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Business Divorces

Although the majority of the transactions I advise on can be described as additive – one company acquiring another one, a company selling newly-issued stock to a new investor – I do spend some time on subtractive (is that a word?) matters, including business divorces. In its simplest form, this term refers to a decision of two business partners to wind down a business, often because some tension has developed in the relationship, just like a personal divorce.

As a purely transactional lawyer, I would only get involved in a business divorce if the parties want to resolve it amicably, without bringing a claim in court, though it can be useful to get the parties moving toward a solution to raise the specter of litigation and its associated costs and delay. In the world of family law, there are attorneys who specialize in collaborative or cooperative divorces, and I try to play a similar role in business divorces by encouraging compromise, even though I’m clearly representing one side and looking out for that party’s interests. Any effort to achieve total victory in these situations is likely a fool’s errand, or at least a very stressful and expensive errand.

In some business divorce cases, the company’s operating agreement or other governing document sets forth an exit procedure that the parties follow. For example, a 50/50 agreement may have a so-called “shotgun” buyout provision that allows one party to initiate a buyout process by setting a value for the company, and then the other party has the option to either buy the initiating partner’s interest or sell to the initiating partner, in either case at the price set forth in the initiating partner’s notice.

If the parties are not following a particular pre-determined procedure, just mutually agreeing to wind down the business, then the parties likely need to draft a dissolution agreement, or similarly-titled document, that details the steps the parties need to take in the wind down. Especially in high-tension situations, the parties will want to exchange mutual releases of claims based on past events, though they would retain the ability to sue based on future actions to be taken under the new agreement, and a mutual non-disparagement clause, so the parties can move on in their respective professional lives without worry about their reputation being sullied by the ex-partner.

A Few Etiquette Tips for Corporate Attorneys in Dealing with Other Attorneys

This is an update of an earlier post.

Etiquette for Attorneys When Dealing with Other Attorneys

Over my 25 years of practicing transactional law, I’ve often been mildly (or sometimes not so mildly) exasperated by common inconsiderate behaviors by opposing counsel on my deals.  Of course, our primary job as attorneys is to represent our clients and not befriend opposing counsel, but unnecessarily agitating other attorneys does not, in the long run, serve our clients’ interests.  The following are some frequently-occurring examples of bad corporate attorney etiquette to avoid:

Sending Uneditable Drafts. Often I will receive initial drafts of an agreement in PDF or read-only form.  In other words, I can’t easily get into the document to provide edits. Sometimes it’s possible to convert the PDF to Word, but the formatting is garbled. Of course, I can provide the comments in other ways besides directly editing the document, but the point is that you’ve made it harder for me to do my job. If the intent in doing this is to discourage commenting, at least with me it may have the opposite effect, by reducing my trust of the other side. The time to create PDF versions is when both sides are in agreement and ready to execute.

Lawyers: Would You Encourage Your Children to Become Lawyers?

My son is graduating college this spring, and he will then start work at a law firm in New York as a paralegal, to give him an opportunity to see law in action and decide whether he wants to apply to law school. My wife and I have been aggressively neutral as far as trying to shape our children’s career choices. We’ve been careful not to push them into law, but we’re not discouraging it either.

Should Aspiring Lawyers Take Career Advice from Older Lawyers?

In talking to other parents over the years, some are neutral like me, but a significant number who are themselves lawyers say they strongly discourage their children from entering the law. I can’t think of anyone I know at the other extreme, who affirmatively try to push their children into a legal career, which is a contrast to the more intrusive parental approach of many years ago. (Though I should point out that when I was growing up, my trial lawyer father and novelist mother took a neutral and supportive role as I now have.)

The SEC’s SPAC Proposal and Projections

The SEC has issued its long-expected proposed rules regarding SPACs. Here are the proposing rule release and the shorter press release. The SEC has always been skeptical of SPACs, and the rules are generally designed to impose new disclosure requirements on SPACs that make the rules more aligned with those applicable to traditional IPOs. One of the reasons SPACs had their moment in the sun recently is that they are easier to complete than IPOs, so the rules, if enacted, could have the effect of severely dampening the market for SPACs, even if they do nothing to directly restrict them from being done. In fact, the general expectation that rules like these were coming down the pike has, anecdotally, been a factor in the SPAC market slowing down recently.

One of the key areas in the proposed rules relates to projections. Under current rules, companies merging with a SPAC can include projections about the company’s future expected results and can benefit from a safe harbor protecting it from litigation if the projections don’t come to pass, as long as the projections are accompanied by a disclaimer and the companies don’t have actual knowledge that they won’t come true. In contrast, companies going public the traditional way don’t have the benefit of this safe harbor. The proposed rules would eliminate the safe harbor in the SPAC context, which would have the practical effect of precluding most projections from being presented.

The Advantages of Rule 506(c)

There is something weirdly contradictory about Rule 506(c) under Regulation D, which has been available for less than 10 years. Regulation D was adopted years before that as a safe harbor for private offerings under Section 4(a)(2) of the Securities Act. In other words, for companies who didn’t want to undergo the costly and involved process of registering their offering publicly, they could do a simpler offering that’s not marketed widely. That process is reflected in what is now Rule 506(b). However, Rule 506(c), even though it’s within the rule that’s supposed to be for private offerings, expressly permits “general solicitation or general advertising” – so, public marketing of the offering.

There are two conditions for the use of Rule 506(c) that aren’t requirements for Rule 506(b):

            1.  Every single participant in the offering must be an accredited investor (up to 35 non-accredited investors can be included under Rule 506(b)); and

            2.  The accredited investor status of each investor must be verified, e.g., through examination of tax returns or brokerage statements, to confirm income or net worth, so, the company cannot just rely on a written representation by the investor.

Thoughts About the Wordle Acquisition

There are those who are addicted to the new online word game, Wordle, and then there are those who gripe about their friends who post their Wordle scores on social media every day. This being a blog about corporate and securities law and transactions, I am not writing to opine on this question, though the fact that I’m mentioning the game at all probably tells you where I stand.

The New York Times recently agreed to acquire Wordle from its Brooklyn-based creator, Josh Wardle, as reported by the, well, New York Times. According to the newspaper/acquiror, the purchase price is “in the low seven figures.” I’m not sure whether that means a million-ish or some amount that is less than $5 million, but in any event, it is a nice payday for Mr. Wardle for a product released just a few months ago.

The London Stock Exchange’s Proposal for Private Company Trading

The Wall Street Journal reported exclusively on plans by the London Stock Exchange to create a special market for the shares of private companies for limited public trading. The plan itself is not yet public, so the Journal was only able to report on limited aspects of what is contemplated. In the same way that U.S. private companies have increasingly been able to access public-like markets with new exemptions like Regulation CF, Rule 506(c) and Regulation A+ and the development of secondary trading markets for large private companies, this is an effort across the pond to provide some of the benefits of public market access to small and fast-growing companies.

The BuzzFeed Option Exercise Dustup

The New Yorker magazine, not my usual source of prompts for blog posts on corporate and securities law, posted a piece on the recent hiccup with stock option exercises by the newly public media company BuzzFeed. BuzzFeed went public by merging with a SPAC. Longtime employees that were hoping to cash in on their stock options were unable to do so right after the merger, at which point the company’s stock price sharply declined, making the options less valuable. The employees are aggrieved at the missed opportunity to exercise options and sell shares at the higher price.

Continental Stock Transfer & Trust Company is featured prominently in the piece. Continental is BuzzFeed’s transfer agent, a category of service provider unknown to most people outside the corporate finance world. As the back-office company responsible for keeping track of who owns which of BuzzFeed’s shares, Continental’s job, among others, is to process the exercise of BuzzFeed’s options and issuance of shares to the employees. (I’ve worked with Continental for years with my public company clients but have no personal connection to the BuzzFeed controversy.)

Equity for Legal Fees (2021 Update)

Equity for Legal Fees | Andrew Abramowitz, PLLC | New York, NY

The payment of legal fees by issuing stock or other equity to the law firm in lieu of cash became popular in the late 1990s with Silicon Valley startups and has gone in and out of fashion since then.  The appeal of the structure, particularly with startups, is obvious.  Before these companies start generating revenue, cash may be hard to come by, so if both sides are willing, the payment of service providers like attorneys, at least initially, with equity, may be an attractive alternative.  It is also possible to have hybrid structures where, for example, the law firm is granted a small piece of equity issued in exchange for the firm’s agreement to discount cash fees and/or defer their payment for a period.

Thoughts on Remote Work from a (Relative) Pioneer

I can’t claim to have invented remote work, but I can say that I was doing it well before the majority of the workforce was forced into it in early 2020. My firm’s address, since its formation in 2010, has been at 565 Fifth Avenue in midtown Manhattan. For the first several years, I took the Long Island Railroad in every day and worked in my office, like any other lawyer. As the firm evolved, I built a network of freelance attorneys that worked for the firm. Especially given that the first two of them resided in Spain and Alabama, respectively, I was never going to need to provide extra space for the attorneys; accordingly, they worked from wherever they wanted.

After a few years of this, it occurred to me that without any opportunity for literal face-time with my co-workers, it was kind of silly for me to endure the commute on days where I had no meetings with clients or others. So, I set up shop in a spare bedroom at home in Port Washington, LI, and went into the city only when there were meetings. Aside from the occasional unwanted noise during conference calls from dogs or teenagers, it’s worked quite well.