Friday, January 26, 2024
We just finished our second week of the semester and I’m already exhausted, partly because I just submitted the first draft of a law review article that’s 123 pages with over 600 footnotes on a future-proof framework for AI regulation to the University of Tennessee Journal of Business Law. I should have stuck with my original topic of legal ethics and AI.
But alas, who knew so much would happen in 2023? I certainly didn’t even though I spent the entire year speaking on AI to lawyers, businesspeople, and government officials. So, I decided to change my topic in late November as it became clearer that the EU would finally take action on the EU AI Act and that the Brussels effect would likely take hold requiring other governments and all the big players in the tech space to take notice and sharpen their own agendas.
But I’m one of the lucky ones because although I’m not a techie, I’m a former chief privacy officer, and spend a lot of time thinking about things like data protection and cybersecurity, especially as it relates to AI. And I recently assumed the role of GC of an AI startup. So, because I’m tech-adjacent, I’ve spent hours every day immersed in the legal and tech issues related to large and small language models, generative AI (GAI), artificial general intelligence (AGI), APIs, singularity, the Turing test, and the minutiae of potential regulation around the world. I’ve become so immersed that I actually toggled between listening to the outstanding Institute for Well-Being In Law virtual conference and the FTC’s 4-hour tech summit yesterday with founders, journalists, economists, and academics. Adding more fuel to the fire, just before the summit kicked off, the FTC announced an inquiry into the partnerships and investments of Alphabet, Inc., Amazon.com, Inc., Anthropic PBC, Microsoft Corp., and OpenAI, Inc. Between that and the NY Times lawsuit against OpenAI and Microsoft alleging billions in damages for purported IP violations, we are living in interesting times.
If you’ve paid attention to the speeches at Davos, you know that it was all AI all the time. I follow statements from the tech leaders like other people follow their fantasy football stats or NCAA brackets. Many professors, CEOs, and general consumers, on the other hand, have been caught by surprise by the very rapid acceleration of the developments, particularly related to generative AI.
However, now more members of the general public are paying attention to the concept of deepfakes and demanding legislation in part because the supernova that is Taylor Swift has been victimized by someone creating fake pornographic images of her. We should be even more worried about the real and significant threat to the integrity of the fifty global elections and occurring in 2024 where members of the public may be duped into believing that political candidates have said things that they did not, such as President Biden telling people not to vote in the New Hampshire primary and to save their votes for November.
For those of us who teach in law schools in the US and who were either grading or recovering from grading in December, we learned a few days before Christmas that Lexis was rolling out its AI solution for 2Ls and 3Ls. Although I had planned to allow and even teach my students the basics of prompt engineering and using AI as a tool (and not a substitute for lawyering) in my business associations, contract drafting, and business and human rights class, now I have to also learn Lexis’ solution too. I feel for those professors who still ban the use of generative AI or aren’t equipped to teach students how to use it ethically and effectively.
Even so, I’m excited and my students are too. The legal profession is going to change dramatically over the next two years, and it’s our job as professors to prepare our students. Thompson Reuters, the ABA, and state courts have made it clear that we can’t sit by on the sidelines hoping that this fad will pass.
Professionally, I have used AI to redraft an employee handbook in my client’s voice (using my employment law knowledge, of course), prepare FAQs for another client’s code of conduct in a very specialized industry, prepare interview questions for my podcast, and draft fact patterns for simulations for conferences and in class. I’ve also tested its ability to draft NDAs and other simple agreements using only ChatGPT. It didn’t do so well there, but that’s because I know what I was looking for. And when I gave additional instructions, for example, about drafting a mutual indemnification clause and then a separate supercap, it did surprisingly well. But I know what should be in these agreements. The average layperson does not, something that concerns Chief Justice Roberts and should concern us all.
How have you changed your teaching with the advent of generative AI? If you’re already writing or teaching about AI or just want more resources, join the 159 law professors in a group founded by Professors April Dawson and Dan Linna. As for my law review article, I’m sure a lot of it will be obsolete by the time it’s published, but it should still be an interesting, if not terrifying, read for some.
January 26, 2024 in Business Associations, Compliance, Consulting, Contracts, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Human Rights, Intellectual Property, International Law, Jobs, Law Firms, Law School, Lawyering, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Research/Scholarhip, Science, Teaching, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, July 28, 2023
Greetings from SEALS, where I've just left a packed room of law professors grappling with some thorny issues related to ChatGPT4, Claude 2, Copilot, and other forms of generative AI. I don't have answers to the questions below and some are well above my pay grade, but I am taking them into account as I prepare to teach courses in transactional skills; compliance, corporate governance, and sustainability; and ethics and technology this Fall.
In no particular order, here are some of the questions/points raised during the three-hour session. I'll have more thoughts on using AI in the classroom in a future post.
- AI detectors that schools rely on have high false positives for nonnative speakers and neurodivergent students and they are easy to evade. How can you reliably ensure that students aren't using AI tools such as ChatGPT if you've prohibited it?
- If we allow the use of AI in classrooms, how do we change how we assess students?
- If our goal is to teach the mastery of legal skills, what are the legal skills we should teach related to the use of AI? How will our students learn critical thinking skills if they can rely on generative AI?
- How should we keep up with the rapid pace of change?
- How will adjuncts use AI with our students if they are already integrating it into their practice? Alternatively, will adjuncts see the use of AI as cheating?
- If students use papers as writing samples, should there be attestations indicating that they are AI free? Same question for journals/law reviews.
- Can clinicians and others use generative AI to help with access to justice? If so, how can we ensure that the information is reliable and not a hallucination??
- How should schools assess faculty coming up for promotion and tenure? Will junior faculty feel pressured to rely on AI to be more productive?
- Can generative AI be helpful with students with disabilities and neurodivergent students? AI tools can help with creating study schedules, note taking (organizing by topic), time management, summarizing large articles, staying on task, academic support tool, ascertaining how long will tasks take, planning meals and more. If a policy prohibits the use of generative AI in the classroom, should its use be a reasonable accommodation?
- Do we as faculty members have the growth mindset to deal with this change? Or will we teach the way we always do, which may do a disservice to our students. How do we prepare our students to deal with generative AI in practice?
- Do you need a uniform policy or should each professor have their own policy? Should the default policy be that students cannot use it for work that gets academic credit unless the professor has specifically opted in?
- Should we embrace AI especially for students who can’t write? Is using ChatGPT any different from using a calculator? Is it any different from asking a partner for a template so you don't have to start from scratch?
- Should we use more in-class exams? Should they be closed book? Do we need more oral presentations? How might this affect space planning at exam time?
- Should class participation count for more than it already does?
- If you're not familiar with generative AI tools, where should you start?
How many of these questions have you asked yourself, your colleagues, or your dean? If you have some best practices or thoughts, please share them in the comments.
July 28, 2023 in Compliance, Conferences, Contracts, Corporate Finance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Ethics, Law Firms, Law Reviews, Law School, Lawyering, Marcia Narine Weldon, Teaching, Technology, Web/Tech, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, July 7, 2023
Depending on who you talk to, you get some pretty extreme perspectives on generative AI. In a former life, I used to have oversight of the lobbying and PAC money for a multinational company. As we all know, companies never ask to be regulated. So when an industry begs for regulation, you know something is up.
Two weeks ago, I presented the keynote speech to the alumni of AESE, Portugal’s oldest business school, on the topic of my research on business, human rights, and technology with a special focus on AI. If you're attending Connecting the Threads in October, you'll hear some of what I discussed.
I may have overprepared, but given the C-Suite audience, that’s better than the alternative. For me that meant spending almost 100 hours reading books, articles, white papers, and watching videos by data scientists, lawyers, ethicists, government officials, CEOs, and software engineers.
Because I wanted the audience to really think about their role in our future, I spent quite a bit of time on the doom and gloom scenarios, which the Portuguese press highlighted. I cited the talk by the creators of the Social Dilemma, who warned about the dangers of social media algorithms and who are now raising the alarms about AI's potential existential threat to humanity in a talk called the AI Dilemma.
I used statistics from the Future of Jobs Report from the World Economic Forum on potential job displacement and from Yale's Jeffrey Sonnenfeld on what CEOs think and are planning for. Of the 119 CEOs from companies like Walmart, Coca-Cola, Xerox and Zoom, 34% of CEOs said AI could potentially destroy humanity in ten years, 8% said that it could happen in five years, and 58% said that could never happen and they are “not worried.” 42% said the doom and gloom is overstated, while 58% said it was not. I told the audience about deepfakes where AI can now mimic someone's voice in three seconds.
But in reality, there's also a lot of hope. For the past two days I've been up at zero dark thirty to watch the live stream of the AI For Good Global Summit in Geneva. The recordings are available on YouTube. While there was a more decidedly upbeat tone from these presenters, there was still some tamping down of the enthusiasm.
Fun random facts? People have been using algorithms to make music since the 60s. While many are worried about the intellectual property implications for AI and the arts, AI use was celebrated at the summit. Half of humanity's working satellites belong to Elon Musk. And a task force of 120 organizations is bringing the hammer down on illegal deforestation in Brazil using geospatial AI. They've already netted 2 billion in penalties.
For additional perspective, for two of the first guests on my new podcast, I've interviewed lawyer and mediator, Mitch Jackson, an AI enthusiast, and tech veteran, Stephanie Sylvestre, who's been working with OpenAI for years and developed her own AI product somehow managing to garner one million dollars worth of free services for her startup, Avatar Buddy. Links to their episodes are here (and don't forget to subscribe to the podcast).
If you’re in business or advising business, could you answer the following questions I asked the audience of executives and government officials in Portugal?
- How are you integrating human rights considerations into your company's strategy and decision-making processes, particularly concerning the deployment and use of new technologies?
- Can you describe how your company's corporate governance structure accounts for human rights and ethical considerations, particularly with regards to the use and impact of emerging technologies?
- How are you planning to navigate the tension between increasing automation in your business operations and the potential for job displacement among your workforce?
- How does your company approach balancing the need for innovation and competitive advantage with the potential societal and human rights impact of technologies like facial recognition and surveillance?
- In what ways is your company actively taking steps to ensure that your supply chain, especially for tech components, is free from forced labor or other human rights abuses?
- As data becomes more valuable, how is your company ensuring ethical data collection and usage practices? Are these practices in line with both domestic and international human rights and privacy standards?
- What steps are you taking to ensure digital accessibility and inclusivity, thereby avoiding the risk of creating or enhancing digital divides?
- How is your company taking into account the potential environmental impacts of your technology, including e-waste and energy consumption, and what steps are being taken to mitigate these risks while promoting sustainable development?
- What financial incentives do you have in place to do the ”right thing” even if it’s much less profitable? What penalties do you have in place for the “wrong” behavior?
- Will governments come together to regulate or will the fate of humanity lie in the hands of A few large companies?
Luckily, we had cocktails right after I asked those questions.
Are you using generative AI like ChatGPT4 or another source in your business 0r practice? If you teach, are you integrating it into the classroom? I'd love to hear your thoughts.
July 7, 2023 in Business School, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Human Rights, Intellectual Property, Lawyering, Legislation, Management, Marcia Narine Weldon, Science, Teaching, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, May 19, 2023
I'm excited to announce this new position. It's particularly timely as just this morning, I had breakfast with venture capitalists, founders, and others in the tech ecosystem nurtured and propelled by the founders of Emerge Americas. This is a great time to be in Miami. Here are the details.
The University of Miami School of Law seeks to appoint an Inaugural Law & Technology Resident Fellow.
This will be an exciting opportunity as the Fellow will join a vibrant community of scholars and practitioners working at the intersection of law and technology. Miami-Dade County and the surrounding Tech Hub is enjoying a dramatic expansion in technology-related startups and finance. MiamiLaw has an established J.D. degree concentration in Business of Innovation, Law, and Technology (BILT). Faculty have set up numerous technology-related programs including Law Without Walls (LWOW) and the We Robot conference.
MiamiLaw currently offers courses in: AI and Robot Law; Blockchain Technology and Business Strategies; Digital Asset and Blockchain Regulation; Digital Transformation Services: Business & Legal Considerations; Dispute Resolution; Technology and The Digital Economy; E-Sports; Electronic Discovery; Genomic Medicine, Ethics and the Law; Intellectual Property in Digital Media; Introduction to Programming For Lawyers; NFTs: Legal and Business Considerations; Scientific Evidence; Tax Issues Relating to Movement of Foreign Tech Founders Into Miami in the 21St Century; Space Law: Regulating and Incentivizing Private Commercial Activities in Outer Space; a Startup Clinic and a class in Startup Law and Entrepreneurship; The Digital Economy and International Taxation--National and International Responses; Law, Technology, and Practice; Law, Policy & Technology; and Tiktok, Twitter and Youtube: The Legal Framework Governing Social Media.
We aim to enhance these substantial and growing technology-related activities by hiring a Law & Technology Resident Fellow. We seek a recent law graduate interested in studying and teaching about the impact artificial intelligence (AI) will have on the legal field, from the impact on legal education to the impact on legal practice and legislative reform. We are specifically interested in candidates who would connect our students and our faculty both with new technologies and with tech startups in Miami.
In order to provide a space for training of and experimentation by the law school community, the initial Fellow also will be responsible for designing and then setting up an Artificial Intelligence Technology Lab—which could be real or virtual—that will, among other things, support faculty in their courses and research. The Fellow would be expected to teach one technology-related course, subject to approval by the Vice Dean and the law school’s Curriculum Committee, once the Lab is functional.
Applicants must have completed their J.D. degree prior to the beginning of the fellowship. Experience with Artificial Intelligence as it pertains to law and law practice, or optionally a degree in Computer Science or a related field, would also be helpful. The fellowship begins on August 1 and lasts for one year; a Fellow in residence may apply for a second year of support.
The University of Miami offers competitive salaries and a comprehensive benefits package including medical and dental benefits, vacation, paid holidays and much more.
Applications should include the following:
- A cover letter indicating your interest in the Resident Fellowship
- A resume or CV
- A law/graduate school transcript
- Two letters of recommendation
Applications for the Law & Tech Resident Fellowship must be received no later than July 1, 2023.
The University of Miami is an Equal Opportunity Employer - Females/Minorities/Protected Veterans/Individuals with Disabilities are encouraged to apply. Applicants and employees are protected from discrimination based on certain categories protected by Federal law. Click here for additional information.
If you have any questions about what it's like to work at UM or live in Miami, please reach out at [email protected].
Friday, May 5, 2023
A few months ago, I asked whether people in the tech industry were the most powerful people in the world. This is part II of that post.
I posed that question after speaking at a tech conference in Lisbon sponsored by Microsoft. They asked me to touch on business and human rights and I presented the day after the company announced a ten billion dollar investment in OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT. Back then, we were amazed at what ChatGPT 3.5 could do. Members of the audience were excited and terrified- and these were tech people.
And that was before the explosion of ChatGPT4.
I've since made a similar presentation about AI, surveillance, social media companies to law students, engineering students, and business people. In the last few weeks, over 10,000 people including Elon Musk, have called for a 6-month pause in AI training systems. If you don't trust Musk's judgment (and the other scientists and futurists), trust the "Godfather of AI," who recently quit Google so he could speak out on the dangers, even though Google has put out its own whitepaper on AI development. Watch the 60 Minutes interview with the CEO of Google.
Just yesterday, the White House held a summit with key AI stakeholders to talk about AI governance.
Between AI-generated photos winning competitions, musicians creating songs simulating real artists' voices, students using generative AI to turn in essays that fool professors, and generative AI's ability to hallucinate (come up with completely wrong answers that look correct), what can we as lawyers do? Are our jobs at risk? Barrons has put out a list. IBM has paused hiring because it believes it can gain efficiencies though AI. Goldman Sachs has said that 300 million jobs might be affected by this technology. I'm at a conference for entrepreneurs and the CEO of a 100-million dollar company said that he has reassigned and is re-skilling 90% of his marketing team because he can use AI for most of what they do.
Should we be excited or terrified? I've been stressing to lawyers and my students that we need to understand this technology to help develop the regulations around it as well to wrestle with the thorny legal and ethical issues that arise. Here are ten questions, courtesy of ChatGPT4, that lawyers should ask themselves:
- Do I understand the basic principles and mechanics of AI, including machine learning, deep learning, and natural language processing, to make informed decisions about its use in my legal practice?
- How can AI tools be used effectively and ethically to enhance my practice, whether in legal research, document review, contract drafting, or litigation support, while maintaining high professional standards?
- Are the AI tools and technologies I use compliant with relevant data protection and privacy regulations, such as GDPR and CCPA, and do they adequately protect client confidentiality and sensitive information?
- How can I ensure that the AI-driven tools I utilize are unbiased, transparent, and fair, and what steps can I take to mitigate potential algorithmic biases that may compromise the objectivity and fairness of my legal work?
- How can I obtain and document informed consent from clients when using AI tools in my practice, ensuring that they understand the risks, benefits, and alternatives associated with these technologies?
- What are the intellectual property implications of using AI, particularly concerning AI-generated content, inventions, and potential copyright or trademark issues that may arise?
- How can I assess and manage potential liability and accountability issues stemming from the use of AI tools, including understanding the legal and ethical ramifications of AI-generated outputs in my practice?
- How can I effectively explain and defend the use of AI-generated evidence, analysis, or insights in court, demonstrating the validity and reliability of the methods and results to judges and opposing counsel?
- What measures should I implement to supervise and train my staff, including paralegals and support personnel, in the responsible use of AI tools, ensuring that ethical and professional standards are maintained throughout the practice?
- How can I stay up-to-date with the latest advancements in AI technology and best practices, ensuring that I continue to adapt and evolve as a legal professional in an increasingly technology-driven world?
Do you use ChatGPT or any other other generative AI in your work? Can you answer these questions? I'll be talking about many of these issues at the Connecting the Threads symposium and would love to get your insights as I develop my paper.
May 5, 2023 in Compliance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Human Rights, Jobs, Lawyering, Legislation, Management, Marcia Narine Weldon, Teaching, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, January 9, 2023
If you are interested in business law topics at the intersection of law & technology and social inclusion, and if you are in NYC on January 25 (or just generally available that day for a webinar!), you may want to check out the Cardozo Law Review symposium on "Automating Bias." The program agenda is included below. Thanks to the symposium editor for bringing this program to our attention.
The symposium is being held at Cardozo School of Law, 55 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York, with an option to attend by webinar. (The symposium editor will send a link to the webinar to all registrants closer to the event). In-person and live webinar attendees can receive CLE credits for attending; no CLE credits are available for remote attendees accessing the program later in recorded form. [Note: This last sentence has been revised from the version of this post originally published to indicate that live webinar attendees may receive CLE credit.]
Those interested can register through the Eventbrite page linked here. Click on the image below for a higher resolution copy of the program agenda and speakers.
Friday, January 7, 2022
We just wrapped up a fascinating discussion group titled "A Very Online Economy: Meme Trading, Bitcoin, and the Crisis of Trust and Value(s)--How Should the Law Respond?" as part of the AALS 2022 Annual Meeting. I co-moderated the group with Professor Martin Edwards (Belmont University School of Law). Here's the description:
Emergent forces emanating from social and financial technologies are challenging many underlying assumptions about the workings of markets, the nature of firms, and our social relationship with our economic institutions. Blockchain technologies challenge our assumptions about the need for centralization, trust, and financial institutions. Meme trading puts pressure on our assumptions about economic value and market processes. Environmental and social governance initiatives raise important questions about the relationship between economic institutions and social values. These issues will certainly drive policy debates about social and economic good in the coming years.
The group gathered some amazing presenters and commentators for the discussion, including:
- Prof. Eric Chaffee (University of Toledo School of Law)
- Prof. Kevin R. Douglas (Michigan State College of Law)
- Prof. Caleb N. Griffin (University of Arkansas School of Law)
- Prof. Yuliya Guseva (Rutgers Law School)
- Prof. Mike Guttentag (Loyola Law School)
- BLPB co-blogger, Prof. Joan MacLeod Heminway (University of Tennessee College of Law), who inspired and encouraged Martin and I to organize the group
- Prof. Ben Johnson (Penn State Law)
- Prof. Kristin Johnson (Emory Law)
- Prof. Jeremy Kidd (Drake University Law School)Prof.
- Prof. Seth C. Oranburg (Duquesne University School of Law)
- Prof. Carla L. Reyes (Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law)
- Prof. J.W. Verrett (George Mason University Antonin Scalia Law School)
The discussion was lively and informative, and I look forward to seeing the final versions of these projects in print!
Friday, July 23, 2021
Professor Martin Edwards (Belmont University College of Law) and I are excited to moderate a discussion group titled, “A Very Online Economy: Meme Trading, Bitcoin, and the Crisis of Trust and Value(s)—How Should the Law Respond,” at the 2022 American Association of Law Schools Annual Meeting. The discussion group is scheduled to take place (virtually) on Friday, January 7, 2022. We welcome responses to the call for participation (here). Here’s the description:
Emergent forces emanating from social and financial technologies are challenging many underlying assumptions about the workings of markets, the nature of firms, and our social relationship with our economic institutions. The 21st century economy and financial architecture are built on faith and trust in centralized institutions. Perhaps it is not surprising that in 2008, a time where that faith and trust waned, a different architecture called “blockchain” emerged. It promised “trustless” exchange, verifiable intermediation, and “decentralization” of value transfer.
In 2021, the financial architecture and its institutions suffered a broadside from socialmedia-fueled “meme” and “expressive” traders. It may not be a coincidence that many of these traders reached adulthood around 2008, when the crisis called into question whether that real money, those real securities, or that real, fundamental value were really real at all. People are engaging with questions about social values in an increasingly uneasy way. There is a flux not only in the substantive values, but also with what set of institutions people should trust to produce, disseminate, and enforce values.
One question is what role business corporations might play in this moment, which is being worked out most prominently through discussions about environmental and social governance (ESG). Social and financial technologies may be rewriting longstanding assumptions about social and economic institutions. Blockchains challenge our assumptions about the need for centralization, trust, and institutions, while meme or expressive trading and ESG challenge our assumptions about economic value, market processes, and social values.
It promises to be a great discussion!
Monday, May 17, 2021
North Carolina Central University School of Law is seeking to hire a lateral professor at the Associate or Full rank to serve as the inaugural Intel Technology and Social Equity Endowed Chair. The person hired will be expected to teach two upper level technology law courses and one first year course. The areas of first-year course need include Contracts, Civil Procedure and Torts. The position will start July 1, 2022. Applicants should be willing and available to teach using in-person, remote, or hybrid formats, depending on the needs of the particular classes.
Applications will be considered until the position is filled. For priority consideration, please apply by July 1, 2021. Application materials should include a cover letter, CV, and the names and contact information of at least three references. Application materials and general inquiries should be submitted to April Dawson, Associate Dean of Technology and Innovation at [email protected].
North Carolina Central University School of Law was founded in 1939 to provide an opportunity for legal education to African Americans. The School of Law now provides this opportunity to a more diverse student body than any other in the nation, as it pertains to race and gender. This environment of diversity better prepares our students to effect positive change in the broader society. The student body consists of approximately 400 students and 31 full-time faculty members.
North Carolina Central University, an EEOC/AA employer, complies with the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. All new employees must provide original documents verifying identity and employability within the first three (3) days of employment with the University. Accommodations for applicants who qualify under the Americans with Disabilities Act or Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, are available upon request.
Monday, February 15, 2021
Friday, March 13, 2020
So glad Colleen published the Skadden information in her post earlier today. I had considered doing that, too. Instead, I will add two links to the growing knowledge base. They both relate to teaching during these challenging times. Then, I will offer a few thoughts of my own.
First, friend-of-the-BLPB Seth Oranburg alerted me to some distance education tips he has posted. They can be found here. I appreciate him taking time to write his ideas out and get this essay posted.
Second, Josh Blackman posted tips on teaching using Zoom here. Some of us are more familiar with videoconferencing technology than others. I have not taught more than a few classes online, but I am comfortable with Zoom. A few of Josh's ideas were new to me and seem very useful in the emergent online teaching environment.
Since most law students will be taking all of their courses (as well as conducting meetings and continuing to do much or all of their reading and written work) online, the possibility of boredom and internet overload/online burnout is very real. As someone who recently suffered from digital eye strain (a/k/a computer vision syndrome), I also am concerned about the possibility that some students will have to combat that. It will be more important than ever that we take time away from our electronic devices to ensure good physical, psychological, and emotional health.
Nevertheless, I am toying with continuing to teach my Wednesday law school yoga class online (students already have asked about it) while UT Law is closed to students, since maybe just hearing my voice and doing yoga together could be helpful and healing. (And at least they would not have to check their phones or computers visually unless they had a question about a pose!) Not sure about that yet . . . .
I expect to write more about this. And maybe some of my co-bloggers will do the same. Comments are always appreciated, too. Let's all support each other in the brave new teaching world so many of us are facing.
Monday, December 16, 2019
Earlier today, the CLS Blue Sky Blog published a post written by Adam Sulkowski and me (thanks to Adam for taking the laboring oar on this piece at the outset!) on corporate governance lawyering in the blockchain era--the topic of our recent article published in the Wayne Law Review. A bit over a month ago, I posted the abstract for that article, together with some related commentary, here on the BLPB.
The CLS Blue Sky Blog includes some observations from our article about law practice in a corporate governance context if and as data storage and usage moves to blockchains. I want to highlight them by repeating them here.
Our specific recommendations relating to lawyering cover several areas. First, we advise attorneys not only to stay updated about applicable law and relevant interpretations, but also to expand their awareness. Serving clients responsibly will require more familiarity and astuteness with technology and operations. Second, we urge our colleagues in the practice of law – including those involved in the making and administration of laws – to be uncharacteristically forward-looking. It is prudent to be proactive in the contexts of advising firm management and public policymaking. Overall, we highlight that counsel has a critical role in thinking through all the implications and contingencies resulting from a move of any governance function or process to a blockchain-based platform.
Why might that critical role look like? I mentioned in my original post that Adam and I engaged in some visioning. Among other things,
[i]t may well fall to attorneys to help clients see and appreciate irrevocable consequences and the potential risks and opportunities. We suggest that anyone engaged in the practice and study of law has a role to play in provoking conversations and new ideas for policy solutions in the context of ambiguities. Eliminating doubts about the adoption and consequences of blockchain-enabled corporate governance will create more certainty for market participants and society.
Perhaps more strikingly, in the article,
. . . we discuss a conceptual reframing that several authors have suggested will be useful as a way of understanding our new role as attorneys. We proffer that that the lawyer’s role will evolve into that of a sort of translator – helping to transform human norms and values into software code. This is a key function in assuring that the deployment of technology serves its intended ends.
There are implications of these possible evolutions in the lawyer's role as corporate governance moves to blockchains. Those implications extend to the legal education setting.
This reconceptualization of business lawyering is relevant to the functions of legal educators and law schools. Based on our observations, there undoubtedly will be a growing need for lawyers who are familiar with both how blockchain technology can be deployed and laws relevant to corporate governance. Law schools should consider evolving their courses and business law curricula accordingly.
Overall, in the CLS Blue Sky Blog post, Adam and I offer a longer playing summary of our work. The additional information we provide there may help you to decide whether and when to read our entire article. To the extent you are not inclined to read the article, however, I hope that this post or that post may at least provoke some thought.
Friday, May 3, 2019
I blogged two weeks ago about whether we were teaching law students the wrong things, the wrong way, or both. I’ve been thinking about that as I design my asynchronous summer course on transactional lawyering while grading asset and stock purchase agreements drafted by the students in my spring advanced transactional course. I taught the spring students face to face, had them work in groups, required them to do a a negotiation either in person or online, and am grading them on both individual and group work as well as class participation. When I looked at drafts of their APAs and SPAs last week, I often reminded the students to go back to old PowerPoints or the reading because it seemed as though they missed certain concepts or maybe I went through them too quickly— I’m sure they did all of the reading (ha!). Now, while designing my online course, I’m trying to marry the best of the in person processes with some of the flipped classroom techniques that worked (and tweaking what didn’t).
Unlike many naysayers, I have no doubt that students and lawyers can learn and work remotely. For the past nine years, I have participated as a mentor in LawWithoutWalls, a mostly virtual experiential learning program started by University of Miami professor Michele DeStefano. Also known as LWOW, the program matches students from around the world with business people and practicing lawyers to develop a project of worth over sixteen weeks. Team members meet in January in person and never see each other in person again until April during a competition that is judged by venture capitalists, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and academics. I mentored a team of students from Bucerius in Germany, Wharton in Pennsylvania, and the University of Miami. Banking behemoth HSBC sponsored our project and staffed it with lawyers from Singapore, Canada, and the UK. Other mentors on the team hailed from Spain and the UK. On any given week, 7-10 people joined Skype calls, chatted in WhatsApp, drafted on Google Docs, and accessed Slack. They attended mandatory webinars weekly via Adobe Connect on developing business plans, pitching to VCs, and working with clients. Seventy percent of the people on the seventeen teams spoke languages other than English as the first language.
How did this virtual experience work? Extremely well, in my view. After some growing pains, students adjusted quickly as did the business partners, who are used to setting up conference calls and working across borders. Some of the winning teams developed projects that provided virtual reality training on implicit bias for police officers; informed consumers about food freshness to combat food waste; and organized health information for foster care children on a blockchain-powered platform. Humble brag- my team won best overall project by developing a solution to use blockchain and smart contracts in syndicated lending that has the potential to save the bank almost 2 million per year. I also mentored last year’s winner, Team Spotify, with students from Miami, Colombia, and Chile and lawyers housed in Sweden, California, and New York. Each year, teams do almost all of this hard work remotely, across time zones, and with language differences. Students collectively interview hundreds of subject matter experts over 16 weeks, and the vast majority of those interviews take place via phone or video and with people in different countries. Other sponsors for LWOW included Accenture, White and Case, Pinsent Mason, Microsoft, Cozen O'Connor, LegalZoom, Eversheds Sutherland, LatAm Airlines, and Legal Mosaic-- all companies and law firms that see the benefit of these skill sets. Significantly, every year, a cohort of teams does all of the work virtually, never meeting in person for a kickoff. That virtual team winner competes in person with the traditional teams each April, and often wins the whole competition. Clearly, these students develop special skills by necessity. I plan to learn from those experiences as I design my course.
My experience with LawWithoutWalls and as a former compliance officer (where we often did training online and via video) makes me optimistic about online learning and working. In my summer course, I will have students work in groups, where they will use the latest virtual teaming tools. I will have live office hours via Skype, Zoom, or FaceTime, and I will require that some of the groups do their meetings via video as well to have a connection outside of email. Students will draft and edit on community bulletin boards. They will post their own video presentations and "webinars" geared toward fictitious business clients. Working collaboratively and creatively are key skills in the real world, and they will be key in my class.
But there is a lot of resistance in both the legal community and academia regarding the online world. Last week, I attended a seminar at a law firm and met a member of the Florida Board of Bar Examiners. I asked his opinion on the state of students and young lawyers. I was particularly interested in his thoughts because he’s also a partner at a large law firm in our state. Like some quoted in my prior post, he believes that online coursework is a poor substitute for face to face learning. He further opined that when people don’t work in offices, they miss the camaraderie of being around peers and their work suffers. These are valid concerns. Many lawyers are unhappy in general, and the way people hide behind digital devices (even when in the same room/office) can lead to isolation, depression, and poor networking and social skills.
But these drawbacks should not doom online learning and remote working. Most of my graduating 3Ls will take their bar prep courses online. They claim that it makes no sense to drive to campus “just to watch a video of a professor speaking.” They also like the idea of being able to rewind videos to take notes. The indicated that they will meet up with friends when they want to study together and may even come on campus to watch their online coursework for a sense of community. But significantly, they don’t see the need to learn in the traditional ways. Personally, I love good online courses but I also love the ability to have face to face interaction with teammates- even if that’s via video. Being in the same physical space also allows for chance interactions that can lead to enriching conversations. On the other hand, sometimes there's no choice. Many readers may remember that years ago, in harder economic times, companies cancelled non essential business travel and people got used to video meetings. Many employers now interview candidates by Skype first before bringing them in. Learning and working virtually is no longer a novelty. Some of our students will work in co-working spaces for firms or companies where everyone works from home.
Change is coming and in many places, already here. Law professors must prepare students to practice in this new world while not sacrificing pedagogical gains. This requires training on project management and effective communication with team members— all non-substantive topics and that will give many people pause. We also need to make sure that students know how to communicate with clients and employers face to face in business and social settings. Some professors will say- correctly- that they have enough to contend with making sure students understand the law and can pass the bar. But, for those of us interested in online learning, we need to do more. We have to make sure that we prepare students for both the "hard" and "soft" skills. Most important, we need to make sure that these online courses have the rigor of traditional classes-- US News is watching.
I’m open to suggestions of what has worked for you and what hasn’t so please feel free to comment below or email me at [email protected].
Friday, December 21, 2018
If you are looking for podcasts over the break, I recommend Professor Brian Frye's Ipse Dixit. I have only listened to a handful of the 75 episodes, but I learned something new in each one.
A big thanks to Brian for putting all of these podcasts on legal scholarship together. The podcasts cover a wide range of legal topics, mostly in an interview format with other professors.
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)
Monday, January 29, 2018
Indiana University legal studies professor Abbey Stemler sent along this description of an article she co-wrote with Harvard Business School Professor Ben Edelman. They recently posted the article to SSRN and would love any feedback you may have, in the comments or via e-mail.
Perhaps the most beloved twenty-six words in tech law, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 has been heralded as a “masterpiece” and the “law that gave us the modern Internet.” While it was originally designed to protect online companies from defamation claims for third-party speech (think message boards and AOL chat rooms), over the years Section 230 has been used to protect online firms from all kinds of regulation—including civil rights and consumer protection laws. As a result, it is now the first line of defense used by online marketplaces to shield them from state and local regulation.
In our article recently posted to SSRN, From the Digital to the Physical: Federal Limitations on Regulating Online Marketplaces, we challenge existing interpretations of Section 230 and highlight how it and other federal laws interfere with state and local government’s ability to regulate online marketplaces—particularly those that dramatically shape our physical realities such as Uber and Airbnb. We realize that the CDA is sacred to many, but as Congress pays renewed attention to this law, we hope our paper will support a richer discussion about what the CDA should and should not be expected to do.
Monday, November 20, 2017
The Oklahoma Law Review recently published an article I wrote for a symposium the law review sponsored last year at The University of Oklahoma College of Law. The symposium, “Confronting New Market Realities: Implications for Stockholder Rights to Vote, Sell, and Sue,” featured a variety of presentations from some really exciting teacher-scholars, some of which resulted in formal published pieces. The index for the related volume of the Oklahoma Law Review can be found here. I commend these articles to you.
The abstract for my article, "Selling Crowdfunded Equity: A New Frontier," follows.
This article briefly offers information and observations about federal securities law transfer restrictions imposed on holders of equity securities purchased in offerings that are exempt from federal registration under the CROWDFUND Act, Title III of the JOBS Act. The article first generally describes crowdfunding and the federal securities regulation regime governing offerings conducted through equity crowdfunding — most typically, the offer and sale of shares of common or preferred stock in a corporation over the Internet — in a transaction exempt from federal registration under the CROWDFUND Act and the related rules adopted by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This regime includes restrictions on transferring securities acquired through equity crowdfunding. The article then offers selected comments on both (1) ways in which the transfer restrictions imposed on stock acquired in equity crowdfunding transactions may affect or relate to shareholder financial and governance rights and (2) the regulatory and transactional environments in which those shareholder rights exist and may be important.
Ultimately, the long-term potential for suitable resale markets for crowdfunded equity — whether under the CROWDFUND Act or otherwise — is likely to be important to the generation of capital for small business firms (and especially start-ups and early-stage ventures). In that context, three important areas of reference will be shareholder exit rights, public offering regulation, and responsiveness to the uncertainty, information asymmetry, and agency costs inherent in this important capital-raising context. Only after a period of experience with resales under the CROWDFUND Act will we be able to judge whether the resale restrictions under that legislation are appropriate and optimally crafted.
Those familiar with the literature in the area will note from the abstract that I employ Ron Gilson's model from "Engineering a Venture Capital Market: Lessons from the American Experience" (55 Stan. L. Rev. 1067 (2003)) in my analysis.
I know others are also working in and around this space. I welcome their comments on the essay and related issues here and in other forums. I also know that we all will "learn as we go" as the still-new CROWDFUND Act experiment continues. Securities sold in the early days of effectiveness of the CROWDFUND Act (which became effective May 16, 2016) are just now broadly eligible for resale. Stay tuned for those lessons learned from the school of "real life."
Friday, October 27, 2017
A former student brought this fundraising website to my attention: To the Stars Academy of Arts and Sciences ("TTS Academy). (Image above from a Creative Commons search).
This article describes TTS Academy as follows: "Former Blink-182 singer and guitarist Tom DeLonge is taking his fascination with/conspiracy theories about UFOs to their logical conclusion point: He's partnering with former government officials on a public benefit corporation studying 'exotic technologies' from Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon (UAP) that the consortium says can 'revolutionize the human experience.'"
Remember the Blink-182 song Aliens Exist?
I couldn't make this up. And I did spend some time trying to determine if it was a joke, but TTS Academy's 63-page offering circular suggests that it is no joke. And TTS Academy appears to have already raised over $500,000.
According to the organization's website, Tom DeLonge of Blink-182 fame is in fact the CEO and President. Supposedly, DeLonge has teamed with former Department of Defense official Luis Elizondo who confirmed to HuffPost that the TTS Academy is planning to "provide never before released footage from real US Government systems...not blurry, amateur photos, but real data and real videos." Rolling Stone reports that "DeLonge has long been interested in UFO and extraterrestrial research. After parting ways with Blink-182 in 2015, he delved deeper into the subject, releasing the book Sekret Machines: Gods earlier this year and he's also working on a movie that is related to those interests called Strange Times." TTS Academy is a Public Benefit Corporation, formed in Delaware.
The TTS Academy website states: "To The Stars Academy is a Public Benefit Corporation (PBC), which means our public benefit purpose is a core founding principle of our corporate charter alongside the traditional goal of maximizing profit for shareholders." Hmm... How does one pursue a public benefit purpose and seek to maximize profit for shareholders? A main point of benefit corporations is liberate companies from the perceived restrictions of shareholder wealth maximization.
The website continues: "Our public purpose: Education - Community - Sustainability - Transparency. PBCs have enjoyed a surge in popularity as the public becomes more interested in corporate responsibility, transparency, and more recently, the concept of impact investing.* It’s clear that an expanding portion of the general population is looking to make an impact on the world around them, not only through volunteering, or speaking out on social media, but through financial decision making.** We believe raising resources through Regulation A+ crowdfunding will allow us to expedite expansion of TTS Academy’s PBC initiatives, like promoting citizen science, enhancing traditional education with science, engineering and art-related programming, supporting veterans and their families, and promoting underrepresented people in film." Color me skeptical.
As Professor Christine Hurt noted way back in 2014/15, the crowdfunding and social enterprise circles may overlap significantly. Professor Hurt wrote, "for-profit social entrepreneurship may find equity crowdfunding both appealing and available. For-profit social entrepreneurs may be able to use the crowdfunding vehicle to brand themselves as pro-social, attracting individual and institutional cause investors who may operate outside of traditional capital markets and may look for intangible returns. Just as charitable crowdfunders rebut the conventional wisdom that donors expect tax-deductibility, prosocial equity crowdfunders may rebut the conventional wisdom that early equity investors expect high returns or an exit mechanism." Not sure if she, or any of us, predicted exactly this type of company.
Friday, October 20, 2017
The Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation recently contained a notice about the Delaware Corporate Law Resource Center, which I thought might interest our readers as well. The post is reproduced below the line.
The oral histories of iconic Delaware cases are the most interesting, and useful, part of the website to me, though some of the cases do not appear to have materials yet. In addition to the cases, there is an oral history on 102(b)(7) to which my judge (VC Stephen Lamb) and others contributed. I hope the existing materials will be added to and expanded over time.
The University of Pennsylvania Law School Institute for Law and Economics (ILE) is pleased to announce the creation and public availability of a new website devoted to resources relating to the development of the Delaware General Corporation Law and related case law. This website (the Delaware Corporation Law Resource Center) has two principal components. The first is a compilation of resources relating to the Delaware General Corporation Law itself, including a link to the text of the statute, and links to the bills to amend the statute since its general revision in 1967. This portion of the website also includes links to annual commentaries on those amendments, the reports and minutes generated in the 1967 revision process, and memoranda disseminated by the Council of the Delaware State Bar Association Corporation Law Section describing some of the more significant and controversial amendments to the statute.
The second component of the website is a repository for materials constituting oral histories of iconic corporate law decisions of the Delaware courts since 1980, dealing with the director’s fiduciary duty of care, duties in takeovers, and freezeouts by controlling stockholders. This portion of the website is a work in progress, but for some of the cases it already contains the opinions in the case, briefs, selected transcripts of oral arguments, and selected key documents from the record. Most notably, the oral history compilation includes high quality videotaped interviews of lawyers and judges involved in the case, who describe the back story of the case with details not available through review of the courts’ opinions.
The oral history portion of the website also includes the first in a series of composite videos setting forth the background of each case. That premiere video describes the background of Smith v. Van Gorkom and presents, in narrative fashion, selected excerpts from the video interviews of the participants.
ILE hopes and expects that this website, which is freely available to the public, will prove to be a valuable resource for the teaching and development of Delaware corporate law. ILE welcomes suggestions for ways in which the website can be made even more useful to those interested in its subject.
The new website is available here.
Monday, October 16, 2017
Blockchain-Based Token Sales, Initial Coin Offerings, and the Democratization of Public Capital Markets. Oh, My!
My UT Law colleague Jonathan Rohr has coauthored (with Aaron Wright) an important piece of scholarship on an of-the-moment topic--financial instrument offerings using distributed ledger technology. Even more fun? He and his co-author are interested in aspects of this topic at its intersection with the regulation of securities offerings. Totally cool.
Here is the extended abstract. I cannot wait to dig into this one. Can you? As of the time I authored this post, the article already had almost 700 downloads . . . . Join the crowd!
Blockchain-Based Token Sales, Initial Coin Offerings, and the Democratization of Public Capital Markets
Jonathan Rohr & Aaron Wright
Best known for their role in the creation of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, blockchains are revolutionizing the way tech entrepreneurs are financing their business enterprises. In 2017 alone, over $2.2 billion has been raised through the sale of blockchain-based digital tokens in what some are calling initial coin offerings or “ICOs,” with some sales lasting mere seconds. In a token sale, organizers of a project sell digital tokens to members of the public to finance the development of future technology. An active secondary market for tokens has emerged, with tokens being bought and sold on cryptocurrency exchanges scattered across the globe, with often wild price fluctuations.
The recent explosion of token sales could mark the beginning of a broader shift in public capital markets—one similar to the shift in media distribution that started several decades ago. Blockchains drastically reduce the cost of exchanging value and enable anyone to transmit digitized assets around the globe in a highly trusted manner, stoking dreams of truly global capital markets that leverage the power of a blockchain and the Internet to facilitate capital formation.
The spectacular growth of tokens sales has caused some to argue that these sales simply serve as new tools for hucksters and unscrupulous charlatans to fleece consumers, raising the attention of regulators across the globe. A more careful analysis, however, reveals that blockchain-based tokens represent a wide variety of assets that take a variety of forms. Some are obvious investment vehicles and entitle their holders to economic rights like a share of any profits generated by the project. Others carry with them the right to use and govern the technology that is being developed with funds generated by the token sale and may represent the beginning of a new way to build and fund powerful technological platforms.
Lacking homogeneity, the status of tokens under U.S. securities laws is anything but clear. The test under which security status is assessed—the Howey test—has uncertain application to blockchain-based tokens, particularly those that entitle the holder to use a particular technological service, because they also present the possibility of making a profit by selling the token on a secondary market. Although the SEC recently issued a Report of Investigation in which it found that one type of token qualified as a security, confusion surrounds the boundaries between the types of tokens that will be deemed securities and those that will not.
Blockchain-based tokens exhibit disparate features and have characteristics that make current registration exemptions a poor fit for token sales. In addition to including requirements that do not fit squarely with blockchain-based systems, the transfer restrictions that apply to the most popular exemptions would have the perverse effect of restricting the ability of U.S. consumers to access a new generation of digital technology. The result is an uncertain regulatory environment in which token sellers do not have a sensible path to compliance.
In this Article, we argue that the SEC and Congress should provide token sellers and the exchanges that facilitate token sales with additional certainty. Specifically, we propose that the SEC provide guidance on how it will apply the Howey test to digital tokens, particularly those that mix aspects of consumption and use with the potential for a profit. We also propose that lawmakers adopt both a compliance-driven safe harbor for online exchanges that list tokens with a reasonable belief that the public sale of such tokens is not a violation of Section 5 as well as an exemption to the Section 5 registration requirement that has been tailored to digital tokens.