Vanguard, BlackRock, and State Street) cast almost a quarter of the votes at S&P 500 companies. As a result, enormous power is concentrated in the hands of just a few index fund managers, whose interests and values may not align with those whose shares they are voting. Professor Griffin proposed two solutions to this problem: (1) “categorical” pass-through voting, and (2) vote outsourcing. Professor Griffin’s remarks were recently posted here, and here’s the abstract:
In recent years, index funds have assumed a new and unprecedented role as the most influential players in corporate governance. In particular, the “Big Three” index fund managers—Vanguard, BlackRock, and State Street—occupy a pivotal role. The Big Three currently cast nearly a quarter of the votes at S&P 500 companies, and that figure is expected to grow to 34% by 2028 and over 40% in the following decade.
The best solution to the current problem—where we have virtually powerless index investors and enormous, concentrated power in the hands of index fund management—is to transfer some of that power to individual investors.
There are two primary ways to do so. The first is to allow individual investors to set their own voting instructions with “categorical” pass-through voting, where investors are able to give semi-specific instructions on common categories of topics. The second approach is vote outsourcing, where investors could instruct management to vote their shares in alignment with a third party representative.
Pass-through voting preserves the economies of scale at the Big Three while addressing the root of the problem: concentrated voting power in the hands of a small, unaccountable group. Ultimately, index funds occupy a unique and important role in financial markets, not least because they're disproportionately owned by smaller, middle-income investors. These investors have a valuable voice, and pass-through voting would help us hear it.
Monday, October 3, 2022
It was so wonderful to be able to host an in-person version of our "Connecting the Threads" Business Law Prof Blog symposium on Friday. Connecting the Threads VI was, for me, a major victory in the continuing battle against COVID-19--five healthy bloggers and a live audience! Being in the same room with fellow bloggers John Anderson, Colleen Baker, Doug Moll (presenting with South Carolina Law friend-of-the-BLPB Ben Means), and Stefan Padfield was truly joyful. And the topics on which they presented--shadow insider trading, exchange trading in the cloud, family business succession, and anti-ESG legislation--were all so salient. (I offered the abstract for my own talk on fiduciary duties in unincorporated business associations in last week's post.) For a number of us, the topic of our presentations arose from work we have done here on the BLPB.
This year, as I noted in my post last week, we had a special guest as our luncheon speaker. That guest would be known to many of you who are regular readers as "Tom N." Tom has commented on our blog posts here on the BLPB for at least eight years. (I rooted around and found a comment from him as far back as 2014.) And Tom lives right here in Tennessee--in middle Tennessee, to be exact (closer to Haskell Murray than to me). You can check out his bio here. I am delighted that we were able to coerce Tom to give up a day of law practice to come join us at the symposium.
The title/topic for Tom's talk was "A Country Boy Busines Lawyer's View from Down in the Weeds." The talk was, by design, a series of reflections on Tom's wide-ranging business law practice here in the state of Tennessee. He tries to stay out of the courtroom, but by his own recounting, he has been in court in every county in the state--and Tennessee has 95 counties!
In the end, Tom ended up offering a bunch of tips for law students and lawyers (both of whom were in attendance at the symposium). I took notes during Tom's talk. I have assembled them into a list below. The key points are almost in the order in which they were delivered. The stories that led to a number of these snippets of practical advice were priceless. You had to be there. Anyway, here is my list, together with a few editorial comments of my own. Tom can feel free to add, correct, or dispute my notes in the comments!
- Take tax courses; if you fear they may hurt your GPA, audit them.
- Use all available resources to get more knowledge. (Tom indicated that he bought Westlaw/used Practical Law as a solo practitioner for many years but recently gave it up. he also noted that he regularly reads a number of the law prof blogs.)
- Be a bar association member and access the resources bar associations provide. (Tom noted the excellent written materials published by the American Bar Association and the superior continuing legal education programs produced by the Tennessee Bar Association.)
- “You are going to learn to write in law school.” (Tom advised focusing on clear, efficient writing—something I just emphasized with my Business Associations students last week.)
- Publish in the law. (Tom shared his view that writing in the law improves both knowledge and analysis.)
- Expect the unexpected, especially in court (e.g., confronting in court transactions in pot-bellied pigs involving a Tennessee nonprofit). And as a Corollary: "You can't make this stuff up." The truth often is stranger than anything you could make up . . . .)
- In business disputes, never assume that an attorney was there on the front end. (And yes, there was mention of the use by many unknowledgeable consumers of online entity formation services.)
- As a lawyer, be careful not to insert your own business judgment. The business decision is the client's to make.
- Relatedly, let the business people hand you the framework of the deal.
- Along the same lines: "I am not paying people to tell me I can’t do it; I am paying people to tell me how to do it.” (As heard by Tom from his father, a business owner-manager. I think many of us have heard this or learned this—sometimes the hard way . . . . I do try to prevent my students from learning that lesson the hard way by telling them outright.)
- And further: “You want to screw up a deal, put the lawyers in the center of it.”
- As a courtroom lawyer, know the judges and—perhaps more importantly—court clerks!
- Introduce yourself to everyone; they may be in a position to help you now or later (referencing the time he introduced himself, unknowingly, to John Wilder, the former Lt. Governor of Tennessee, who proceeded to introduce him to the local judges).
- Preparation for the bar exam is a curriculum of its own. (That's close to a quote.)
- “A lot of things go more smoothly of you can get people talking.” (Tom is more of a fan of mediation than arbitration.)
- Local rules of court may not be even published; sometimes, you just need to pick up the phone and call the court clerk. (Another reason to get to know local court clerks!)
- Developing rapport with a judge is incredibly important to successful courtroom lawyering.
- Saying "I don’t know" does not hurt anything; in fact, it may help judges/others develop confidence in you and your integrity.
- Your law school grades will not matter after your first or second job. Employers will be looking at you and your professional record, not your grades.
I am sure I missed something along the way. Maybe my fellow bloggers in attendance will have something to add. But this list alone is, imv, pure gold for students and starting lawyers.
October 3, 2022 in Colleen Baker, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Family Business, Haskell Murray, Joan Heminway, John Anderson, Lawyering, Securities Regulation, Stefan J. Padfield, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (1)