Saturday, February 18, 2023
Warning: this post addresses suicide.
I was supposed to post yesterday about a different topic but I'm posting today and not next week because someone needs to read this today.
Maybe it's you. Maybe it's your "strong" friend or colleague.
I found out yesterday that I lost a former student to suicide. She lit up every room she walked into and inspired me, her classmates, and everyone she met. I had no idea she was living in such darkness. Lawyers, law students, compliance professionals, and others in high stress roles are conditioned to be on top of everything. We are the strong ones that clients and colleagues rely on. We worry so much about the stigma of not being completely in control at all times, that we don't get help. We worry that clients won't trust us with sensitive or important matters. We worry that we won't pass the character and fitness assessments to get admitted to the bar.
The CDC released a report this week showing an alarming rise in depression, suicidal thoughts, and anxiety among our youth. The report noted that:
- Female students and LGBQ+ students are experiencing alarming rates of violence, poor mental health, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
- The rates of experiencing bullying, sexual violence, poor mental health, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors indicate a need for urgent intervention.
According to nami.org, one of the most respected organizations on the mental health:
1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year
1 in 20 U.S. adults experience serious mental illness each year
1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year
50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24
Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-14
Those statistics don't surprise me. I have a family member who lost his first friend to suicide at age 12 and has lost almost ten others in the past ten years to suicide or overdoses. I have other family members who have been hospitalized repeatedly for mental health crises and others who refused to get help and were homeless. When people ask my why I care so much about my students and coaching clients, this is why. It's personal for me.
It's why I got mental health first aid certified when the University of Miami offered the training to staff and professors and why I'm often the only lawyer in the room at conferences and trainings with social workers, neuroscientists, and therapists who are getting their certifications. I stay in my lane, of course. But I want to understand more and I want to do my part to help change the profession because lawyers are in the top 10 for rates of suicide. We have disproportionately higher rates of depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders. Although I've been a happy lawyer for over thirty years, I know I'm a unicorn.
So here are some resources. This list could be pages long so I've compiled links that also refer to other resources:
If you are a parent, especially of young children, get educated as soon as you can so that you can spot the signs early and support your children so they don't end up in these statistics. Ask your school administrators if they are familiar with the CDC's What Works in Schools Program. Tell your school board and elected officials that mental health is a priority and vote for candidates who understand this as the public health crisis that it is. Sit down with your kids and watch The Social Dilemma. It may not change their addiction to social media, but it will help you understand why this generation is suffering so much that school districts have filed suit about the mental health impacts.
If you're a law student, check out the resources above. Don't get your health advice from TikTok or Instagram unless it's from a trained professional (although I did do a TikTok video telling people to get help).
If you're a law professor, do you know where to send your students if they come to you seeking help? I have the cell phone number of our Dean of Students and I know I can reach out to her at any time if I'm worried about a student. I also share my family's story with my students so they feel safe asking for my guidance. I don't act as their therapist, but it's my job to prepare the students for the difficulties of the profession, and not just how to redline a document or argue a motion.
If you're a law firm partner, consider investing in real training for your lawyers and your staff. Don't just bring in someone to talk about mindfulness or diversity, equity, and inclusion once a year so you can check that box off. Invest in long-term, consistent, evidence-based training and coaching for your staff and lawyers at all levels (yes, managing partners too). Look at and reconfigure your billable hours requirements and layoff plans. Are they realistic? Are they really necessary? If you're comfortable, share your personal story of dealing with mental health challenges with your associates so they know you're human and have some empathy even as you have them billing over 2000 hours to get a bonus.
If you're a general counsel, ask your firms about what they do to protect and preserve mental health, just like you ask about DEI initiatives.
This is resource list is clearly just a start. What resources or tips do you have for those who are struggling in the profession? What will you today? If you do nothing else, share this message with others. It could be a matter of life or death for someone you know.
Monday, May 30, 2022
I am at a family reunion this weekend celebrating the joys of family. We celebrate those that are here. At the same time, we remember and honor those who are gone. Some of those no longer with us have been lost in armed conflict or otherwise in service to their country--service to all of us.
Today, reflecting on all this, I have found it important to remind myself of the meaning of Memorial Day. It always has had special meaning to/for me. Yet, I was unfamiliar with the statute designating the national holiday. When I read it, it was not what I expected (although I do not plan to offer a lawyerly or personal critique here).
The last Monday in May is Memorial Day.
(b) Proclamation.—The President is requested to issue each year a proclamation—
(1) calling on the people of the United States to observe Memorial Day by praying, according to their individual religious faith, for permanent peace;
(2) designating a period of time on Memorial Day during which the people may unite in prayer for a permanent peace;
(3) calling on the people of the United States to unite in prayer at that time; and
(4) calling on the media to join in observing Memorial Day and the period of prayer.
36 U.S. Code § 116 (2018). In fact, the statute is not wholly representative of the history of Memorial Day. Nevertheless, it is poignant and powerful in its call for reflective time to offer a personal and collective solemn request for permanent peace. With members of our armed forces fighting for justice and freedom in service to our country every day, it seems more than appropriate for us to stop, one day each year, to honor the ultimate sacrifice of those who have lost their lives in that service and ask for lasting peace.
Friday, September 18, 2020
Two weeks ago, I wrote about the role of compliance officers and general counsel working for Big Pharma in Where Were the Gatekeepers- Part 1. As a former compliance officer and deputy general counsel, I wondered how and if those in-house sentinels were raising alarm bells about safety concerns related to rushing a COVID-19 vaccine to the public. Now that I’ve watched the Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma,” I’m wondering the same thing about the lawyers and compliance professionals working for the social media companies.
The documentary features some of the engineers and executives behind the massive success of Google, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, YouTube and other platforms. Tristan Harris, a former Google design ethicist, is the star of the documentary and the main whistleblower. He raised concerns to 60 Minutes in 2017 and millions have watched his TED Talk. He also testified before Congress in 2019 about how social media companies use algorithms and artificial intelligence to manipulate behavior. Human rights organizations have accused social media platforms of facilitating human rights abuses. Facebook and others have paid billions in fines for privacy violations. Advertisers boycotted over Facebook and hate speech. But nothing has slowed their growth.
The documentary explicitly links the rising rate of youth depression, suicide, and risk taking behavior to social media’s disproportionate influence. Most of my friends who have watched it have already decreased their screen time or at least have become more conscious of it. Maybe they are taking a cue from those who work for these companies but don’t allow their young children to have any screen time. Hmmm …
I’ve watched the documentary twice. Here are some of the more memorable quotes:
”If you’re not paying for the product, then you’re the product.”
“They sell certainty that someone will see your advertisement.”
“It’s not our data that’s being sold. They are building models to predict our actions based on the click, what emotions trigger you, what videos you will watch.”
“Algorithms are opinions embedded in code.”
”It’s the gradual, slight, imperceptible change in our own behavior and perception that is the product.”
“Social media is a drug.”
”There are only two industries that call their customers ‘users’: illegal drugs and software.”
”Social media is a marketplace that trades exclusively in human futures.”
”The very meaning of culture is manipulation.”
“Social media isn’t a tool waiting to be used. It has its own goals, and it has its own means of pursuing them.”
“These services are killing people and causing people to kill themselves.”
“When you go to Google and type in “climate change is,” you will get a different result based on where you live … that’s a function of … the particular things Google knows about your interests.”
“It’s 2.7 billion Truman Show. Each person has their own reality, their own facts.”
“It worries me that an algorithm I worked on is increasing polarization in society.”
“Fake news on Twitter spreads six times faster than real news.”
“People have no idea what is true and now it’s a matter of life and death.”
“Social media amplifies exponential gossip and exponential hearsay to the point that we don’t know what’s true no matter what issue we care about.”
“If you want to control the operation of a country, there’s never been a better tool than Facebook.”
"The Russians didn't hack Facebook. What they did was use the tools Facebook created for legitimate advertisers and legitimate users, and they applied it to a nefarious purpose."
“What [am I] most worried about? In the short term horizon? Civil War.”
“How do you wake up from the matrix when you don’t know you’re in the matrix”?
“You could shut down the service and destroy . . . $20 billion in shareholder value and get sued, but you can’t in practice put the genie back in the model.”
“We need to accept that it’s ok for companies to be focused on making money but it’s not ok when there’s no regulation, no rules, and no competition and companies are acting as de facto governments and then saying ‘we can regulate ourselves.’ “
“There’s no fiscal reason for these companies to change.”
This brings me back to the beginning of my post. We’ve heard from former investors, engineers, and algorithm magicians from these companies, but where were and are the gatekeepers? What were they doing to sound the alarm? But maybe I’m asking the wrong question. As Ann Lipton’s provocative post on Doyle, Watson, and the Purpose of the Corporation notes, “Are you looking at things from outside the corporation, in terms of structuring our overall legal and societal institutions? Or are you looking at things from inside the corporation, in terms of how corporate managers should understand their jobs and their own roles?”
If you’re a board member or C-Suite executive of a social media company, you have to ask yourself, what if hate speech, fake news, polarization, and addiction to your product are actually profitable? What if perpetuating rumors that maximize shareholder value is the right decision? Why would you change a business model that works for the shareholders even if it doesn’t work for the rest of society? If social media is like a drug, it’s up to parents to instill the right values in their children. I get it. But what about the lawyers and the people in charge of establishing, promoting, and maintaining an ethical culture? To be clear, I don’t mean in any way to impugn the integrity of lawyers and compliance professionals who work for social media companies. I have met several at business and human rights events and privacy conferences who take the power of the tech industry very seriously and advocate for change.
The social media companies have a dilemma. Compliance officers talk about “tone at the top,” “mood in the middle,” and the “buzz at the bottom.” Everyone in the organization has to believe in the ethical mandate as laid out and modeled by leadership. Indeed, CEOs typically sign off on warm, fuzzy statements about ethical behavior in the beginning of the Code of Conduct. I’ve drafted quite a few and looked at hundreds more. Notably, Facebook’s Code of Conduct, updated just a few weeks ago, has no statement of principle from CEO Mark Zuckerberg and seems very lawyerlike. Perhaps there’s a more robust version that employees can access where Zuckerberg extols company values. Twitter’s code is slightly better and touches more on ethical culture. Google’s Code states, “Our products, features, and services should make Google more useful for all our users. We have many different types of users, from individuals to large businesses, but one guiding principle: “Is what we are offering useful?”’ My question is “useful” to whom? I use Google several times a day, but now I have to worry about what Google chooses to show me. What's my personal algorithm? I’ve been off of Facebook and Instagram since January 2020 and I have no plans to go back.
Fifty years ago, Milton Friedman uttered the famous statement, “There is one and only one social responsibility of business–to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.” The social media companies have written the rules of the game. There is no competition. Now that the “Social Dilemma” is out, there really isn’t any more deception or fraud.
Do the social media companies actually have a social responsibility to do better? In 2012, Facebook’s S-1 proclaimed that the company’s mission was to “make the world more open and connected.” Facebook’s current Sustainability Page claims that, “At Facebook, our mission is to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” Why is it, then that in 2020, people seem more disconnected than ever even though they are tethered to their devices while awake and have them in reach while asleep? Facebook’s sustainability strategy appears to be centered around climate change and supply chain issues, important to be sure. But is it doing all that it can for the sustainability of society? Does it have to? I have no answer for that. All I can say is that you should watch the documentary and judge for yourself.
September 18, 2020 in Ann Lipton, Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Family, Film, Human Rights, Lawyering, Management, Marcia Narine Weldon, Psychology, Shareholders, Television | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, March 24, 2020
Like so many law schools, we're navigating our way to online and other remote teaching and learning in a rapid and unexpected way. We started classes yesterday, and it's gone fairly well. Our faculty has worked hard, and our students have been incredibly resilient in the face this adversity we all, unfortunately, share. It does, though, impact people in many different ways.
Some people face additional health risks, financial challenges, childcare problems, technology limitations, learning disabilities, and more, and I have been so impressed with the strength and composure I have seen in our community. I suspect it's that way a lot of places, and I hope so, but it has been remarkable to see.
The Harvard Business Review posted a piece yesterday that framed this whole COVID-19 experience in a way I had not considered. The piece is titled, That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief. I would not have framed it the way, but I think it's an important perspective. The whole piece is worth a read, but here are some important points worth considering:
Anticipatory grief is the mind going to the future and imagining the worst. To calm yourself, you want to come into the present. This will be familiar advice to anyone who has meditated or practiced mindfulness but people are always surprised at how prosaic this can be. You can name five things in the room. There’s a computer, a chair, a picture of the dog, an old rug and a coffee mug. It’s that simple. Breathe. Realize that in the present moment, nothing you’ve anticipated has happened. In this moment, you’re okay. . . . .
You can also think about how to let go of what you can’t control. What your neighbor is doing is out of your control. What is in your control is staying six feet away from them and washing your hands. Focus on that.
Finally, it’s a good time to stock up on compassion. Everyone will have different levels of fear and grief and it manifests in different ways. A coworker got very snippy with me the other day and I thought, That’s not like this person; that’s how they’re dealing with this. I’m seeing their fear and anxiety. So be patient. Think about who someone usually is and not who they seem to be in this moment.
This all makes sense to me, and it is a helpful way to think about things when everything feels a little off. And right now, that seems to be often. Another thing I have tried to do is find some routine and ways to share with one another. We have been having family dinners and family movie night most nights. And we have been reconnecting with friends around the country via phone calls, but more often on Zoom. Sharing some time with friends works remarkably well, at least now that we lack other options interaction.
In the interest of sharing, here are a few recommendations. As to movies and music, if periodic coarse language, drug references, etc., are not for you, my recommendations may not be for you. So in closing, I will share some (mostly new) songs you may not have heard (and I think you should). Be safe, be well, and be good to each other.
1. I think I'm OKAY, Machine Gun Kelly, et al., -- seems about right.
2. how will i rest in peace if i'm buried by a highway?, KennyHoopla (for old guys like me, there's a modern edge with an old techno, maybe New Order, feel)
3. Hit the back, King Princess (sultry, smooth, with a 70s dance vibe, not too sappy).
4. Celoso, Lele Pons (chill Latin dance that's upbeat yet goes well with a cocktail)
5. Don't You (Forget About Me), beabadoobee (Okay, you've probably heard this one, but not this version. Like I said, I'm Gen X).
Tuesday, March 17, 2020
Like all of us, the past few weeks have been hard. The past few days, harder. Still, I am fortunate that my challenges are nothing compared to so many. My family and I are healthy so far; my job is challenging, but not currently threatened; and the people I love are, generally, safe. I am truly fortunate.
Complaining about courts messing up LLCs is not at the top of my mind right now, even though it remains both satisfying and important to me. Today, all I have are some thoughts. That all I’ve got, and it will have to be good enough.
So, here are some things I think:
- It was right to cancel March Madness, and it still makes me sad.
- Other than being a father and a spouse, I have the most important job I have ever had.
- I love our students. Every day.
- My family is the best and far more than I deserve.
- Women are widely over scrutinized, over worked, and underappreciated.
- I am proud to be a lawyer.
- Lawyers lawyering everything is exhausting, and too often, wrong (i.e., bad lawyering)
- I hate racism, and I need to work harder to be anti-racist.
- Babies are the best.
- Sometimes, it is better to be happy than to be right.
- I’m proud to be Irish.
- Law school rankings suck.
- Online teaching and learning is more work than a lot of people think.
- We all need to give each other a break.
- We can have high expectations and still be compassionate and forgiving.
I think a lot more things, but it’s time to pay attention to my family. There is no question I am the weak link in this group, and they deserve more. I guess that’s one more thing I think. Be well, friends.
Monday, November 25, 2019
Many of us teach Francis v. United Jersey Bank, 432 A. 2d 814 (N.J. 1981), in Business Associations courses as an example of a substantive duty of care case. The case involves a deceased woman, Lillian Pritchard, who, in her lifetime, did nothing as a corporate director to curb her sons' conversions of corporate funds. The court finds she has breached her duty of care to the corporation, stating that:
Mrs. Pritchard was charged with the obligation of basic knowledge and supervision of the business of Pritchard & Baird. Under the circumstances, this obligation included reading and understanding financial statements, and making reasonable attempts at detection and prevention of the illegal conduct of other officers and directors. She had a duty to protect the clients of Pritchard & Baird against policies and practices that would result in the misappropriation of money they had entrusted to the corporation. She breached that duty.
Id. at 826. In sum:
by virtue of her office, Mrs. Pritchard had the power to prevent the losses sustained by the clients of Pritchard & Baird. With power comes responsibility. She had a duty to deter the depredation of the other insiders, her sons. She breached that duty and caused plaintiffs to sustain damages.
Id. at 829.
Francis is followed in our text by a number of additional fiduciary duty law cases, including Delaware's now infamous Smith v. Van Gorkom, 488 A.2d 858 (Del. 1985), Stone v. Ritter, 911 A.2d 362 (Del. 2006), and In re Walt Disney Derivative Litigation, 907 A 2d 693 (Del. 2005). In covering these cases and discussing them with students during office hours, I became focused on the following passage from the Disney case:
The business judgment rule . . . is a presumption that "in making a business decision the directors of a corporation acted on an informed basis, . . . and in the honest belief that the action taken was in the best interests of the company [and its shareholders]." . . . .
This presumption can be rebutted by a showing that the board violated one of its fiduciary duties in connection with the challenged transaction. In that event, the burden shifts to the director defendants to demonstrate that the challenged transaction was "entirely fair" to the corporation and its shareholders.
In re Walt Disney Co. Derivative Litigation, 907 A.2d 693, 746-47 (Del. Ch. 2005). I have some significant questions about the application of the "entire fairness" standard of review in certain types of cases. In thinking those through with some of my colleagues (including a few of my co-bloggers), I realized I was curious about the answer to a related question: How would the Francis case be pleaded, proven, and decided as a breach of duty action under Delaware law?
I have my own ideas. But before I share them, I want yours. How would you categorize/label the breach(es) of duty as a matter of Delaware law? What standard of conduct and liability would you expect a Delaware court to apply as a matter of Delaware law? And what standard of review would you expect that court to use? Leave your ideas on any or all of the foregoing in the comments, please!
Monday, May 27, 2019
When I was young, Memorial Day meant one thing: the Memorial Day Fair at my church, The Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City, New York. As I contemplated how to honor our war dead this Memorial Day, I kept coming back to thinking about that fair. Others have also had memories of the fair on their minds this week. A May 25th post in a Facebook group I belong to, I grew up in Garden City, New York, asked: "What are your memories of the Memorial Day fair at the cathedral? I looked forward to it every year!" At the time this post was published, there were over 100 comments and replies posted. The Memorial Day Fair even gets a nod on the TripAdvisor page for the church--"Wonderful [sp] Memorial Day Fair and Concert." Local press stories on the preparations and schedule for this year's fair can be found here and here.
The Memorial Day Fair is a collaborative community event in which local businesses join together with church volunteers to produce a major good time. The webpage for this year's fair notes ten business sponsors and boasts that the fair "will feature games, inflatables, rides, prizes, and delicious fair food! You'll also find arts & crafts, vendors, organ concerts with patriotic sing-alongs (at 1pm and 3pm), historic tours, and an archives display." Those commenting in the Facebook group remembered the goldfish (most of which died rather soon after the fair) that many of us won by throwing ping-pong balls into goldfish bowls, the games, the rides, and the food--especially the cotton candy.
I remember all that--and selling ice cream to a famous actor visiting our local famous basketball player. But I also remember the American Legion's red poppies and the local Memorial Day Parade (which many also remembered in response to the Facebook group post). These parts of the day were directed almost exclusively toward honoring those who lost their lives fighting for our country and became intertwined with the fair in meaningful ways.
My memories of the Cathedral of the Incarnation Memorial Day Fair remain relatively strong as I take time out today to remember why Memorial Day exists: to honor the lives of people who died while serving in the U.S. armed forces. (See also here and here.) The forces of community in my home town--business and religious interests alike--that came together (and apparently continue to come together) in honor of the men and women who died in military service to our country is a great example of social responsibility in action. It continues to inspire.
Monday, December 25, 2017
Merry Christmas to all celebrating today. I am enjoying a white Christmas in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with my dad and my brother and his husband, joined later today by my son and his fiancée (who had to work the night shift last night--she's a hospital nurse). For the first time in many, many years--I think since before I was married in 1985--I am separated from my husband this Christmas. He is back in Tennessee with my daughter, who celebrated her 26th birthday yesterday. Their work schedules didn't accommodate holiday travel this year. My daughter, in particular, worked yesterday and will work again tomorrow. The working world is a different place now during the holidays than it was when I was a child.
As I sit here with a blood orange mimosa on Christmas morning, that observation set me to thinking about blue laws and Christmas. (Ann and I are thinking along similar lines this week, it seems . . . .) A lot of folks save their shopping--including shopping for alcohol--until somewhat the last minute. This year, Christmas is on a Monday, meaning that Christmas Eve--a prime shopping day--was on a Sunday. I wondered whether any blue laws prevented stores from being open or alcohol from being sold yesterday (or today, for that matter) . . . .
Back in 2006, when Christmas also was on a Monday, National Public Radio's All Things Considered covered this story from a South Carolina perspective. Tennessee law, TCA § 57-3-406(e) (2016), provides as follows:
No retailer shall sell or give away any alcoholic beverage between eleven o'clock p.m. (11:00 p.m.) on Saturday and eight o'clock a.m. (8:00 a.m.) on Monday of each week. No retail store shall sell, give away or otherwise dispense alcoholic beverages except between the hours of eight o'clock a.m. (8:00 a.m.) and eleven o'clock p.m. (11:00 p.m.) on Monday through Saturday. The store may not be open to the general public except during regular business hours. Likewise, all retail liquor stores shall be closed for business on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
So, folks in Tennessee could not buy drinking alcohol yesterday from any store but can buy spirits today (absent applicable local ordinances to the contrary) from a retail store that is not a liquor store (if I am reading that correctly).
Massachusetts, my immediate former home state, has many exceptions to its blue laws, including allowing certain retail establishments to be open on Sundays, provided that rank-and-file (non-executive, non-administrative over a certain pay grade) retail employees are paid time-and-a-half if the business employs more than seven people. See MGL c. 136, § 6(50). This exception does not apply to any state-defined legal holiday (and to Christmas, when it is on a Sunday), but the exception does apply to the day following Christmas when Christmas occurs on a Sunday. The exception for alcohol sales is more detailed and includes:
The retail sale of alcoholic beverages not to be drunk on the premises on Sundays by retail establishments licensed under section 15 of chapter 138; provided, however, that notwithstanding this chapter, a municipality may prohibit the retail sale of alcoholic beverages on Sundays by licensees under section 15 by vote of the city council or board of selectmen; provided further, that there shall be no such sales prior to the hour of 10:00 a.m. or on Christmas Day if Christmas occurs on a Sunday; and provided further, that establishments operating under this clause which employ more than 7 persons shall compensate all employees for work performed on a Sunday at a rate of not less than one and one-half of the employee's regular rate. No employee shall be required to work on a Sunday and refusal to work on a Sunday shall not be grounds for discrimination, dismissal, discharge, deduction of hours or any other penalty.
Whoever on Sunday keeps open his shop, warehouse, factory or other place of business, or sells foodstuffs, goods, wares, merchandise or real estate, or does any manner of labor, business or work, except works of necessity and charity, shall be punished by a fine of not less than twenty dollars nor more than one hundred dollars for a first offense, and a fine of not less than fifty dollars nor more than two hundred dollars for each subsequent offense, and each unlawful act or sale shall constitute a separate offense.
Even where retail establishments may be open, states may regulate work on Christmas--and on other holidays, too--designated as legal holidays by the state. I grew up with a system of federal and state holidays that serve this purpose. But The Legal Genealogist tells us that Christmas has not been a government-designated holiday from work for very long. The Tennessee list for 2017 can be found here. The Massachusetts legal holiday list is here.
Anyway, lest I bore you with my holiday blue law musings, I will close now by wishing you a happy continuing holiday season from here in Pittsburgh. Enjoy time with and memories of family and friends. From my house to yours, this brings wishes for a lovely holiday week. Enjoy.
Friday, October 13, 2017
Earlier this week, my two-year old daughter was in the pediatric ICU with a virus that attacked her lungs. We spent two nights at The Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt (“Vanderbilt Children’s). Thankfully, she was released Wednesday afternoon and is doing well. Unfortunately, many of the children on her floor had been in the hospital for weeks or months and were not afforded such a quick recovery. There cannot be many places more sad than the pediatric ICU.
Since returning home, I confirmed that Vanderbilt Children’s is a nonprofit organization, as I suspected. I do wonder whether the hospital would be operated the same if it were a benefit corporation or as a traditional corporation.
Some of the decisions made at the hospital seems like they would have been indefensible from a shareholder perspective, if the hospital had been for-profit. Vanderbilt Children’s has a captive market, with no serious competitors that I know of in the immediate area. Yet, the hospital doesn’t charge for parking. If they did, I don’t think it would impact anyone’s decision to choose them because, again, there aren’t really other options, and the care is the important part anyway. The food court was pretty reasonably priced, and they probably could have charged double without seriously impacting demand; the people at the hospital valued time with their children more than a few dollars. The hospital was beautifully decorated with art aimed at children – for example, with a big duck on the elevator ceiling, which my daughter absolutely loved. There were stars on the ceiling of the hospital rooms, cartoons on TVs in every room, etc. All of this presumably cost more than a drab room, and perhaps it was all donated, but assuming it actually cost more, I am not sure those things would result in any financial return on investment.
As we have discussed many times on this blog, even in the traditional for-profit setting, the business judgment rule likely protects the decisions of the board of directors, even if the promised ROI seems poor. But at what point – especially when the board knows there will be no return on the investment at all - is it waste? (Note: Question sparked by a discussion that Stefan Padfied, Josh Fershee, and I had in Knoxville after a session at the UTK business law conference this year). And, in any event, the Dodge and eBay cases may lead to some doubt in the way a case may play out. And even if the law is highly unlikely to enforce shareholder wealth maximization, the norm in traditional for-profit corporations may lead to directorial decisions that we find problematic as a society, especially in a hospital setting.
Now, maybe the Hippocratic Oath, community expectations, and various regulations make it so nonprofit and forprofit hospitals operate similarly. As a father of a patient, however, even as a free market inclined professor, I would prefer hospitals to be nonprofit and clearly focused on care first. Also, some forprofit hospitals are supposedly considering going the benefit corporation route, which may be a step in the right direction – at least they have an obligation to consider various stakeholders (even if, currently, the statutory enforcement mechanisms are extremely weak) and at least there are some reporting requirements (even if , currently, reporting compliance is miserable low in the states I have examined and the statutory language is painfully vague).
I am not sure I have ever been in a situation where I would have paid everything I had, and had no other good options for the immediate need, and yet I still did not feel taken advantage of by the organization. There is much more that could be said on these issues, but I do wonder whether organizational form was important here. And, if so, what is the solution? Require hospitals to be nonprofits (or at least benefit corporations, if those statutes were amended to add more teeth)?
Friday, September 1, 2017
There has been quite a lot written about the relative lack of women on boards of directors (and their impact on boards of directors). See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Women hold slightly less than 20% of the board of director seats at major U.S. companies, depending on what group of companies you consider. See here, here, and here.
In this post, I am not going to discuss the vast literature on the topic of women in the boardroom or the quotas that some countries have established, but I do want to point out the curious lack of fathers at playgrounds in Nashville this summer. I am including this post in the Law & Wellness series because I think men and women would both benefit if we saw more fathers at playgrounds during the week.
During ten trips to our popular neighborhood playground, during weekday working hours, I saw 6 men and 72 women. Now, it is probable that some of the people I saw were nannies or grandparents, but I excluded the obvious ones and quite a large percentage seemed like parents anyway.
This is an extremely small sample, but the percentage of fathers at playgrounds with their children looks lower than the percentage of women on boards. While I haven’t counted, I have noted fairly similar ratios at the public library story-time, the trampoline park, the zoo, and the YMCA pool during weekday working hours.
Perhaps this is not surprising, and perhaps the ratios are different in non-Southern cities (though Nashville is pretty progressive, at least for this area of the country). But I will say that I sometimes feel out of place and sometimes feel the need to explain myself when I am out solo with my children during "working hours."
When asked, I do have a “good” explanation – a fabulously flexible job – but I sometimes imagine those conversations if I had chosen to stay home while my wife worked or if I were taking time off a "normal" 8 to 5 job. Unfortunately, I don't think we are at a place, at least in my community, where we give fathers much respect for taking care of their children. I consider raising my children an incredibly important and valuable role. Raising children is demanding and draining, but my life is undoubtedly richer for it. Over the last few years, I have also gained quite a lot of appreciation for people who raise children on their own; the job is difficult enough for my wife and me together. I am not sure what actions from government and business would be best for children, but I do know that both should be seriously considering their options.
Friday, August 18, 2017
On July 15 of this year, The New York Times ran an article entitled, “The Lawyer, The Addict.” The article looks at the life of Peter, a partner of a prestigious Silicon Valley law firm, before he died of a drug overdose.
You should read the entire article, but I will provide a few quotes.
- “He had been working more than 60 hours a week for 20 years, ever since he started law school and worked his way into a partnership in the intellectual property practice of Wilson Sonsini.”
- “Peter worked so much that he rarely cooked anymore, sustaining himself largely on fast food, snacks, coffee, ibuprofen and antacids.”
- “Peter, one of the most successful people I have ever known, died a drug addict, felled by a systemic bacterial infection common to intravenous users.”
- “The history on his cellphone shows the last call he ever made was for work. Peter, vomiting, unable to sit up, slipping in and out of consciousness, had managed, somehow, to dial into a conference call.”
- “The further I probed, the more apparent it became that drug abuse among America’s lawyers is on the rise and deeply hidden.”
- “One of the most comprehensive studies of lawyers and substance abuse was released just seven months after Peter died. That 2016 report, from the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the American Bar Association, analyzed the responses of 12,825 licensed, practicing attorneys across 19 states. Over all, the results showed that about 21 percent of lawyers qualify as problem drinkers, while 28 percent struggle with mild or more serious depression and 19 percent struggle with anxiety. Only 3,419 lawyers answered questions about drug use, and that itself is telling, said Patrick Krill, the study’s lead author and also a lawyer. “It’s left to speculation what motivated 75 percent of attorneys to skip over the section on drug use as if it wasn’t there.” In Mr. Krill’s opinion, they were afraid to answer. Of the lawyers that did answer those questions, 5.6 percent used cocaine, crack and stimulants; 5.6 percent used opioids; 10.2 percent used marijuana and hash; and nearly 16 percent used sedatives.”
There is much more in the article, including claims that the problems with mindset and addiction, for many, start in law school.
After reading this article, and many like it (and living through the suicide of a partner at one of my former firms), I decided to do a series of posts on Law & Wellness. These posts will not focus on mental health or addiction problems. Rather, these posts will focus on the positive side. For example, I plan a handful of interviews with lawyers and educators who manage to do well both inside and outside of the office, finding ways to work efficiently and prioritize properly. My co-editors may chime in from time to time with related posts of their own.