4 posts from June 2022

Private Equity Debt Shenanigans Conference

posted by Mitu Gulati

I'm obsessed with debt shenanigans and, in particular, the emergence of an entire industry (or so it seems) of lawyers who specialize in finding and exploiting contract loopholes in places where the parties to the transaction had no idea there were gaps.  And there are others who defend against this.  (Anyone remember J.Screwed or Windstream?). 

One area where the payouts of successful loophole detection and exploitation has shown big returns is the world of Private Equity. 

And now the Penn Law Review is hosting a conference on this topic. (Okay -- Their description of the topic is slightly different than mine).  Yay!

Call for papers is below:

The University of Pennsylvania Law Review will host its annual symposium on Friday, October 7, 2022, in-person. This year’s topic, “Debt Market Complexity: Shadowed Practices and Financial Injustice”, will explore the rise of increasingly complicated debt structures associated with private equity. We are issuing a call for papers for publication in the Law Review’s corresponding symposium issue.

To submit a paper for consideration, please provide an abstract no longer than 750 words to symposium@pennlawreview.com by July 31st, 2022. If selected for publication, completed drafts will be due January 1st, 2023. 

The complete call for papers, which includes more detail, is available here

Yehuda Adar on Contract Damages -- In a Bond Default

posted by Mitu Gulati

Figuring out the right damages measure for default on an actively traded financial asset such as a government bond is, at first, obvious -- just pay what you promised on the bond.  But then, when one thinks about features of damages law such as the option to substitute performance or mitigation, things get murkier.

Yehuda Adar, a guru of the messy law of damages at Haifa, has a super new paper on ssrn.com (here).  How he manages to be so very clear and coherent about a topic that is so messy is beyond me. 

Here is the abstract:

What are the damages to which an investor facing a repudiation or a material breach by a government issuer is entitled? The conventional answer that most investors would probably give is that, in the face of such a default on the bond indenture, damages should include both the repayment of the principal (‘par’) and the payment of any remaining (i.e., unpaid) coupons (discounted to present value). Is this conventional understanding warranted? For at least some sovereign bond experts, the answer is not at all obvious and straightforward at it might seem at first blush. Aren’t such damages over-compensatory? Indeed, by obtaining – prior to maturity – both the par and every remaining coupon payment, isn’t the bondholder being put in a better position than if the contract had been performed? Indeed, if there had been no breach, wouldn’t the bondholder have to wait for those payments to be made until maturity date? Secondly, if damages are to be calculated this way, isn’t the bondholder going to receive something more valuable than what he had before the breach? More concretely, whereas prior to breach the bond’s market value reflected the issuer’s credit ranking, the conventional measure of damages seems to treat the bondholder as if he owned a U.S. treasury bond. Third, shouldn’t the investor be expected to purchase a substitute on either the primary or secondary market to eliminate or at least minimize his damages? Shouldn’t this option significantly reduce the scope of the issuer’s liability?

As basic as these questions sound, they have managed to escape rigorous analysis in the sovereign bonds literature. One can hardly find a comprehensive analysis of remedial issues within this vast body of scholarship. What, then, is the correct measure of damages for the breach of a government bond? By closely inspecting this deceptively simple question, this Article highlights the availability, under the general law of contract damages, of no less than four different methods for measuring a bondholder’s expectation damages. The Article presents to the reader each of these alternative measures and illustrates how to implement each of them in a hypothetical case described at the outset of the Article. Then, the Article addresses two analytical challenges facing a court (or an arbitrator) wishing to reach the correct decision on the damages issue. The first involves a choice between two ways of conceptualizing the bondholder’s loss; namely, the loss of the promised performance of the indenture on the one hand, and the market value of the bond on the other hand. The next challenge is that of applying the mitigation of damages doctrine. Considering the normative and practical considerations pertinent to each of these challenges, the Article ultimately concludes that in most cases courts will tend to implement the ‘Gross Lost Profit’ measure of damages, which is the most generous of the four expectation damage measures. Surprisingly or not (depending on one’s intuitions), this measure coincides with the wisdom of the crowd.



Co Authoring in Legal Academia

posted by Mitu Gulati

Co authoring saved me. Literally.  But for the fact that my senior colleagues at UCLA did not care whether I ever wrote anything sole authored, I don't think I would have written anything. I was (and am) just too racked with insecurities.  And then I'd probably have had to get a real job. Aiyiyiyi.  I owe an ever lasting debt to those colleagues -- thank you to Bill Klein, Devon Carbado, Steve Bainbridge, Rick Sander and more.

But I had heard, at the time (a long long time ago) that other schools were not so encouraging. Some of them, the rumor was, discounted co authored work or refused to count it at all in the tenure file.  The model of the worthy scholar was the solo romantic creator toiling away on the magnum opus in solitude.  

Things have changed since then though, as this brilliant piece, The Evolving Network of Legal Scholars,  by Andrew Hayashi shows (although, I have to ask Andrew: Why is the article on co authorship not co authored?).  Even putting aside the fact that I find the topic fascinating (of course, I'd like anything about co authorship), it is beautifully written and has the coolest graphs.  Every section says something new and insightful and one is left wanting more at the end. That is not how I feel at the end of most law journal articles -- actually, I don't even reach the end of most law journal articles because they are such torture to read (especially mine).

Abstract is here:

The law professoriate is a network connected by scholarly interactions of various kinds, including co-authorship. I study the evolution of the co-authorship network from 1980-2020 and document a sharp increase in the number of scholars, the amount of scholarship, and explosive growth in the network of legal scholars during this period. Despite this growth, however, the distance between legal scholars has shrunk such that legal academia can be characterized as a “small world.” I describe the increase in the number and scholarly contributions of women, minorities, and lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) scholars and the rise of co-authorship, including “mixed” co-authorship. I find that members of the same gender or minority groups tend to coauthor with each other, but that this correlation has declined over time resulting in more co-authorship across identity categories. Finally, examining the ordering of author names on coauthored articles, I find that racial minority scholars make up a greater share of first authors than their share of authors in general, while women and LGB scholars make up a smaller share of first authors than one might expect if authorship were randomly assigned.

Just a few questions for Andrew, for his next article on this topic:

1. The article focuses on co authorship in law journals. But what about peer review journals.  Might it be the case that the types of folks who migrate towards the co authorship model tend to publish more in peer review journals? Especially in fields like health law? Does that create an under count?

2. Do things change over the life cycle of a scholar?  Does co authoring at some stage lead to working on larger and larger teams over time? (as one sees the benefits - I'm thinking of Eric Posner's podcast  conversation with Orin Kerr about this topic (here))

3. Can you tell us more about the schools where co authorship thrives more than others?  Are they more collaborative? Do they produce better (more creative) or worse ideas?

4. What about co teaching?  Some schools encourage co teaching in the way they give credit.  Does that result in more co authorship?

Confiscating Russian Assets (Now?)

posted by Mitu Gulati

As the Russia-Ukraine conflict continues and the amount of destruction to lives and property grows exponentially, a question that has come up is whether Russian assets overseas should be confiscated and made available to those who the Russian invasion has harmed  (e.g., here).  The list of those is growing larger minute by minute:  refugees, families of those who have died, people whose homes and livelihoods have been blown apart and on and on and on.

The amount of harm that Mr. Putin's craziness has caused is already far greater than the value of the frozen assets -- in the many trillions whereas the frozen assets (even if one adds in the oligarch properties) is in the hundreds of billions.  But should we wait until Mr. Putin has taken whatever portion of Ukraine he wants (e.g., 20-30%), installed some puppet government, and is finally willing to negotiate for peace?  At that point, as part of the negotiation, he is going to want to ask for his frozen assets back.  And the leaders of the countries where the frozen assets are located, who will be desperate for peace, might be tempted to give the assets back.  Let us not kid ourselves.  The political flesh is weak.  If those politicians see themselves garnering advantage at the ballot box by negotiating a quick peace (to the detriment of the claims or refugees and others), they will do that.  So, maybe there is an argument to confiscating the assets now while there is political will to do so.

On the other hand, there is the small matter of the law.  Due process before taking people's property and all that.  Does it allow for the confiscation of the property of a sovereign engaging in an egregious violation of international law by invading a neighbor?  There is the proverbial slippery slope of countries confiscating the property of other sovereigns whose behavior has displeased them without first ensuring that they are legally entitled to.

To my mind, these are fascinating questions to which there are not clear answers.

Two giants of the legal academy, Larry Tribe and Paul Stephan have been debating this in the context of what Mr. Biden is allowed to do.  The assets can be frozen. But can they be confiscated?

Here is the abstract of Paul's superb new paper that describes the issues:

This article addresses the legal issues that the United States would confront were it to move from freezing to seizing. It looks first at the executive branch’s existing legal authority to confiscate foreign property. It considers legislative proposals to extend that authority. Both existing law and possible future legislation face constraints under constitutional law. These constraints are unique to the United States but reflect principles of legality and due process that western states generally embrace. Finally, it provides a snapshot of the international legal issues that seizure of Russian state assets might present.

First and foremost, existing law does not permit the executive branch to dispose of Russian state assets in advance of a settlement with that state. A civil process exists to forfeit assets to the state, including those of state-owned entities, but that entails resort to the courts and requires some evidence of criminality. Legislation currently under consideration in the United States would enhance that process but not abandon it. It would not apply to the largest portion of assets, the deposits of the Russian Central Bank in US financial institutions, absent some proof that those deposits can be traced to criminal activity. US constitutional guarantees against expropriation in the absence of compensation and of civil forfeiture in the absence of due process almost certainly apply.

Finally, the seizure of assets belonging to the Russian state outside of normal criminal and regulatory processes would violate international law. What international law probably would permit, however, is the use of these assets to satisfy legal judgments rendered against the Russian Federation by duly constituted international investment tribunals established under treaties to which Russia is a party. The United States and other countries in the West might explore ways of encouraging the beneficiaries of these awards, both present and future, to devote their recoveries to Ukrainian reconstruction.


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