Monday, January 28, 2019
Back in November, my sister invited me to join her for the second time for a three-day break at Miraval, a resort in Tucson, Arizona. I accepted her invitation with the understanding that I needed to recharge a bit after a rough 2018. A visit to Miraval, I thought, would be a great way to do that and jumpstart my research this spring. I signed on. Then, my sister had to back out on the trip late-in-the-game for professional reasons. My dilemma: to cancel/reschedule the trip . . . or just go by myself? I decided to go anyway.
Miraval's distinctive claim to fame as a resort is mindfulness. Among other things, it promotes "Life in Balance." Mindfulness has been a hot topic for the legal profession, law schools (see, e.g., the University of Miami's Mindfulness in Law Program), and the American Bar Association (the "ABA") in recent years. Among other things, mindfulness may help attorneys process difficult situations in a healthier manner, acting as an antidote (in some circumstances) for lawyer mental health issues I wrote about a few weeks ago. (See also Marcia Narine Weldon's follow-on post.) Berkeley Law has published a helpful reading list here.
In an excerpt from an article originally published in the ABA's Litigation magazine, Jan L. Jacobowitz writes:
When attorneys practice mindfulness, the experience they gain by noticing their minds moving off into distraction, and returning their attention to their breath, makes them better equipped to deal with the unexpected—because they catch the thoughts and feelings that are resisting the moment, and are better equipped to stay on task and respond in proportion to the challenge. For the same reasons, they enhance their capacity to be more genuine and present for what arises in their interactions with their clients, their colleagues, witnesses, and adversaries. They are better able to focus on and enjoy their work.
In that same excerpt, Jacobowitz describes mindfulness.
Mindfulness is an awareness of life in the present moment: Simple to state, but not necessarily so easy to accomplish. Our minds are often cluttered with ruminations about the past and concerns about the future. We are so busy living in the past or projecting onto the future that often we are not acutely attuned to what is happening in the present moment. The clutter inhibits clarity of thought and increases stress and anxiety.
Mindfulness creates the opportunity to pause, breathe, and connect with one’s inner thoughts, feelings, and emotions; in other words, to become aware of how we are reacting in a given situation and to provide ourselves with the opportunity to moderate our reaction and respond thoughtfully.
Hmm. Too "woo-woo" for you? Join the many lawyers who feel that way. (Jacobowitz refers to lawyers in this connection as "by nature are a skeptical group.") I once was one of those skeptics.
But I am now among the converted, having begin to practice mindfulness in a number of its manifestations. I am especially fond of mindfulness though movement, especially through yoga asana and pranayama practices.
With that in mind, as I rejuvenate myself, I am gathering intelligence to take with me. I plan to bring elements of Miraval's mindfulness/life in balance ethos back to my yoga teaching at The University of Tennessee College of Law. (I started teaching a regular class to faculty, staff, and students last Friday morning. I will have more to say on that yoga teaching experience in later posts.) After just a half day at Miraval, I already have information and ideas . . . . Wish me luck in this endeavor! And offer tips if you have any.
Friday, January 25, 2019
Dean, School of Law University of Miami
The University of Miami invites nominations and applications for the position of Dean of the School of Law. The next Dean should be an innovative thinker and approachable leader who welcomes the opportunity to articulate a vision for the growth of a law school that builds on its long history of excellence. The University of Miami, considered among the top tier institutions of higher education in the U.S. for its academic excellence, superior medical care, and cutting-edge research, is the largest private research university in the southeastern United States. The University comprises eleven degree-granting schools and colleges, which are Architecture, Arts and Sciences, Miami Business, Communication, Education, Engineering, Law, the Miller School of Medicine, the Patricia and Philip Frost School of Music, Nursing and Health Studies, and the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. The core of the University is its 2,660 full-time faculty housed in three academic campuses within the greater Miami area. The University receives over $360 million annually in external research funding and has been classified as a Doctoral University with Highest Research Activity (R1) by the Carnegie Commission. We strive to create an environment where everyone contributes to making UM a great place to work through our values of Diversity, Integrity, Responsibility, Excellence, Compassion, Creativity, and Teamwork (DIRECCT).
The University of Miami School of Law, located on the 260-acre main campus, has over 100 faculty members and an enrollment of about 1200 students. In addition to the juris doctorate degree, the Law School offers a range of LLM degree programs, from its nationally ranked tax program to the innovative Entertainment, Arts, and Sports Law. The Law Schools offers joint degrees with several of the university’s premier graduate schools. The Dean, reporting to the Executive Vice President & Provost, is the School of Law’s chief academic officer with overall responsibility for its academic programs, operating budget, personnel management, strategic planning, public relations, and fundraising. The Dean is also the School of Law’s principal representative to the University, alumni, and the legal community. The School is seeking a person with a national/international reputation, high energy, enthusiasm, and vision to lead the faculty. The School consists of an interdisciplinary group of scholars, creative faculty and practitioners. The candidate should be able to build upon this balance and continue to foster these values to encourage scholarship, develop innovative educational programs, and engage our local community. The successful candidate must demonstrate strong interpersonal, managerial and leadership skills, and be able to foster an internal culture of excellence. The position requires an individual who can lead effectively and manage a large and dynamic school in a multi-campus research university. Candidates must have credentials appropriate for a tenured appointment at the rank of professor. Leadership experience with responsibility for strategic management of personnel, programs, and resources is strongly desired. Review of candidates will begin immediately and continue until the position is filled. Applications must include a letter of interest and curriculum vitae. All inquiries, nominations/ referrals, and applications should be sent electronically and in confidence to: MiamiLawDean@kornferry.com
Monday, January 14, 2019
My frequent academic partner and friend John Anderson and I organized and moderated a discussion session on insider trading in the blockchain transactional environment at this year’s AALS annual meeting. The session, entitled “Insider Trading and Cryptoassests: The Future of Regulation in the Blockchain Era,” featured teacher-scholar participants from academic backgrounds in white collar crime, corporate law, securities regulation, intellectual property, cyberlaw, and ethics/compliance. The program description is as follows:
As the cryptoasset ecosystem shows signs of emerging from its “Wild West” phase, insider trading has become a principal concern for trading platforms, investors, and regulators. Insider trading cases concerning cryptoassets present challenges, however, because the legal understanding of both cryptoassets and the markets in which they are generated, bought, and sold has been significantly outpaced by their development, expansion, and innovation. In the United States, market professionals, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), and others debate whether virtual currencies are securities, contracts, currencies, commodities, or something else. Both the SEC and CFTC assert jurisdiction over cryptoassets, but (at this writing) neither has precisely defined the scope or nature of its purported regulatory oversight. This commercial and regulatory uncertainty leaves a number of questions about insider trading in cryptoassets unanswered. This Discussion Group considers these and other related concerns regarding insider trading in cryptoassets.
The short papers submitted by the participants and the related commentary reflected the diverse areas of expertise of the participants and were engaging and thoughtful. Constructive audience participation also was a highlight of the program.
We focused the discussion initially on whether, and if so how, insider trading in cryptoassets currently is regulated. We also discussed whether regulation of that activity should be undertaken. Then, assuming regulation, we considered whether existing regulatory tools could and should be used. Finally, as part of that discussion, we began to assess who and exactly what should be regulated. The dialogue was energizing, even if inconclusive.
Marcia Narine Weldon has written here at the BLPB at various times in the past six months on blockchain technology and its intersection with business and business law, including here, here, and here. In the first of those linked posts, she advises us that we ignore the blockchain at our peril. I agree.
But I also want to note that whether you believe that the blockchain is an awesome and promising new technology or a pernicious computer-based contrivance, its interactions with business law provide us all with opportunity: the chance to use our expertise to identify and resolve new legal and regulatory issues. As I learned from my experience in studying the regulatory context of crowdfunding in its early days, once the innovation train has left the station and is rolling down the tracks, it compels study and benefits from open, enlightened debate. Business lawyers are uniquely qualified to provide the necessary examination, dialogue, and guidance. Let's get to it!
Friday, January 11, 2019
I wasn't one of those people who decided to become a lawyer after watching To Kill a Mockingbird, Witness for the Prosecution, and Twelve Angry Men, but they were some of my favorite movies. These movies and TV shows like Suits, How to Get Away with Murder, and Law & Order "teach" students and the general public that practicing law is sexy and/or confrontational. When I teach, I try to demystify and clear up some of the falsehoods, and that's easy with litigation-type courses. When I taught Business Associations, it was a bit tougher but we often used movies or TV shows to illustrate the right and wrong ways to do things. As an extra credit assignment, I asked students to write a critique of what the writers missed, misrepresented, or completely misunderstood.
This semester, I will be teaching a transactional drafting course where the students represent either the buyer or the seller of a small, privately owned business. I would like to recommend movies or TV shows that don't deal with multibillion dollar mergers, but I haven't been watching too much TV lately. I'm looking for suggestions along the lines of Silicon Valley (which past students have loved) or Billions. If you have any suggestions, please comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saturday, January 5, 2019
It's the start of a new year and a new semester. As Joan wrote earlier this week, we need to step back and take stock of our mental health. I'm the happiest lawyer I know and have been since I graduated from law school in 1992, but many lawyers and students aren't so lucky. In fact, I probably spend 25-35% of my time on campus calming students down. Some have normal anxiety that fades as they gain more confidence. I often recommend that those students read Grit or at least listen to the Ted talk. Others tell me (without my asking) about addictions, clinical depression, and other information that I should not know about. I know enough to refer to them to help. Closer to home, my 22-year old son has lost several friends to suicide. Many of those friends went to the best high schools and colleges in the country and seemed to have bright futures. And as we know, the suicide rate for lawyers is climbing.
Thankfully, the American Bar Association has gathered a number of resources for law students here. Practicing lawyers can find valuable tools for lawyer well-being here and a podcast for lawyers in recovery here. Law students can access their own ABA wellness podcast here. To help keep my energy high, I listen to a lot of podcasts of all types. I’ve found that listening to wellness podcasts, meditating, and exercising instead of watching the news has had a dramatic impact on my health. I know for a fact that the wellness stuff works. Due to significant stressors as a caretaker, my blood pressure spiked to a clinically dangerous level last week. This week, with mindfulness exercises and other wellness activities, I was able to lower it to normal levels without my new medication having kicked in yet. This is a big deal for me because despite my professional happiness, I’ve been hospitalized twice in 14 months for medical conditions exacerbated by stress. Being calm and stress free is literally a matter of life and death for me. Some of the podcasts I listen to are probably too “woo woo” to post for this audience but if you’re interested, you can email me privately at email@example.com. I’ll keep your secret.
Mainstream lawyer/business wellness podcasts include:
The Happy Lawyer Project (“The Happy Lawyer Project is an inspirational podcast for young lawyers looking to find happiness in life with a law degree. Each episode provides you with the tips, advice, encouragement and inspiration you need to craft a life and career you love.")
The Resilient Lawyer (“Practical and actionable information you can use to be a better lawyer. The Resilient Lawyer podcast is inspired by those in the legal profession living with authenticity and courage. Each week, we share tools and strategies for finding more balance, joy, and satisfaction in your professional and personal life! You'll meet lawyers, entrepreneurs, mentors and teachers successfully bridging the gap between their personal and professional lives, connecting the dots between their mental, emotional, physical and spiritual selves.”)
Happy Lawyer, Happy Life ("A knowledge centre for lawyers who want to make the best of their life in and outside of the law.")
The Tim Ferris Show (“Each episode, I deconstruct world-class performers from eclectic areas (investing, sports, business, art, etc.) to extract the tactics, tools, and routines you can use. This includes favorite books, morning routines, exercise habits, time-management tricks, and much more.”)
The Mindful Lawyer (it's no longer running, but my colleague Scott Rogers pioneered the field and these are short tracks.)
Dina Cataldo Soul Roadmap (“So, you’re a lawyer who doesn’t have it all figured out? Design the life you deserve. Stop killing yourself to achieve success and redefine it instead.”)
You may need more than a podcast to get you through whatever you're going through right now. If you, a student, a colleague, or family member needs immediate help, please get it. I’ve cut and pasted the resources below from our law school’s web page for students.
Key National Referral Services
Chemical Dependency and Self-Help Sites
Addition Recovery Resources for Professionals, 540-815-4214
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), 212-870-3400
American Medical Association, 800-621-8335
Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT), 240-276-1660
Cocaine Anonymous (CA), 310-559-5833
CODA Drug Abuse Hotlines, 1-877-446-9087
Crystal Meth Anonymous (CMA), 213-488-4455
Dual Recovery Anonymous (DRA), 913-991-2703
International Lawyers in A.A. (ILAA), 944-566-9040
Marijuana Anonymous (MA), 800-766-6779
Narcotics Anonymous (NA), 818-773-9999
National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information(SAMHSA), 1-877-SAMHSA (726-4727)
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 301-443-1124
Nicotine Anonymous (NA), 415-750-0328
Anorexia Nervosa & Associated (Eating) Disorders (ANAD), 630-577-1330
Overeaters Anonymous (OA), 505-891-2664
Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA), 562-595-7831
Nar-Anon Family Groups, 310-534-8188
Co-Dependents Anonymous (CODA), 888-444-2359
Co-Dependents of Sex Addicts (COSA), 763-537-6904
Mental Health Sites
Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA), 240-485-1001
Journal of General Psychiatry (JAMA), 1-800-262-2350
Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder(CHADD), 1-800-233-4050
Depression and Bipolor Support Alliance (DBSA), 800-826-3632
Lawyers with Depression
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 800-950-6264
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 1-866-615-6464
National Mental Health Association (NMHA), 703-684-7722
Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity
I'm sure that I've missed a number of resources. I just finished attending a wellness tea brunch at a French patisserie with fresh baked goods and champagne so I'm incredibly relaxed (#selfcare). If you have more resources to add, please feel free to comment below. Let’s make this the best year yet for our students and for ourselves. If I can ever be an ear for anyone, I’m always available.
Friday, December 7, 2018
In January 2018, Larry Fink of Blackrock, the world’s largest asset manager, shocked skeptics like me when he told CEOs:
In the current environment, these stakeholders are demanding that companies exercise leadership on a broader range of issues. And they are right to: a company’s ability to manage environmental, social, and governance matters demonstrates the leadership and good governance that is so essential to sustainable growth, which is why we are increasingly integrating these issues into our investment process. Companies must ask themselves: What role do we play in the community? How are we managing our impact on the environment? Are we working to create a diverse workforce? Are we adapting to technological change? Are we providing the retraining and opportunities that our employees and our business will need to adjust to an increasingly automated world? Are we using behavioral finance and other tools to prepare workers for retirement, so that they invest in a way that will help them achieve their goals?
In October 2018, Blackrock declared, “sustainable investing is becoming mainstream investing.” The firm bundled six existing ESG EFT funds and launched six similar funds in Europe and looked like the model corporate citisen.
So does Blackrock actually divest from companies with human rights violations or that do not provide meaningful disclosures on human trafficking, child slavery, forced labor, or conflict minerals? The company did not publicly divest from gun manufacturers although it did “speak with” them in February after the Parkland school shooting; the company has stated that due to fiduciary concerns, it cannot divest from single companies in a portfolio.
In theory, a behemoth like Blackrock could have a significant impact on a firm’s ESG practices, if it so chose. It could set an example for companies and for other institutional investors by seeking (1) additional information after reviewing disclosures and/or (2) demanding changes in management if companies did not in fact, show a true commitment to ESG.
But I shouldn’t pick on Blackrock. Based on what I heard last week in Geneva at the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights, other investors outside of the SRI arena aren’t pressuring companies either. I attended the Forum for the fourth time with over 2,000 members from the business, NGO, civil society, academic, and governmental communities. There was a heavy focus this year on supply chain issues because 80% of the world’s goods travel through large, international companies.The Responsible Business Alliance and others stressed the importance of eradiating forced labor. Apple, Google, Microsoft, Intel, and Amnesty International focused on tech companies, artificial intelligence, and human rights implications. Rio Tinto and Nestle allowed an NGO to publicly criticize their disclosure reports in painstaking detail. An activist told the entire plenary that states needed to stop killing human rights defenders. In other words, business as usual at the Forum. Here are some of the takeaways from some of the sessions:
- NGO PODER warned that investors should not divest when companies are not living up to their responsibilities but instead should engage companies on ESG factors and demand board seats.
- The UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights observed that rating agencies can and should be a fast track to the board on ESG issues.
- A representative from the Sustainable Stock Exchanges Initiative, a joint initiative of UNCTAD, PRI, the UN Global Compact, and UNEP-FI, indicated that investors want to know if ESG information is material. It may be salient, but not material to some. 79 stock exchanges around the world have partnered with the SSEI. 39 have voluntary ESG disclosures and 16 have mandatory disclosures.
- The Business and Human Rights Resources Center noted that of 7,200 corporate statements mandated by the UK Modern Slavery Act, only 25% met the minimum requirements required by law. As they shocked the audience with this statistic, news alerts went out the Australia had finally passed its own anti slavery law.
- 40% of companies in apparel, agricultural, and extractive industries have a 0 (zero) score for human rights due diligence, indicating weak implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The average score in the benchmark was only 27%.
- French companies must respond to the French Duty of Vigilance Law and the EU Nonfinancial Disclosure regulations, which have different approached to identifying risks. It could take six months to do an audit to do the disclosure, but investors rarely question the companies directly or the data.
- SAP Ariba found that 66% of consumers believe they have a duty to buy goods that are good for society and the environment and that sustainability is mostly driven by millennials and generation Z consumers.
- Nestle, the biggest food and beverage company in the world, requires its 165,000 suppliers to follow responsible sourcing standard especially for child and forced labor. The conglomerate partners with NGOs to conduct human rights impact assessments for their upstream suppliers.
- Apple has returned 30 million USD in recruitment fees to workers since 2008 to address forced labor and illegal practices. HP has also returned fees. The hotel industry has banded together to fight forced labor. Most responsible businesses have banned the use of recruitment fees but many workers still pay them to personnel agencies in the hopes of getting jobs with large companies.
- Many companies are now looking at human rights and ESG issues throughout their own supply chains but also with their joint venture, merger, and other key business partners.
- Rae Lindsay of Clifford Chance noted that avoiding legal risk is not the main role of human rights due diligence but lawyers working across disciplines can make sure that clients don’t inadvertently add to legal risk in deals. She encourages deal lawyers to become familiar with the risks and law and business students to learn about these issues.
So do investors care about ESG? Are these disclosure rules working? You wouldn’t think so by hearing the speakers at the Forum. On the other hand, proxy advisory firm ISS recently launched an Environmental and Social Quality Score to better evaluate the ESG risks in its portfolio companies. I’ll keep an eye out for any divestments or shareholder proposals.
I’m not holding my breath for too much progress next year at the Forum. While I was encouraged by the good work of many of the companies that attended, I remain convinced that the disclosure regime is ineffective in effectuating meaningful change in the world’s most vulnerable communities. Unless governments, rating agencies, investors, or consumers act, too many companies will continue to pay lip service to their human rights commitments.
December 7, 2018 in Compliance, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Human Rights, International Business, International Law, Marcia Narine Weldon, Shareholders | Permalink | Comments (1)
Friday, November 23, 2018
Greetings from Panama. Are you one of the people who look for products labeled "organic," "non-GMO," or "fair trade"? According to the official Fairtrade site:
Fairtrade is a simple way to make a difference to the lives of the people who grow the things we love. We do this by making trade fair.
Fairtrade is unique. We work with businesses, consumers and campaigners. Farmers and workers have an equal say in everything we do. Empowerment is at the core of who we are. We have a vision: a world in which all producers can enjoy secure and sustainable livelihoods, fulfill their potential and decide on their future. Our mission is to connect disadvantaged farmers and workers with consumers, promote fairer trading conditions and empower farmers and workers to combat poverty, strengthen their position and take more control over their lives....
Over and above the Fairtrade price, the Fairtrade Premium is an additional sum of money which goes into a communal fund for workers and farmers to use – as they see fit – to improve their social, economic and environmental conditions...
Fairtrade is about better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world. By requiring companies to pay sustainable prices (which must never fall lower than the market price), Fairtrade addresses the injustices of conventional trade, which traditionally discriminates against the poorest, weakest producers. It enables them to improve their position and have more control over their lives..
With Fairtrade you have the power to change the world every day. With simple shopping choices you can get farmers a better deal. And that means they can make their own decisions, control their future and lead the dignified life everyone deserves.
In 2016, farmers received 158 million euros in Fairtrade premiums.
This sounds great in theory, but according to a cacao farmer I spent time with in Panama, fair trade is not fair to the farmers. He and others in his indigenous tribe earn so little from the cacao exported to Switzerland for fine Swiss chocolate that he must resort to giving tours of his plantation in order to maintain the village school and pay for medical expenses for his tribe. His farm earns only 85 cents per half kilo of cacao (or 12 pods). This .85 cents is only for the exceptional cacao. Sometimes they earn even less. The Swiss tout the organic, non-GMO product and inspect the farms annually, which means that the farmers cannot use any fertilizers to combat the fungus that kills 85% of the crop every year. This also means that the farmers do everything by hand, including cutting, fermenting, roasting, and shelling the beans. The farmer/tour guide explained that they treat the cacao plants like a woman-- they love, cherish, and protect them every day. They use the same harvesting process that they have used for over 1,000 years.
Just like coffee farmers I met in Guatemala, the cacao farmer I met in Panama calls "fair trade" a marketing scheme for the Americans and Europeans. I assume the farmers I met represent the view of some portion of the 1.65 million farmers involved in the Fairtrade program. For more on the Fair Trade debate, see here.
I will have more on this and other sustainability issues next week. I'll be at UN Forum on Business and Human Rights with 2500 companies, NGOs, academics, and state representative in Geneva. In the meantime, if you're buying someone Fairtrade chocolate for the holidays, do it for the taste because you're not really doing much to help the farmer.
Saturday, October 13, 2018
Last week Dr. Denis Mukwege won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on gender-based violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This short video interview describes what I saw when I went to DRC in 2011 to research the newly-enacted Dodd-Frank disclosure rule and to do the legwork for a non-profit that teaches midwives ways to deliver babies safely. For those unfamiliar with the legislation, U.S. issuers must disclose the efforts they have made to track and trace tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold from the DRC and nine surrounding countries. Rebels and warlords control many of the mines by controlling the villages. DRC is one of the poorest nations in the world per capita but has an estimated $25 trillion in mineral reserves (including 65% of the world's cobalt). Armed militia use rape and violence as a weapon of war in part so that they control the mineral wealth.
The stated purpose of the Dodd-Frank rule was to help end the violence in DRC and to name and shame companies that do not disclose or that cannot certify that their goods are DRC-conflict free (although that labeling portion of the law was struck down on First Amendment grounds). I wrote a law review article in 2013 and co-filed an amicus brief during the litigation arguing that the law would not help people on the ground. I have also blogged here about legislation to end the rule, here about the EU's version of the rule, here about the differences between the EU and US rule, and half a dozen times since 2013.
I had the honor of meeting Dr. Mukwege in 2011, who at the time did not support the conflict minerals legislation. He has since endorsed such legislation for the EU. During our trip, we met dozens of women who had been raped, often by gangs. On our way to meet midwives and survivors of a massacre, I saw five corpses of villagers lying in the street. They were slain by rebels the night before. I saw children mining gold from a river with armed soldiers only a few feet away. That trip is the reason that I study, write, and teach about business and human rights. I had only been in academia for three weeks when I went to DRC, and I decided that my understanding of supply chains and corporate governance from my past in-house life could help others develop more practical solutions to intractable problems. I believed then and I believe now that using a corporate governance disclosure to solve a human rights crisis is a flawed and incomplete solution. It depends on the belief that large numbers of consumers will boycott companies that do not do enough for human rights.
What does the data say about compliance with the rule? The General Accounting Office puts out a mandatory report annually on the legislation and the state of disclosures. According to the 2018 report:
Similar to the prior 2 years, almost all companies required to conduct due diligence, as a result of their country-of-origin inquiries, reported doing so. After conducting due diligence to determine the source and chain of custody of any conflict minerals used, an estimated 37 percent of these companies reported in 2017 that they were able to determine that their conflict minerals came from covered countries or from scrap or recycled sources, compared with 39 and 23 percent in 2016 and 2015, respectively. Four companies in GAO’s sample declared their products “DRC conflict-free,” and of those, three included the required Independent Private Sector Audit report (IPSA), and one did not. In 2017, 16 companies filed an IPSA; 19 did so in 2016. (emphasis added).
But what about the effect on forced labor and rape? The 2017 GAO Report indicated that in 2016, a study in DRC estimated that 32 percent of women and 33 percent of men in these areas had been exposed to some form of sexual and gender-based violence in their lifetime. Notably, just last month, a coalition of Congolese civil society organizations wrote the following to the United Nations seeking a country-wide monitoring system:
... Armed groups and security forces have attacked civilians in many parts of the country...Today, some 4.5 million Congolese are displaced from their homes. More than 100,000 Congolese have fled abroad since January 2018, raising the risk of increased regional instability... Since early this year, violence intensified in various parts of northeastern Congo’s Ituri province, with terrifying incidents of massacres, rapes, and decapitation. Armed groups launched deadly attacks on villages, killing scores of civilians, torching hundreds of homes, and displacing an estimated 350,000 people. Armed groups and security forces in the Kivu provinces also continue to attack civilians. According to the Kivu Security Tracker, assailants, including state security forces, killed more than 580 civilians and abducted at least 940 others in North and South Kivu since January 2018. (emphasis added)
The U.S. government provides $500 million in aid to the DRC and runs an app called Sweat and Toil for people who are interested in avoiding goods produced by exploited labor. As of today, DRC has seven goods produced with exploitative labor: cobalt (used in electric cars and cell phones), copper, diamonds, and, not surprisingly, tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold- the four minerals regulated by Dodd-Frank. The app notes that "for the second year in a row, labor inspectors have failed to conduct any worksite inspections... and [the] government also separated as many as 2,360 children from armed groups...[t]here were numerous reports of ongoing collaboration between members of the [DRC] Armed Forces and non-state armed groups known for recruiting children... The Armed Forces carried out extrajudicial killings of civilians including children, due to their perceived support or affiliation with non-state armed groups. .."
For these reasons, I continue to ask whether the conflict minerals legislation has made a difference in the lives of the people on the ground. The EU, learning from Dodd-Frank's flaws, has passed its own legislation, which goes into effect in 2021. The EU law applies beyond the Democratic Republic of Congo and defines conflict areas as those in a state of armed conflict, or fragile post-conflict area, areas with weak or nonexistent governance and security such as failed states, and any state with a widespread or systematic violation of international law including human rights abuses. Certain European Union importers will have to identify and address the actual potential risks linked to conflict-affected areas or high-risk areas during the due diligence of their supply chains.
Notwithstanding the statistics above, many investors, NGOs, and other advocates believe the Dodd-Frank rule makes sense. A coalition of investors with 50 trillion worth of assets under management has pushed to keep the law in place. It's no surprise then that many issuers have said that they would continue the due diligence even if the law were repealed. I doubt that will help people in these countries, but the due diligence does help drive out inefficiencies and optimize supply chains.
Stay tuned for my upcoming article in UT's business law journal, Transactions, where I will discuss how companies and state actors are using blockchain technology for due diligence related to human rights. Blockchain will minimize expenses and time for these disclosure requirements, but it probably won't stop the forced labor, exploitation, rapes, and massacres that continue in the Democratic Republic of Congo. (See here for a Fortune magazine article with a great video discussing how and why companies are exploring blockchain's uses in DRC). The blockchain technology won't be the problem-- it's already being used for tracing conflict diamonds. The problem is using the technology in a state with such lawlessness. This means that blockchain will probably help companies, but not the people the laws are meant to protect.
October 13, 2018 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Human Rights, International Business, International Law, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (1)
Monday, September 24, 2018
This past Friday, Burr & Forman LLP and the Clayton Center for Entrepreneurial Law at the University of Tennessee College of Law (including its business law journal, Transactions: The Tennessee Journal of Business Law), cosponsored a conference entittled "Law and Business Tech: Cybersecurity, Blockchain and Electronic Transactions." This was, as you may recognize, the second business law conference UT Law sponsored in a week's time (the first being the Business Law Prof Blog symposium, "Connecting the Threads II," the week before). It has been a busy time for business law faculty and students at UT Law!
(Parenthetically, I will note here that one of the attendees at Friday's event, who also had been at the Business Law Prof blog symposium, came back to this past week's conference because he was so jazzed up about Marcia's presentation at the first event--which she mentions here and here. Thanks, Marcia, for encouraging this interest in blockchain technology in our legal community!)
At Friday's conference, I moderated and participated in a panel on "The Coming Second Wave of Digital and other Electronic Signatures in Commerce." The panelists included Ed Snow of Burr & Forman and Katy Blackwell from SIGNiX. The panel walked through a history and course of conduct from handwritten signatures to electronic signatures to digital signatures, discussing the transitions from one to another (which are, as yet, incomplete). Interesting questions emerged as among us as to, e.g., why banking/credit transactions and mergers/acquisitions tend to lag behind in the adoption of new signature technologies. (Your thoughts are welcomed.)
At the end of the prepared program, my co-panelists asked me to speak about Tennessee's adoption of a digital signature statute back in the spring. This was another of the legislative review projects that I have undertaken as a member of the Tennessee Bar Association Business Section Executive Council. We were given 24-48 hours to comment on a digital signature bill that had been introduced in the Tennessee General Assembly based on an Arizona statute adopted in 2017 (information available here). Although I personally thought the bill/statutory revision was likely unnecessary and would have preferred to spend more time studying it before commenting on it, two of us on the Executive Council pooled comments on the draft bill, which also received comments from other quarters.
The ostensible legislative policy was to ensure the enforceability of legally valid and binding transactions occurring in a distributed ledger environment. Tennessee proponents of the bill wanted to support business in this environment, as I noted in commentary quoted in this article. With that in mind, two issues were, in the short time we had, important.
Sunday, September 16, 2018
I knew it would be impossible. There was no way to relay my excitement about the potential of blockchain technology in a concise way to lawyers and law students last Friday at the Connecting the Threads symposium at the University of Tennessee School of Law. I didn't discuss cryptocurrency or Bitcoin other than to say that I wasn't planning to discuss it. Still, there wasn't nearly enough time for me to discuss all of the potential use cases. I did try to make it clear that it's not a fad if IBM has 1500 people working on it, BITA has hundreds of logistics and freight companies signed up to explore possibilities, and the World Bank, OECD, and United Nations have studies and pilot programs devoted to it. As a former supply chain person, compliance officer, and chief privacy officer, I'm giddy with excitement about everything related to distributed ledger technology other than cryptocurrency. You can see why when you read my law review article in a few months in Transactions.
I've watched over 100 YouTube videos (many of them crappy) and read dozens of articles. I go to Meetups and actually understand what the coders and developers are saying (most of the time). A few students and practitioners asked me how I learned about DLT/blockchain. First, see here, here, here, and here for my prior posts listing resources and making the case for learning the basics of the technology. What I list below adds to what I've posted in the past.
Here are some of the podcasts I listen to (there are others, of course):
1) The Decrypting Crypto Podcast
2) Block that Chain
3) Block and Roll
4) Blockchain Innovation
Here are some of the videos that I watched (that I haven't already linked to in past posts):
There are dozens more, but this should be enough to get you started. Remember, none of these videos or podcasts will get you rich from cryptocurrency. But they will help you become competent to know whether you can advise clients on these issues.
September 16, 2018 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Human Rights, Law Firms, Law Reviews, Law School, Lawyering, Marcia Narine Weldon | Permalink | Comments (1)
Monday, September 3, 2018
Like many in the law academy, I find three-day holiday weekends a great time to catch my breath and catch up on work items that need to be addressed. This Labor Day weekend--including today, Labor Day itself--is no exception to the rule. I am working today, honoring workers through my own work. My husband and daughter are doing the same.
This blog post and the announcement it carries are among my more joyful tasks for the day. I have been remiss in not earlier announcing and promoting our second annual Business Law Prof Blog symposium, which will be held at The University of Tennessee College of Law on September 14. The symposium again focuses on the work of many of your favorite Business Law Prof Blog editors, with commentary from my UT Law faculty colleagues and students. This year, topics range from the human rights and other compliance implications of blockchain technology to designing impactful corporate law, with a sprinkling of other entity and securities law related topics. I am focusing my time in the spotlight (!) on professional challenges in the representation of social enterprise firms. More information about the symposium is available here. For those of you who have law licenses in Tennessee, CLE credits are available.
I am looking forward to again hosting some of my favorite law scholars at this symposium. I am sure some will blog about their presentations here (Marcia already has previewed her talk and summarized all of our presentations, and I plan to later blog about mine), Transactions (our business law journal) will publish the symposium proceedings, and videos will be processed and posted on UT Law's CLE website later in the year. But if you are in the neighborhood, stop by and hear us all in person! We would love to see you.
Saturday, September 1, 2018
Did I lose you with the title to this post? Do you have no idea what a DAO is? In its simplest terms, a DAO is a decentralized autonomous organization, whose decisions are made electronically by a written computer code or through the vote of its members. In theory, it eliminates the need for traditional documentation and people for governance. This post won't explain any more about DAOs or the infamous hack of the Slock.it DAO in 2016. I chose this provocative title to inspire you to read an article entitled Legal Education in the Blockchain Revolution.
The authors Mark Fenwick, Wulf A. Kaal, and Erik P. M. Vermeulen discuss how technological innovations, including artificial intelligence and blockchain will change how we teach and practice law related to real property, IP, privacy, contracts, and employment law. If you're a practicing lawyer, you have a duty of competence. You need to know what you don't know so that you avoid advising on areas outside of your level of expertise. It may be exciting to advise a company on tax, IP, securities law or other legal issues related to cryptocurrency or blockchain, but you could subject yourself to discipline for doing so without the requisite background. If you teach law, you will have students clamoring for information on innovative technology and how the law applies. Cornell University now offers 28 courses on blockchain, and a professor at NYU's Stern School of Business has 235 people in his class. Other schools are scrambling to find professors qualified to teach on the subject.
To understand the hype, read the article on the future of legal education. The abstract is below:
The legal profession is one of the most disrupted sectors of the consulting industry today. The rise of Legal Tech, artificial intelligence, big data, machine learning, and, most importantly, blockchain technology is changing the practice of law. The sharing economy and platform companies challenge many of the traditional assumptions, doctrines, and concepts of law and governance, requiring litigators, judges, and regulators to adapt. Lawyers need to be equipped with the necessary skillsets to operate effectively in the new world of disruptive innovation in law. A more creative and innovative approach to educating lawyers for the 21st century is needed.
For more on how blockchain is changing business and corporate governance, come by my talk at the University of Tennessee on September 14th where you will also hear from my co-bloggers. In case you have no interest in my topic, it's worth the drive/flight to hear from the others. The descriptions of the sessions are below:
Session 1: Breach of Fiduciary Duty and the Defense of Reliance on Experts
Many corporate statutes expressly provide that directors in discharging their duties may rely in good faith upon information, opinions, reports, or statements from officers, board committees, employees, or other experts (such as accountants or lawyers). Such statutes often come into play when directors have been charged with breaching their procedural duty of care by making an inadequately informed decision, but they can be applicable in other contexts as well. In effect, the statutes provide a defense to directors charged with breach of fiduciary duty when their allegedly uninformed or wrongful decisions were based on credible information provided by others with appropriate expertise. Professor Douglas Moll will examine these “reliance on experts” statutes and explore a number of questions associated with them.
Session 2: Fact or Fiction: Flawed Approaches to Evaluating Market Behavior in Securities Litigation
Private fraud actions brought under Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act require courts to make a variety of determinations regarding market functioning and the economic effects of the alleged misconduct. Over the years, courts have developed a variety of doctrines to guide how these inquiries are to be conducted. For example, courts look to a series of specific, pre-defined factors to determine whether a market is “efficient” and thus responsive to new information. Courts also rely on a variety of doctrines to determine whether and for how long publicly-available information has exerted an influence on security prices. Courts’ judgments on these matters dictate whether cases will proceed to summary judgment and trial, whether classes will be certified and the scope of such classes, and the damages that investors are entitled to collect. Professor Ann M. Lipton will discuss how these doctrines operate in such an artificial manner that they no longer shed light on the underlying factual inquiry, namely, the actual effect of the alleged fraud on investors.
Session 3: Lawyering for Social Enterprise
Professor Joan Heminway will focus on salient components of professional responsibility operative in delivering advisory legal services to social enterprises. Social enterprises—businesses that exist to generate financial and social or environmental benefits—have received significant positive public attention in recent years. However, social enterprise and the related concepts of social entrepreneurship and impact investing are neither well defined nor well understood. As a result, entrepreneurs, investors, intermediaries, and agents, as well as their respective advisors, may be operating under different impressions or assumptions about what social enterprise is and have different ideas about how to best build and manage a sustainable social enterprise business. Professor Heminway will discuss how these legal uncertainties have the capacity to generate transaction costs around entity formation and management decision making and the pertinent professional responsibilities implicated in an attorney’s representation of such social enterprises.
Session 4: Beyond Bitcoin: Leveraging Blockchain for Corporate Governance, Corporate Social Responsibility, and Enterprise Risk Management
Although many people equate blockchain with bitcoin, cryptocurrency, and smart contracts, Professor Marcia Narine Weldon will discuss how the technology also has the potential to transform the way companies look at governance and enterprise risk management. Companies and stock exchanges are using blockchain for shareholder communications, managing supply chains, internal audit, and cybersecurity. Professor Weldon will focus on eliminating barriers to transparency in the human rights arena. Professor Weldon’s discussion will provide an overview of blockchain technology and how state and nonstate actors use the technology outside of the realm of cryptocurrency.
Session 5: Crafting State Corporate Law for Research and Review
Professor Benjamin Edwards will discuss how states can implement changes in state corporate law with an eye toward putting in place provisions and measures to make it easier for policymakers to retrospectively review changes to state law to discern whether legislation accomplished its stated goals. State legislatures often enact and amend their business corporation laws without considering how to review and evaluate their effectiveness and impact. This inattention means that state legislatures quickly lose sight of whether the changes actually generate the benefits desired at the time off passage. It also means that state legislatures may not observe stock price reactions or other market reactions to legislation. Our federal system allows states to serve as the laboratories of democracy. The controversy over fee-shifting bylaws and corporate charter provisions offers an opportunity for state legislatures to intelligently design changes in corporate law to achieve multiple state and regulatory objectives. Professor Edwards will discuss how well-crafted legislation would: (i) allow states to compete effectively in the market for corporate charters; and (ii) generate useful information for evaluating whether particular bylaws or charter provisions enhance shareholder wealth.
Session 6: An Overt Disclosure Requirement for Eliminating the Duty of Loyalty
When Delaware law allowed parties to eliminate the duty of loyalty for LLCs, more than a few people were appalled. Concerns about eliminating the duty of loyalty are not surprising given traditional business law fiduciary duty doctrine. However, as business agreements evolved, and became more sophisticated, freedom of contract has become more common, and attractive. How to reconcile this tradition with the emerging trend? Professor Joshua Fershée will discuss why we need to bring a partnership principle to LLCs to help. In partnerships, the default rule is that changes to the partnership agreement or acts outside the ordinary course of business require a unanimous vote. See UPA § 18(h) & RUPA § 401(j). As such, the duty of loyalty should have the same requirement, and perhaps that even the rule should be mandatory, not just default. The duty of loyalty norm is sufficiently ingrained that more active notice (and more explicit consent) is necessary, and eliminating the duty of loyalty is sufficiently unique that it warrants unique treatment if it is to be eliminated.
Session 7: Does Corporate Personhood Matter? A Review of We the Corporations
Professor Stefan Padfield will discuss a book written by UCLA Law Professor Adam Winkler, “We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights.” The highly-praised book “reveals the secret history of one of America’s most successful yet least-known ‘civil rights movements’ – the centuries-long struggle for equal rights for corporations.” However, the book is not without its controversial assertions, particularly when it comes to its characterizations of some of the key components of corporate personhood and corporate personality theory. This discussion will unpack some of these assertions, hopefully ensuring that advocates who rely on the book will be informed as to alternative approaches to key issues.
September 1, 2018 in Ann Lipton, Compliance, Conferences, Contracts, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Current Affairs, Employment Law, Human Rights, Intellectual Property, International Business, Joan Heminway, Joshua P. Fershee, Law School, Lawyering, LLCs, Marcia Narine Weldon, Real Property, Shareholders, Social Enterprise, Stefan J. Padfield, Teaching, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, August 28, 2018
Are corporations (and other business associations) political actors? Of course. Some of Marcia's posts here on the BLPB have raised, for example, questions about the use of boycotts as firm political activity. See, e.g., here. Marcia also pointed out here that National Football League teams (typically owned by and operated through some form of business association) have been caught up in political activity surrounding the players-kneeling-during-the-national-anthem controversy.
The Vanderbilt Law Review has recently published an essay on the political corporation written by a Dream Team of sorts--two friends who are married to each other--at the University of South Carolina School of Law, Susan Kuo and Ben Means. Susan teaches advocacy and dispute resolution courses (currently focusing on criminal law and procedure, conflicts, and social justice issues) and is the Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion. Ben is likely known to many BLPB readers as a business law guy (with a special focus on small and family owned busnesses). He's been a member of the executive committee for the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) Section on Business Associations and is past chair of the AALS Section on Agency, Partnership, LLCs, and Unincorporated Business Associations. They bring their individual and collective talents to this essay, entitled The Political Economy of Corporate Exit. Here is the SSRN abstract.
Corporate political activity is understood to include financial contributions, lobbying efforts, participation in trade groups, and political advertising, all of which give corporations a “voice” in public decisionmaking. This Essay contends that the accepted definition of corporate political activity overlooks the importance of “exit.” Corporations do not need to spend money to exert political influence; when faced with objectionable laws, they can threaten to take their business elsewhere. From the “grab your wallet” campaign to the fight for LGBT rights in states such as Georgia, Indiana, and North Carolina, corporate exit has played a significant role in recent political controversies.
This Essay offers the first account of corporate exit as a form of political activity and identifies two basic rationales: (1) attaching economic consequences to public choices, and (2) avoiding complicity with laws that violate a corporation’s values. This Essay also shows how citizens can harness corporate economic power when conventional political channels are inaccessible. In an era of hashtag activism and boycotts sustained via social media, corporations cannot afford to ignore consumers, employees, investors, and other stakeholders.
I communicated with Ben about this piece a while back and was excited about it then. I am looking forward to getting into it in short order. Looks like a relevant, insightful read.
Friday, August 24, 2018
Two weeks ago, I blogged about why lawyers, law professors, and judges should care about blockchain. I'll be speaking about blockchain, corporate governance, and enterprise risk management on September 14th at our second annual BLPB symposium at UT. To prepare, I'm reading as many articles as I can on blockchain, but it can be a bit mind numbing with all of the complexity. After hearing Carla Reyes speak at SEALS, I knew I had to read hers, if only because of the title If Rockefeller Were A Coder.
I recommend this article in general, but especially for those who teach business organizations and want to find a way to enliven your entity selection discussions. The abstract is below.
The Ethereum Decentralized Autonomous Organization (“The DAO”), a decentralized, smart contract-based, investment fund with assets of $168 million, spectacularly crashed when one of its members exploited a flaw in the computer code and stole $55 million. In the wake of the exploit, many argued that participants in the DAO could be jointly and severally liable for the loss as partners in a general partnership. Others claimed that the DAO evidenced an entirely new form of business entity, one that current laws do not contemplate. Ultimately, the technologists cleaned up the exploit via technological means, and without engaging in any further legal analysis, many simply concluded that the DAO, other decentralized autonomous organizations, and the Ethereum protocol itself signify opportunities to do away with legal business organizational forms as they presently exist. In this Article, I argue that precisely the opposite is true. Instead of creating a new type of corporate entity through computer code, The DAO and other smart contract-based organizations may resurrect a very old, frequently forgotten, business entity—the business trust, which Rockefeller first used to solve the technology-business organization law divide of his time.
This Article offers the first analysis of blockchain-based business ventures under business organization law at three separate levels of the technology: protocols, smart contracts and decentralized autonomous organizations. The Article first reveals the practical and theoretical deficits of using partnership as the only default entity option for blockchain-based business ventures. The Article then demonstrates that incorporation and LLC formation will also pose both practical and doctrinal difficulties for some such businesses. When faced with a similar conundrum in the nineteenth century, Rockefeller turned to the common law business trust as a substitute business entity. This Article argues that if Rockefeller were a coder building a blockchain-based business, he would again turn to the business trust as an additional choice of entity. The Article concludes by considering, in light of Rockefeller’s history, whether the law should anticipate any challenges with the rise of blockchain-based business trusts.
Monday, August 13, 2018
On Saturday evening, I returned from the 2018 Southeastern Association of Law Schools (SEALS) annual conference (program here). My week-long tour of duty as a conference registrant spanned three different areas of engagement: (1) volunteerism in the portion of the conference dedicated to helping prepare prospective law faculty for the law school appointments process; (2) attendance at programs of interest on substantive law, law schools, and law teaching; and (3) participation (through presentation and commentary) in business law discussion groups. Although I was exhausted by the time I left (especially because I also attended portions of two meetings of the SEALS Board of Trustees), I also was rewarded by each of the three types of involvement in the conference.
The prospective law teachers component of the conference offers the opportunity for a select group of future teacher-scholars to present a sample job talk, receive comments on their draft CVs, and engage in mock interviews. This year, I participated as a mentor in all three components. Some folks needed more support with pieces of the process than others, as you might imagine. But all were amply qualified and deserving of appointments. Several sent me nice "thank you" messages. I hope that we will stay in touch.
I was able to attend a few sessions (or parts of sessions) of various kinds that did not focus on business law directly. Some featured my UT Law colleagues; others represented areas of interest wholly outside or only indirectly related to business law. For example, I attended an international panel on "Fake News" in a Digital Era, a discussion session on Strategies for Bar Preparation and Success, a New Scholars Workshop panel focusing on works-in-process relating to regulatory questions in various areas of law, a program entitled Workshop on Teaching to Engage, and a healthcare and bioethics discussion session. All had something relevant to offer to my scholarship, teaching, or service. As a result of the teaching session, I plan to move one day of office hours a week to our law school commons c=area, so that students can just drop in individually or in groups. I will try to remember to report out on that experiment.
Finally, I did participate in three discussion groups and attend a fourth as part of the Business Law Workshop at the conference. Specifically: I co-chaired--with John Anderson--an insider trading discussion session (U.S. v. Martoma and the Future of Insider Trading Law); chaired a second discussion forum on Alternative ways of Going Public; commented on forthcoming works in a Corporate Governance discussion group; and participated in a final discussion forum on The Role of Corporate Personhood in Masterpiece Bakeshop organized and chaired by our own BLPB co-editor Stefan Padfield. Fellow co-editor Marcia Narine Weldon also attended and participated in this and other programming at the conference. The discussions in these sessions were rich and varied. Perhaps Stefan will have more to say about the discussion group he organized . . . . I think he was pleased with the result of his call for participation. I found the conversation stimulating and fascinating
The 2019 conference is scheduled to start at the end of July (July 29-August 4) in Boca Raton, Florida. Look for news on it here, or sign up for the SEALS blog, through which SEALS makes major announcements of interest to subscribing faculty. If you would like to organize a business law program for next year's conference, please feel free to contact me for advice. I helped originate the SEALS Business Law Workshop years ago and can provide assistance with the proposal submission process.
Sunday, August 12, 2018
We’re a month away from our second annual Business Law Professor Blog CLE, hosted at the University of Tennessee on Friday, September 14, 2018. We’ll discuss our latest research and receive comments from UT faculty and students. I’ve entitled my talk Beyond Bitcoin: Leveraging Blockchain for Corporate Governance, Corporate Social Responsibility, and Enterprise Risk Management, and will blog more about that after I finish the article. This is a really long post, but it’s chock full of helpful links for novices and experts alike and highlights some really interesting work from our colleagues at other law schools.
Two weeks ago, I posted some resources to help familiarize you with blockchain. Here’s a relatively simple definition from John Giordani at Forbes:
Blockchain is a public register in which transactions between two users belonging to the same network are stored in a secure, verifiable and permanent way. The data relating to the exchanges are saved inside cryptographic blocks, connected in a hierarchical manner to each other. This creates an endless chain of data blocks -- hence the name blockchain -- that allows you to trace and verify all the transactions you have ever made. The primary function of a blockchain is, therefore, to certify transactions between people. In the case of Bitcoin, the blockchain serves to verify the exchange of cryptocurrency between two users, but it is only one of the many possible uses of this technological structure. In other sectors, the blockchain can certify the exchange of shares and stocks, operate as if it were a notary and "validate" a contract or make the votes cast in online voting secure and impossible to alter. One of the greatest advantages of the blockchain is the high degree of security it guarantees. In fact, once a transaction is certified and saved within one of the chain blocks, it can no longer be modified or tampered with. Each block consists of a pointer that connects it to the previous block, a timestamp that certifies the time at which the event actually took place and the transaction data.
These three elements ensure that each element of the blockchain is unique and immutable -- any request to modify the timestamp or the content of the block would change all subsequent blocks. This is because the pointer is created based on the data in the previous block, triggering a real chain reaction. In order for any alterations to happen, it would be necessary for the 50%-plus-one of the network to approve the change: a possible but hardly feasible operation since the blockchain is distributed worldwide between millions of users.
In case that wasn’t clear enough, here are links to a few of my favorite videos for novices. These will help you understand the rest of this blog post.
- Blockchain Expert Explains One Concept in 5 Levels of Difficulty
- 19 Industries That Blockchain Will Disrupt
- How Blockchain is Changing Money and Business
To help prepare for my own talk in Tennessee, I attended a fascinating discussion at SEALS on Thursday moderated by Dean Jon Garon of Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad College of Law called Blockchain Technology and the Law.
For those of you who don’t know how blockchain technology can relate to your practice or teaching, I thought I would provide a few questions raised by some of the speakers. I’ve inserted some (oversimplified)links for definitions. The speakers did not include these links, so if I have used one that you believe is incomplete or inaccurate, do not attribute it to them.
Del started the session by talking about the legal issues in blockchain consensus models. He described consensus models as the backbones for users because they: 1) allow users to interact with each other in a trustless manner; 2) ensure the integrity of the ledger in both normal and adversarial situations; and 3) create a “novel variety of networks with extraordinary potential” if implemented correctly. He discussed both permissioned (e.g. Ripple) and permissionless (Bitcoin) systems and how they differ. He then explained Proof of Work blockchains supported by miners (who solve problems to add blocks to the blockchain) and masternodes (who provide the backbone support to the blockchain). He pointed out how blockchains can reduce agency costs and problems of asymmetrical information and then focused on their utility in financial markets, securities regulation, and corporate governance. Del compared the issues related to off-chain governance, where decisionmaking first takes place on a social level and is then actively encoded into the protocol by the developers (used by Bitcoin and Ethereum) to on-chain governance, where developers broadcast their improvement protocols on-chain and then, once approved, those improvements are implemented into the code. He closed by listing a number of “big unanswered issues” related to regulatory guidance, liability for the performance of the technology and choice of consensus, global issues, and GDPR and other data privacy issues.
Catherine wants to help judges think about smart contracts. She asked, among other things, how judges should address remedies, what counts as substantial performance, and how smart contract audits would work. She questioned whether judges should use a consumer protection approach or instead follow a draconian approach by embracing automation and enforcing smart contracts as drafted to discourage their adoption by those who are not sophisticated enough to understand how they work.
Tonya focuses on blockchain and intellectual property. Her talked raised the issues of non-fungible tokens generated through smart contracts and the internet of value. She used the example of cryptokitties, where players have the chance to collect and breed digital cats. She also raised the question of what kind of technology can avoid infringement. For more on how blockchain can disrupt copyright law, read her post here.
In case you didn’t have enough trust issues with blockchain and cryptocurrency, Rebecca’s presentation focused on the “halo of immutability” and asked a few central questions: 1) why should we trust the miners not to collude for a 51% attack 2) why should we trust wallets, which aren’t as secure as people think; and 3) why should we trust the consensus mechanism? In response, some members of the audience noted that blockchain appeals to a libertarian element because of the removal of the government from the conversation.
Professor Carla Reyes, Michigan State University College of Law- follow her on Twitter at Carla Reyes (@Prof_CarlaReyes);
Carla talked about crypto corporate governance and the potential fiduciary duties that come out of thinking of blockchains as public trusts or corporations. She explained that governance happens on and off of the blockchain mechanisms through social media outlets such as Redditt. She further noted that many of those who call themselves “passive economic participants” are actually involved in governance because they comment on improvement processes. She also noted the paradox that off chain governance doesn’t always work very well because participants don’t always agree, but when they do agree, it often leads to controversial results like hard forks. Her upcoming article will outline potential fiduciaries (miner and masternode operators for example), their duties, and when they apply. She also asked the provocative question of whether a hard fork is like a Revlon event.
As a former chief privacy officer, I have to confess a bias toward Charlotte’s presentation. She talked about blockchain in healthcare focusing on these questions: will gains in cybersecurity protection outweigh specific issues for privacy or other legal issues (data ownership); what are the practical implications of implementing a private blockchain (consortium, patient-initiated, regulatory-approved); can this apply to other needed uses, including medical device applications; how might this technology work over geographically diverse regulatory structures; and are there better applications for this technology (e.g. connected health devices)? She posited that blockchain could work in healthcare because it is decentralized, has increased security, improves access controls, is more impervious to unauthorized change, could support availability goals for ransomware attacks and other issues, is potentially interoperable, could be less expensive, and could be controlled by regulatory branch, consortium, and the patient. She closed by raising potential legal issues related to broad data sharing, unanswered questions about private implementations, privacy requirements relating to the obligation of data deletion and correction (GDPR in the EU, China’s cybersecurity law, etc); and questions of data ownership in a contract.
Eric closed by discussing the potential tax issue for hard forks. He explained that after a hard fork, a new coin is created, and asked whether that creates income because the owner had one entitlement and now has two pieces of ownership. He then asked whether hard forks are more like corporate reorganizations or spinoffs (which already have statutory taxation provisions) or rather analogous to a change of wealth. Finally, he asked whether we should think about these transactions like a contingent right to do something in the future and how that should be valued.
Stay tuned for more on these and other projects related to blockchain. I will be sure to post them when they are done. But, ignore blockchain at your peril. There’s a reason that IBM, Microsoft, and the State Department are spending money on this technology. If you come to UT on September 15th, I’ll explain how other companies, the UN, NASDAQ, and nation states are using blockchain beyond the cryptocurrency arena.
August 12, 2018 in Commercial Law, Compliance, Conferences, Contracts, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Entrepreneurship, Human Rights, Law School, Lawyering, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Research/Scholarhip, Securities Regulation, Shareholders, Teaching, Technology, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, July 27, 2018
Pura vida from Costa Rica. Between recovery from carpal tunnel surgery a few weeks ago and an ATV flip two days ago, I don’t have much mental or physical energy to do a full post. I haven’t mastered dictation so I’m typing this on an iPad with one hand. Next week, I’ll provide more substance as well as a preview on my September talk at our second annual BPLB symposium at the University of Tennessee. Today, I want to pass on some resources for those who don’t know anything about blockchain.
For those who want to provide resources for students, Walter Effross has put together a great site:
The following sources come from Professor Tonya Evans at UNH, who has developed an online curriculum on blockchain:
Blockchain + Law:
Next week, I’ll talk about my research into how blockchain is used in corporate governance, compliance, supply chain management, enterprise risk management, cybersexurity, and human rights.
Thursday, July 26, 2018
One of the business law academy's power couples, Amy and Bert Westbrook, recently posted an intriguing piece on SSRN that Bert and I have been communicating about a bit this summer. It is entitled Snapchat's Gift: Equity Culture in High-Tech Firms, and it is, indeed, a lovely gift--well conceived and packaged. It is a look at dual class common equity in technology firms--and equity more generally--that confronts and incorporates many perspectives from law, economics, and other social sciences.
Some of you, like me, teach basic corporate finance in a variety of courses. In those situations, it is important for instructors to have a handle on descriptions of the basic instruments of corporate finance--debt, equity, hybrid, and other. What is the package of rights each instrument represents that incentivizes investors to supply money or other valuable assets? In my classes, we ultimately discuss equity as a bundle of rights that includes potentials for financial gain and governance. Snapchat's Gift digs into the validity of these perceived rights in relevant part by focusing on recent changes in the primary public offering market for equity securities in the United States--in particular, the advent of highly publicized and fully subscribed initial public offerings of nonvoting common shares.
Monday, June 4, 2018
It was great to see co-blogger Marcia Narine Weldon (albeit briefly) at the Sixth Biennial Conference: To Teach is to Learn Twice: Fostering Excellence in Transactional Law and Skills Education hosted by Emory Law's Center for Transactional Law and Practice. I had the opportunity to present and attend some of the presentations on Friday. I had to leave Saturday morning to teach Contract Law to ProMBA students in Knoxville Saturday afternoon, however, and missed hearing half the conference program as a result. Even on Friday, due to the number of super concurrent sessions, I had to forego a lot of great presentations. Consequently, I was delighted to read Marcia's post on Tina Stark's presentation. Great stuff.
At the conference, I offered insights on my document "treasure hunt" teaching method in a "try this" session on Friday afternoon. More specifically, I talked about and demonstrated a corporate finance treasure hunt. After laying a substantive and practical foundation, I sent the audience, some of whom are not corporate finance folks, on a search for blank check preferred stock provisions in Delaware corporate charters. Then, I called on them to share their search logic and make observations about what they found, relating their treasure to the example I had given them. They did so well with this exercise! Everyone found a blank check stock provision, and many in the audience were willing to talk about what they found.
I went to several other "try this" sessions on Friday (billed as forums "for individual presenters to demonstrate in-class activities"). They included:
The Creative Aspect of Transactional Lawyering: Structuring the Transaction and Drafting the Agreement to Resolve a Legal Issue
John F. Hilson
UCLA School of Law
Stephen L. Sepinuck
Gonzaga University School of Law
Teaching Contract Law, Terms, and Practice Skills Through Problems
Marquette University Law School
Teach the Basics of Contract Drafting, Corporate Governance & Transactional Law in One Sentence
Neil J. Wertleib
UCLA School of Law
Each session offered much to think about, a hallmark of this conference. I plan to consider over the course of the summer--and beyond--how I may use some of the demonstrated techniques in my teaching and writing. The proceedings of the conference will be published in principal part in Transactions: The Tennessee Journal of Business Law, UT Law's business law journal, during the 2018-19 academic year. I will try to remember to let folks know when that volume of Transactions is available.
This week, I am off to New York and Toronto for two additional conferences (in New York, the Impact Investing Legal Working Group (IILWG)/Grunin Center for Law and Social Entrepreneurship’s 2018 Conference on “Legal Issues in Social Entrepreneurship and Impact Investing–in the US and Beyond,” and in Toronto, the Law and Society Association Annual Meeting on "Law at the Crossroads: Le Droit à la Croisée des Chemins"). I am at the airport waiting for my first (delayed) flight as a type this. I expect to be able to report out on both next week.
Friday, June 1, 2018
Greetings from Atlanta, Georgia, site of the Emory Transactional Law & Skills Conference. After only a few hours of presentations, I'm already inspired to make some changes in my new transactional lawyering class. I will write about some of the lessons learned next week. Today, I want to share some of Tina Stark's remarks from the conference dinner that ended moments ago. Although she initially teased the audience by stating that she would make "subversive" statements, nothing that she said would scandalize most law students or surprise practicing lawyers.
Her "radical" proposal entailed having transactional skills education be a part of every law student's curriculum. In support, she cited ABA Standard 301(a), which states:
OBJECTIVES OF PROGRAM OF LEGAL EDUCATION (a) A law school shall maintain a rigorous program of legal education that prepares its students, upon graduation, for admission to the bar and for effective, ethical, and responsible participation as members of the legal profession.
She argued that for the academy to meet this standard, schools must go beyond a narrow reading of ABA rules and provide every student with the foundation to practice transactional law, particularly because half of graduates will practice in that area even if they don't know it while they are in law school. She also referenced ABA Standard 302, which states in part:
LEARNING OUTCOMES A law school shall establish learning outcomes that shall, at a minimum, include competency in the following: (a) Knowledge and understanding of substantive and procedural law; (b) Legal analysis and reasoning, legal research, problem-solving, and written and oral communication in the legal context.
Stark correctly observed that notwithstanding the litigation focus in law school, lawyers write more than predictive memos and briefs. She emphasized that competency in oral and communication skills is particularly important for deal lawyers.
If she came even close to being "radical," (and I don't think she did), it's because she went beyond calling on more schools to offer, much less require drafting courses. Instead, she recommended that schools add at least one credit to the first year contracts course so that students can learn the structure of contracts and build a foundation for more advanced work. She likened law students failing to learn the parts of a contract to medical students studying anatomy without doing dissections.
She anticipated the argument that schools do not have enough time to add an extra credit to the basic contracts course by countering that another first year course could be moved to the second year. This would allow professors to spend the first part of the semester teaching 1Ls to read and analyze a contract so that they can understand business drivers when reading cases in contracts and property class.
Although some in the academy might resist the proposal, I believe that members of the bar and business community would applaud this move. If the long waiting list for my transactional lawyering course and similar ones around the country are any indication, law students would appreciate more balance in the curriculum as well.