The Law of Non-Existent Markets

Written by: Todd Stevens

International borders are increasingly blending together in the corporate world, so it would seem natural that this would also be the case in corporate law. However, this is frequently far from reality, as securities regulations across the world often reveal themselves to be a patchwork quilt of individual legal systems struggling to interact. Such was the picture painted by Michael Mann, former first director for the Office of International Affairs at the SEC and current partner in the Washington, D.C. office of Richards Kibbe & Orbe, who spoke on the global regulation of financial markets at Chicago-Kent this past Thursday.

“One of the interesting things about international securities markets is that there is no such thing,” Mann said, introducing his presentation. “(The markets) are run by domestic bodies administering domestic laws.”

Having framed the international securities world in this light, Mann went on to emphasize the importance of individual relationships in international securities law. As securities markets differ from country to country, businesses are forced to work with different legal structures in each individual market. Thus, it is incredibly important to remember one’s position in any international business arrangement. An expert in the United States market is not necessarily an expert in the Chinese market, and being successful in the field of securities requires strong, mutually beneficial relationships with legal partners across the globe.

Mann went on to set up an outlook for the future. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Morrison v. National Australia Bank decision, it is much harder to gain jurisdiction in the United States, even when presented with a company that has significant US contacts. This situation makes it all the more important for firms and their legal departments to focus on how they develop their own internal rules, making sure that they are prepared to deal with foreign legal systems as needed.
More importantly, attorneys working in securities markets need to communicate with utmost clarity the issues confronting clients who want to operate internationally so they can shield themselves against potentially hazardous foreign regulations.

“We need to make sure there’s an understanding in our customer of the rules of the marketplace,” Mann said.

On a grander scale, Mann said that the Morrison decision may offer an opportunity to take a new look at the international securities arena and retool it into something friendlier and more efficient, citing past compromises on insider trading law made by the United States and Switzerland as a possible example.
Similar concessions worldwide would be necessary to create an improved setting. As Mann stated, “If the marketplace is ever going to become internationalized, we need to redraw the jurisdictional boundaries… so that people can protect themselves as they so desire.

Image

The Global Regulation of Financial Markets

Inline image 1

Is it time we allowed non-lawyer equity investment in law firms in the United States?

The American Bar Association (ABA) toyed with a contentious idea earlier this year: non-lawyer equity investment in law firms.  As it stands today in the U.S., ethics rules prevent lawyers from sharing their profits with non-lawyers, ostensibly because these people are not subject to the same professional rules of conduct.  The ABA’s latest proposal was to allow non-lawyers who already work at law firms to own up to a 25% stake in the firm.  Unfortunately, the idea appears to have stalled (again), but it is still worth discussing.

This is not the first time this issue has come up.  In fact, the ABA put together a proposal as long ago as 2000.   Not only that, it isn’t even illegal everywhere in the country: Washington, D.C. voted to allow non-lawyer investment all the way back in 1980.  And it isn’t just being played out in ABA meetings and in business journals, it has reached the courts.  In March, New York law firm Jacoby & Myers brought suit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s ethics rule barring this practice.  Sadly for the firm, the court dismissed the action because Jacoby did not have the required locus standi to bring the suit.

And it isn’t that radical of an idea either.  Countries like the United Kingdom and Australia already allow this, albeit only recently.  The UK started the program on the idea that the capital raised would be used to invest in technology and other systems to bring down costs, with the goal of lowering the legal costs of consumers.  The downside to this is legal services may become commoditized, which would make them less attractive investments. 

Opponents of the idea worry that these outside investors would influence lawyers’ judgments and convince them to make unethical decisions, all in the name of maximizing profits.  The practice would affect the “core values,” such as confidentiality and loyalty to our clients, that we as a profession so value.  If non-lawyers are partners and are thus privy to confidential information, who will police what they do with that information?

There is also the issue of practicality.  Who is going to invest in these firms?  Individuals?  Maybe.  But for this to make any sort of meaningful impact, large dollars will have to be at play.  Private equity is an option, but there is one big problem: an ethics rule that prohibits lawyers from entering into agreements that limit their ability to practice law.  This underscores law firms’ biggest problem: their only assets can walk out the door at any time, never to return again.  That isn’t exactly a trait of the textbook private equity investment.

However, the benefits to law firms of outside investment are numerous.  It allows small firms easier access to capital.  Large law firms are able to use banks much easier, giving them yet another advantage.  Outside investment gives law firms a way to recruit and retain their top non-lawyers talent.  This is also especially helpful to smaller firms, which could bring on certain experts as partners rather than hire them on a one-off basis.  It especially makes sense given the rise of entrepreneurs (who need capital) in the law firm sector.  One could also argue financial investors could help firms maximize their profits by making operational changes that do not affect their representation of clients.

It is tough to say who is right in this debate.  Each side makes valid points.  But in a time when giant firms are going under because of crushing amounts of debt (see Dewey & LeBoeuf) and investors are constantly looking for new ways to put their money to use, maybe it’s time for the ABA to make a change.  After all, our country’s legal system developed largely out of British common law; we might as well import one of their newer ideas.

Written by: Jeffrey McIntosh

References:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304750404577317761468323458.html

http://www.jdjournal.com/2012/04/17/aba-steps-back-from-proposal-of-non-lawyer-ownership-of-law-firms/

http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2012/04/17/aba-case-has-not-been-made-for-nonlawyer-ownership/

http://newsandinsight.thomsonreuters.com/Legal/News/2012/02_-_February/NY_bar_considers_allowing_non-lawyers_to_invest_in_law_firms/

http://kowalskiandassociatesblog.com/2012/02/07/private-equity-investments-in-law-firms-have-arrived-in-the-uk-and-have-largely-ignored-biglaw-what-will-happen-as-this-phenomenon-arrives-in-the-united-states/

Corporate Law Society Alumni Panel

Thursday, October 25th at 6:00pm

Event will take place in Room C40 with a Reception to follow in the Lobby.

The event will feature five Chicago-Kent Alumni practicing in the corporate law and transactional field. They will be discussing their career paths and day-to-day experiences. The Reception will be a great opportunity for students to network while having a few cocktails and appetizers! All students are invited to attend.

 

Please RSVP to ChicagoKentBLS@gmail.com

Attention to Detail: The Rise and Fall of Corporate Attorneys

Jakub A. Wronski and Joseph J. Basile, both corporate attorneys at the Boston office of Weil, Gotshal and Manges, recently published an article expounding the importance of minding the details in corporate law transactions. The article uses Besinger v. Denbury Res. Inc. (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 17, 2011) to illustrate their point. 

In Besinger, a merger between Denbury Resources Inc. and Encore Acquisition Company went afoul when Encore shareholders were falsely informed on multiple occasions that the formula for calculating the number of Denbury shares to be distributed to Encore shareholders as consideration for the merger was pegged to a weighted average share price of Denbury stock as of the date two days prior to the closing of the merger, which turned out to be Friday, March 5, 2010. In fact, the merger agreement pegged the calculation to the date of the second full trading day prior to the “effective time” of the merger, which, as that term was defined, turned out to be Monday, March 8, 2010. By using the March 8 date instead of March 5, Denbury paid less to the Encore shareholders (800,000 fewer shares to be exact), which resulted in the lawsuit.

In this case, Denbury’s attorneys’ failure to pay close attention to the details in the Proxy and Registration Statements was the root cause of the error. Denbury misstated the merger calculation in both the Proxy and Registration Statements, and those misstatements are directly related to shareholder compensation. The Proxy and Registration Statements were materially misleading in violation of Section 11 of the Securities Act of 1933 and Section 14 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Section 11 imposes liability for registration statements that, upon becoming effective, contain “an untrue statement of a material fact or omit to state a material fact required to be stated therein or necessary to make the statements therein not misleading.”

The court denied Denbury’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, finding that Denbury misstated in several instances the precise formula that would be used to calculate the merger consideration and that such misstatements are not immaterial as a matter of law. In other words, failure to exercise greater care in drafting the press releases and Securities and Exchange Commission filings that publicly disclosed the merger gave Encore stockholders grounds for a viable, multi-million dollar claim against Denbury.

Wronski and Basile point out two key takeaways from this case. First, all public statements should follow the language of the underlying purchase agreement to the fullest extent possible; and second, lawyers should carefully review such disclosures to ensure that they comply with the truthful disclosure requirements of SEC rules.

“The Denbury transaction exemplifies how seemingly minor omissions or inconsistencies in drafting documents can significantly alter the economic expectations of the parties involved. Deal documentation—whether contracts, press releases, or regulatory filings—should always be carefully prepared and reviewed by legal advisers.” 

Whichever firm, corporation, or industry you find yourself practicing in post-graduation, it is imperative that you routinely remind yourself that attention to detail is arguably the most important responsibility of a corporate attorney. “When lawyers do not meet this standard, what follows are costly litigation, unhappy clients, and perhaps fewer invitations to weigh in on those ‘bet-the-company’ issues.”

As Four-star Navy Admiral Hyman G. Rickover once said, “the Devil is in the details, but so is salvation.”

For more information, visit http://www.law.com/corporatecounsel/PubArticleCC.jsp?id=1202574240924&Corporate_Attorneys_Must_Mind_the_Details_or_Catch_the_Devil&slreturn=20120911063215.

The Latest JP Morgan Chase Lawsuit

On August 9, JP Morgan Chase & Co. agreed to cover almost 20 percent of a $6.05 billion deal to settle a price-fixing case brought over credit-card swipe fees.  JP Morgan is the second-largest U.S. credit card issuer according to the Nilson Report.  In 2005, the plaintiffs, merchants and retail industry associations, filed fourteen actions, namely alleging that JP Morgan & Chase Co. conspired with MasterCard and Visa to rig credit-card processing fees.  In order the settle the lawsuit, Visa and MasterCard, along with a handful of U.S. banks agreed to pay $6.6 billion and reduce credit-card swipe fees temporarily.  The deal includes cash payments of $6.05 billion for the class action participants and $525 million to individual plaintiffs.

It’ll be interesting to see how many of the plaintiffs agree to participate in class action lawsuit and how the settlement affects JP Morgan’s stocks, as the shares were down 0.4% in recent trading.

 By Jenna Hennig

SEC “Conflict Minerals” Talk

On August 22, 2012, the SEC issued a Final Rule requiring supply chain tracking and reporting of the origins of tin, gold, tantalum, and tungsten, including when present in finished goods incorporating these materials.  Such “conflict minerals” originate from conflict-ridden countries in Central Africa, the mines of which are often controlled by militia groups using violence, forced child labor, and rape in connection with the extraction of these minerals.

 An origin review must be part of a manufacturer’s (or contractor’s) SEC report when a conflict mineral is necessary to the functionality or production of any of their goods.  The information must also be available on the company’s internet site.

 Click here for SEC Press Release, which includes a link to the final decision. (note this is over 300 pages) http://www.sec.gov/news/press/2012/2012-163.htm

Date:        Thursday, September 27, 2012

Time:          4:00 – 5:00 p.m.   Speaker Event

                   5:00 – 6:00 p.m.   Reception

Location:  Chicago-Kent College of Law – 10th Floor

Panelists:

Gwendolyn L. Hassan, Manager of Corporate Compliance at Navistar, Inc.

Eric Stovall, Principal at and Regional and Industrial Leader on Conflict Minerals for KPMG

Bartram S. Brown, Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Program in International and Comparative Law

Price:  Free for Students; $20 (Members); $35 (Non-Members)

Sponsors:

- Organization of Women in International Trade, Chicago Chapter (OWIT),

- International Law Students Association at Chicago-Kent (ILSA), and

- International & Foreign Law Committee of the CBA’s Young Lawyer Section