Conflict of Interest
The Emerging Role of the Special Committee—Ensuring Business Judgment Rule Protection in the Context of Management Leveraged Buyouts and Other Corporate Transactions Involving Conflicts of Interest
Scott V. Simpson, 43(2): 665–90 (Feb. 1988)
In an era of complex corporate transactions, the role of a board of directors is often further complicated by conflicts of interest involving some or all of the members of the board. Recent judicial decisions also indicate that the actions taken by directors may not be upheld in the courtroom unless certain procedural steps are observed in the boardroom. The special committee, consisting of disinterested directors and advised by independent legal and financial experts, has evolved as a mechanism capable of facilitating a careful review of complex issues while at the same time minimizing the effects of actual or potential conflicts of interest. In appropriate circumstances, establishing a special committee may represent the most significant procedural step that a board of directors can take to ensure that its actions will withstand judicial scrutiny.
Employment of Attorneys by Debtors in Possession: A Proposal for Modification of the Existing Attorney Eligibility Provisions of the Bankruptcy Code and the Existing Conflict of Interest Provisions of the Ethical Rules of Professional Responsibility
Richard L. Epling and Claudia G. Sayre, 47(2): 671–710 (Feb. 1992)
Under the Bankruptcy Code, professionals who are proposed for employment by both trustees and debtors in possession must satisfy virtually the same eligibility test. This Article argues that the Bankruptcy Code should employ different eligibility standards for the employment of professionals by debtors in possession as opposed to trustees and proposes a new eligibility standard for this purpose. Because local ethical codes also affect an attorney's eligibility for representation of a debtor in possession, the Article discusses the necessity of amending the ethical codes to ensure that they permit the implementation of an attorney eligibility standard of national scope in the context of Chapter 11 reorganizations.
Conflicts of Interest in Corporate Litigation
Samuel R. Miller, Richard E. Rochman, and Ray Cannon, 48(1): 141–213 (Nov. 1992)
Situations involving conflicts of interest commonly arise in corporate litigation. This Article analyzes these situations and provides practical advice for dealing with conflicts issues confronting corporate litigators.
Conflicts of Interest and the ALI Corporate Governance Project— A Reporter's Perspective
Marshall L. Small, 48(4): 1377–92 (Aug. 1993)
The author reviews the evolution of statutory and case law relating to corporate conflicts of interest and the manner in which the ALI's Principles of Corporate Governance has dealt with the subject, including the scope of judicial review of conflict-of-interest transactions and the significance of disinterested ratification of conflicts of interest.
The Effect of Disinterested Director Approval of Conflict Transactions Under the ALI Corporate Governance Project—A Practitioner's Perspective
John F. Johnston and Frederick H. Alexander, 48(4): 1393–1405 (Aug. 1993)
The policy perspective of the ALI's Corporate Governance Project with respect to conflict-of-interest transactions that have been approved by disinterested directors is very different from that of many practitioners and, more importantly, from that of the courts that have decided the relevant cases. This Article compares those perspectives.
OTS vs. Kaye, Scholer: An Assault on the Citadel
Lawrence J. Fox, 48(4): 1521–42 (Aug. 1993)
The OTS enforcement proceeding against Kaye, Scholer, Fierman, Hays <&> Handler sent shock waves through the profession, raising fundamental questions regarding the ethical obligations of lawyers for regulated clients. The author seeks to demonstrate the significant departures in the OTS positions from the Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Topics addressed include confidentiality, duty of disclosure, when to consider going up the corporate ladder, and conflicts of interest.
Conflict of Interest Issues
Task Force on Conflicts of Interest, 50(4): 1381–1426 (Aug. 1995)
Conflicts of interest cause increasing problems for lawyers and their clients, particularly lawyers practicing in large firms and their corporate clients. The Task Force has prepared a Memorandum that addresses a number of the conflict-of-interest issues that are most troublesome in today's law practice. The Memorandum suggests one or more written agreements to be signed by lawyers and their clients to resolve these issues before they arise and contains forms to handle some of the issues and procedures.
Corporate Charity: An Oxymoron?
Nell Minow, 54(3): 997–1005 (May 1999)
The business judgment rule gives corporate managers and directors a great deal of deference in making business decisions, so long as they are made in a good faith effort to create shareholder value. This standard may be too forgiving, however, when it comes to charitable contributions, which have a greater potential for conflicts of interest and a smaller capacity to measure results. Corporate charitable contributions should be evaluated as marketing or advertising expenditure and should be fully disclosed to shareholders to minimize the potential for conflicts of interest.
REIT M&A Transactions—Peculiarities and Complications
David M. Einhorn, Adam O. Emmerich, and Robin Panovka, 55(2): 693–734 (Feb. 2000)
The emergence of REITs and the continuing consolidation in the real estate markets have resulted in an ongoing stream of mergers and acquisitions involving publicly traded REITs. Although M&A transactions involving public REITs have much in common with M&A transactions involving other public companies, the special tax rules applicable to REITs and other peculiarities tend to complicate REIT transactions, often in unexpected ways. Business and strategic objectives typical of other industries often face friction in the REIT world, in both friendly and unsolicited transactions. This Article examines some of the peculiarities and complications that are unique to REIT transactions, with special focus on the effectiveness of REIT charters' ownership restrictions as takeover defenses (including a comparison with poison pills), special conflict of interest issues that arise in change of control transactions involving certain REITs, and various REIT tax qualification rules which raise potentially complex issues for prospective acquirers of REIT shares.
The Tensions, Stresses, and Professional Responsibilities of the Lawyer for the Corporation
E. Norman Veasey and Christine T. Di Guglielmo, 62(1): 1–36 (November 2006)
The lawyer for the corporation—whether general counsel, subordinate in-house counsel, or outside counsel—faces tensions, stresses, and professional responsibilities that often differ from those of lawyers who represent individuals. The primary reality that must be faced is that this lawyer's client is—or should be—only the corporate entity.
This article is an attempt to highlight some of the issues that corporate counsel, directors, and managers should seek to recognize and understand. The various challenges faced by both in-house and outside lawyers representing corporations include the maintenance of professional independence, dealing with "up-the-ladder" reporting obligations, seeking to serve the client's best interests through persuasive counseling, the separation of legal and business advice, and dealing with internal investigations, to name a few.
Moreover, in the case of general counsel, special tensions arise because he or she has only one client (the general counsel's employer) and answers both to the CEO and to the board of directors. When these two "bosses" have potential differences or conflicts, the tensions placed on the general counsel may be palpable and difficult to manage consistently with the lawyer's ethical duties, advancement of corporate interests, and job security. Most general counsel are up to the task and do not take the difficulties of their challenges for granted. It is also important, in our view, that directors understand corporate counsel's roles and challenges, as well as the value that counsel brings to the board's responsibilities.
We attempt to address questions of how to establish and fulfill counsel's obligation to be independent, when to advise the corporate actors to seek outside counsel, when to go up the ladder and to summon up the courage to do the right thing. Although we have tried to survey as much of the practical learning and the literature as is reasonable for an article, we believe we have only scratched the surface.
Internal Investigations and the Defense of Corporations in the Sarbanes-Oxley Era
Robert S. Bennett, Alan Kriegel, Carl S. Rauh, and Charles F. Walker, 62(1): 55–88 (Nov. 2006)
Internal investigations long have been an integral part of the successful defense of corporations against charges of misconduct, as well as an important board and management tool for assessing questionable practices. With the heightened standards of conduct and increased exposure created by Sarbanes-Oxley, this essential instrument for safeguarding corporate interests has become even more crucial in identifying and managing risk in the enforcement arena. This article examines from a practitioner's standpoint when and how internal investigations should be conducted in order to protect the corporation in criminal, civil and administrative proceedings. Particular attention is paid to the issues created by a concurrent government investigation and in dealing with employees and former employees in the course of an investigation. The article also addresses the role of the Audit Committee under Sarbanes-Oxley, and the important issue of reporting the findings of the investigation to appropriate corporate officials. The subject of self-reporting by the Company to enforcement authorities is considered as well. In this context, the article explores the SEC's position on crediting self-reporting and cooperation as set forth in the Seaboard report; Department of Justice policy as embodied in the Thompson Memorandum; and the impact of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines for Organizations.
Summary of Mendes Hershman Student Writing Contest Prize Essay: Conflicts of Interest in Derivative Litigation Involving Closely Held Corporations: An All or Nothing Approach to the Requirement of "Independent" Corporate Counsel
Bobby Riccio, 63(2): 383–384 (February 2008)
How Many Masters Can a Director Serve? A Look at the Tensions Facing Constituency Directors
E. Norman Veasey and Christine T. Di Guglielmo, 63(3): 761–776 (May 2008)
As business trends change and capital markets evolve, directors may face factual situations that raise new questions about the contours of directors' fiduciary duties. One increasingly common situation that presents tensions for a growing number of directors is the allegiances by individuals elected to the board by, and who may seemingly "represent," particular constituencies of the public corporation. Such "constituency directors" or "representative directors" may include, for example, directors designated by creditors, venture capitalists, labor unions, controlling or other substantial stockholders, or preferred stockholders; directors elected by a particular class of stockholders; or directors placed on the board by or at the behest of other constituencies.
We raise several questions. When a particular constituency causes one or more directors to be elected to the board, to whom or to what is that director loyal or beholden? The corporation? All the stockholders? If "yes" as to the corporation and all the stockholders, may the director give some "priority" to the views of the constituency that caused him or her to be placed on the board? Since the board must act collectively and the majority might not favor the outcome desired by the particular constituency, are these questions largely academic?
In this Article, we suggest that the existing standards of liability for breach of fiduciary duty should not change in order to account for changing circumstances. The existing standards of conduct and liability incorporate the necessary flexibility to balance the potentially competing duties of constituency directors with protection of the interests of various corporate constituencies. And if the fiduciary duty standards in corporation law are not sufficiently flexible to accommodate particular circumstances, constituents may wish to invest in an alternative entity (such as a limited liability company) governed by other law that will accommodate their needs. Or perhaps the investor may be able to effect a legally authorized change in the certificate of incorporation of the corporation to permit it to be governed more to the investor's liking.
The Role of Lead Counsel in Syndicated Lending Transactions
Reade H. Ryan, Jr., 64(3): 783-800 (May 2009)
Lawyers and law firms have been acting as lead counsel in syndicated lending transactions for many years, but without much guidance, written or unwritten, concerning the duties and responsibilities of being lead counsel. In this Article, the author sets forth his understanding, based on his own experience and his own opinions, of those duties and responsibilities. The author responds to the following questions related to lead counsel's duties and responsibilities:
- Which lenders does the lead counsel represent?
- How does the lead counsel handle the differing interests and views of the various lenders?
- What legal opinions, if any, does the lead counsel render?
- What action does the lead counsel take if a legal problem arises?
- To which lenders is the lead counsel liable for malpractice?
In the author's view, many, if not all, of these questions can be resolved if the lead counsel prepares, and has the appropriate lenders execute, a representation letter that sets forth the basis on which the lead counsel will act. An example of such letter is attached as Annex A.
General Counsel Buffeted by Compliance Demands and Client Pressures May Face Personal Peril
E. Norman Veasey and Christine T. Di Guglielmo,68(1): 57 - 80 (November 2012)
In the "New Reality" of the world of corporate general counsel, the challenges and tensions thrust upon one holding that office have intensified exponentially. Not only does the general counsel uniquely straddle the world of business and law in giving advice to the management and directors of her client (the corporation) but also she may find herself personally in the crosshairs of regulators, prosecutors, and litigants. So, as the rhetoric and real pressures increase to target the general counsel, she must have and use the skills, balance, independence, and courage to be simultaneously the persuasive counselor for her corporate client while being attuned to the need for self-preservation. The lessons from the past targeting of general counsel and other in-house lawyers are ominous. But the quintessential general counsel, acting as both persuasive counselor and a leader in setting the corporation's ethical tone, will do the right thing and thus be prepared to deal with these challenges and tensions.
The Evolving Role of Special Committees in M&A Transactions: Seeking Business Judgment Rule Protection in the Context of Controlling Shareholder Transactions and Other Corporate Transactions Involving Conflicts of Interest
Scott V. Simpson and Katherine Brody, 69(4): 1117-1146 (August 2014)
Special committees of independent, disinterested directors have been widely used by corporate boards to address conflicts of interests and reinforce directors’ satisfaction of their fiduciary duties in corporate transactions since the wave of increased M&A activity in the 1980’s. In 1988, The Business Lawyer published an article titled The Emerging Role of the Special Committee by one of this article’s co-authors, examining the emerging use of special committees of independent directors in transactions involving conflicts of interest. At that time, the Delaware courts had already begun to embrace the emergent and innovative mechanism for addressing corporate conflicts. Now, after over thirty years of scrutiny by the Delaware courts, it is clear that the special committee is a judicially recognized (and encouraged) way to address director conflicts of interest and mitigate litigation risk. This article will examine the role of the special committee in the context of conflict of interest transactions, with a particular focus on transactions involving a change of control or a controlling stockholder, from a U.S. perspective (in particular, under the laws of the State of Delaware), and will briefly consider international applications of the concepts discussed. To this end, this article will examine recent case law developments and compare the special committee processes at the heart of two high-profile Delaware decisions, and, finally, provide guidance to corporate practitioners on the successful implementation of a special committee process.
Financial Innovation and Governance Mechanisms: The Evolution of Decoupling and Transparency
Henry T. C. Hu; 70(2): 347-406 (Spring 2015)
Financial innovation has fundamental implications for the key substantive and information-based mechanisms of corporate governance. “Decoupling” undermines classic understandings of the allocation of voting rights among shareholders (via, e.g., “empty voting”), the control rights of debtholders (via, e.g., “empty crediting” and “hidden interests”/ “hidden non-interests”), and of takeover practices (via, e.g., “morphable ownership” to avoid section 13(d) disclosure and to avoid triggering certain poison pills). Stock-based compensation, the monitoring of managerial performance, the market for corporate control, and other governance mechanisms dependent on a robust informational predicate and market efficiency are undermined by the transparency challenges posed by financial innovation. The basic approach to information that the SEC has always used—the “descriptive mode,” which relies on “intermediary depictions” of objective reality—is manifestly insufficient to capture highly complex objective realities, such as the realities of major banks heavily involved with derivatives. Ironically, the primary governmental response to such transparency challenges—a new system for public disclosure that became effective in 2013, the first since the establishment of the SEC—also creates difficulties. This new parallel public disclosure system, developed by bank regulators and applicable to major financial institutions, is not directed primarily at the familiar transparency ends of investor protection and market efficiency.
As starting points, this Article offers brief overviews of: (1) the analytical framework developed in 2006−2008 for “decoupling” and its calls for reform; and (2) the analytical framework developed in 2012−2014 reconceptualizing “information” in terms of three “modes” and addressing the two parallel disclosure universes.
As to decoupling, the Article proceeds to analyze some key post- 2008 developments (including the status of efforts at reform) and the road ahead. A detailed analysis is offered as to the landmark December 2012 TELUS opinion in the Supreme Court of British Columbia, involving perhaps the most complicated public example of decoupling to date. The Article discusses recent actions on the part of the Delaware judiciary and legislature, the European Union, and bankruptcy courts—and the pressing need for more action by the SEC. At the time the debt decoupling research was introduced, available evidence as to the phenomenon’s significance was limited. This Article helps address that gap.
As to information, the Article begins by outlining the calls for reform associated with the 2012−2014 analytical framework. With revolutionary advances in computer- and web-related technologies, regulators need no longer rely almost exclusively on the descriptive mode rooted in intermediary depictions. Regulators must also begin to systematically deploy the “transfer mode” rooted in “pure information” and the “hybrid mode” rooted in “moderately pure information.” The Article then shows some of the key ways that the new analytical framework can contribute to the SEC’s comprehensive and long-needed new initiative to address “disclosure effectiveness,” including in “depiction-difficult” contexts completely unrelated to financial innovation (e.g., pension disclosures and high technology companies). The Article concludes with a concise version of the analytical framework’s thesis that the new morphology of public information—consisting of two parallel regulatory universes with divergent ends and means—is unsustainable in the long run and involve certain matters that need statutory resolution. However, certain steps involving coordination among the SEC, the Federal Reserve, and others can be taken in the interim.
Financial Advisor Engagement Letters: Post-Rural/Metro Thoughts and Observations
Eric S. Klinger-Wilensky and Nathan P. Emeritz, 71(1): 53-86 (Winter 2015/2016)
The liability of RBC in last year’s In re Rural/Metro decision was derivative of several breaches of fiduciary duty by the Rural/Metro directors, including those directors’ failing “to provide active and direct oversight of RBC.” In discussing that failure, the Court of Chancery stated that a “part of providing active and direct oversight is acting reasonably to learn about actual and potential conflicts faced by directors, management and their advisors.” In the year since Rural/Metro, there has been an ongoing discussion—in scholarly and trade journals, courtrooms and the marketplace—regarding how, if at all, the process of vetting potential financial advisor conflicts should evolve. In this article, we set out our belief that financial advisor engagement letters are an efficient (although admittedly not the only) tool to vet potential conflicts of a financial advisor. We then discuss four contractual provisions that, we believe, are helpful in providing the active and direct oversight that was found lacking in Rural/Metro.
The Shifting Sands of Conflict of Interest Standards: The Duty of Loyalty Meets the Real World with Questions of Process and Fairness
Stuart R. Cohn, 74(4): 1077-1104 (Fall 2019)
Standards governing the validity of conflict-of-interest transactions by corporate directors or others in dominant positions have significantly evolved from the early days of strict judicial condemnation to the current statutory provisions. These provisions place great faith in and emphasis on the judgment of disinterested directors or shareholders. This evolution has not been consistent among states, given that substantial variations exist regarding both statutory provisions and judicial interpretations. To illustrate the variations, this article examines and compares the Delaware and Model Business Corporation Act standards. The variations reflect the concerns that arise when a director’s fiduciary duty of loyalty conflicts with the realities and demands of the commercial world. This article examines the evolution of conflict-of-interest standards and existing variations in light of two fundamental issues: (i) whether the combination of statutory and fiduciary standards obligates directors to obtain advance approval of conflict transactions and (ii) the capacity of shareholders to challenge conflict transactions on the grounds of fairness to the corporation, even after board or shareholder approval. The article concludes that statutory and fiduciary standards obligate directors to obtain advance approval of conflict transactions and provides recommendations for addressing these two issues in a manner consistent with statutory provisions and fiduciary standards.
Uncovering the Hidden Conflicts in Securities Class Action Litigation: Lessons from the State Street Case
Benjamin P. Edwards and Anthony Rickey; 75(1): 1551-1570 (Winter 2019-2020)
Courts, Congress, and commentators have long worried that stockholder plaintiffs in securities and M&A litigation, and their counsel, may pursue suits that benefit themselves, rather than absent stockholders or the corporations in which they invest. Following congressional reforms that encouraged the appointment of institutional stockholders as lead plaintiffs in securities actions, significant academic commentary has focused on the problem of “pay to play”—the possibility that class action law firms encourage litigation by making donations to politicians with influence over institutional stockholders, and particularly public sector pension funds.