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Author: Darian Ibrahim

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Thanks, and Goodbye

Thanks to my hosts for a fun month of blogging here at Co-Op. I had planned to blog on some additional topics, but there’s nothing like a deadline (for me: to answer this Call for Papers) to focus the attention on writing. I really enjoyed the time here and especially thank the commentators on my posts for the helpful back and forth!

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Death on a Factory Farm

I caught a few minutes of HBO’s new documentary Death on a Factory Farm the other night. It focuses on an undercover investigation of a hog farm in Ohio, the graphic footage of abuse it revealed, and the legal case that followed. It was so disturbing that I actually had to turn it off, but then again I’m a vegetarian – it’s those who are not that need to watch.

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Burdens of Proof in Corporate Law

I’m generally a big fan of Delaware corporate law, but something is unclear to me: Why do Delaware judges talk so much about burdens of proof and burden-shifting schemes in their opinions? When I teach cases involving burden shifts to my corporations class, I find that (with few exceptions) we spend little or no time on burdens and far more time on the applicable standard of review – e.g., business judgment rule vs. entire fairness. Students have asked me what to make of all the burdens talk, and I in turn have asked other corporate law professors, who have confessed to wondering the same thing.

Burdens are a complicated topic on which I am no expert. But it seems that in other civil litigation, burdens of persuasion matter because there are “arguments/decisions from ignorance” due to a lack of evidence, non-expert juries, and so forth. So we need to know who wins when it’s unclear whether the standard of persuasion (e.g. preponderance of the evidence) has been met. But in Delaware corporate law, expert judges replace juries, so there should be less uncertainty. Further, because burdens in corporate law bounce around based on the judge’s view of the facts, it is not known who has the burden until a decision is actually rendered. Therefore, both sides must put forth their evidence. Which leaves me curious, what purposes are burdens serving in corporate law? Some thoughts after the jump…

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Economics and Entrepreneurial Finance

(I seem to have the blogging bug today, so I’ll take the advice on my last post and blog shamelessly about my new article!)

Economic theory holds that money is fungible: any unit of money is an adequate substitute for another. But my research on entrepreneurial finance, which analyzes and compares different sources of financial capital available to high-tech start-ups, suggests that this isn’t always the case. In my new article Financing the Next Silicon Valley, I show that differences in financing options may explain why we don’t have more Silicon Valley-like regions in the U.S. With our other economic engines (manufacturing, financial services) in rapid decline, a competitive economic strategy for our nation must include more tech-driven innovation. Entrepreneurial finance is a huge part of that (after all, what do start-ups lack: money!), and not all money is created equal.

My article compares three major financing sources for start-ups: private venture capital, state-sponsored venture capital, and angel investor groups. Private VC is smart money – the dollars also come with the VC’s expertise on start-up development and networking benefits. (Case in point: eBay went with the Silicon Valley VC Benchmark Capital primarily for the VC’s connections, which led to Meg Whitman taking on the CEO position.) But on the downside, private VC is heavily concentrated in existing tech regions like Silicon Valley, and also not available to the early-stage start-ups that need it most. In step the states, which set up their own VC funds with taxpayer dollars to try and fill the financing void for their neglected, home-grown start-ups. But the states, without any expertise in this area, just muck it up with their inability to pick the best start-ups ex ante or help them develop ex post. A new solution, the angel investor group, offers more hope for the future. Like private VC, angel groups are private actors who offer smart money; like state VC, that money is spread out to more regions and available to early-stage start-ups. It’s the best of both worlds.

In short, comparative entrepreneurial finance is important, both theoretically and practically. This sort of money, contrary to popular economic thinking, is not all fungible.

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(Pre-)Expedited Review Question

I’ll be back to blogging about Silicon Valley, entrepreneurial finance, and corporate law in my next posts, but a recent entry over at The Faculty Lounge posed an interesting question that many of us might be thinking about during the law review submission season: How much information should authors give editors when seeking an expedited review? The prior post (and the interesting comments it generated) focused on whether authors should update an expedite request when new offers come in, even if it doesn’t change the deadline. I want to pose a different question: Do editors like it when authors tell them that so-and-so journal has selected the author’s piece for final review (which the journals usually let you know) and therefore an expedite request might be coming their way?

Speaking from personal experience, in the past I’ve encountered this situation twice, and both times the journals taking my piece to final review were in the top 20 (I mention this because it might make a difference in how the editors answer). I thought that letting the higher-ups know might attract some attention to my work (after all, the goal is getting pulled from the pile and read, right?), but also worried that these journals might not care if it wasn’t yet an offer – and worse yet, what if it didn’t become one? So the question boils down to: Does making it to final review stage with one (well-respected) journal generate sufficient buzz that it’s worth the risk of annoyance and no offer coming through? Also, how does the journal taking your piece to final review feel about this practice – if it finds out, would this potentially nix an offer? Wouldn’t want that. Editors: any advice would be appreciated!

UPDATE: In thinking through this some more after I posted, I realized that one reason to alert higher-ups at the final review stage rather than wait for the offer is precisely because an offer might not come. You still get what an expedite request provides (the higher-ups reading your piece) even if the original journal ultimately rejects you. All of which is evidence that this process will make you crazy if you let it, and a much better course of action is to submit and move on to new projects!

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Books or Articles?

The advice I’ve gotten as a junior professor is to stick with articles and put off scholarly books until post-tenure. It’s an interesting question, especially when your work begins to show some consistent themes that would lend themselves to systematic treatment in a book. Therefore I wonder: Is the advice to put off books until post-tenure good advice? I can think of a couple of reasons that it might be. First, tenure committees might not be as familiar with how to count books, if they count them at all. Second, a good book needs some fresh content to supplement the revamping of articles past, and the opportunity cost of that fresh content might be two or three new articles.

Even thinking beyond tenure considerations, are books really worth it for most of us (i.e., the non-Cass Sunsteins of the academic world)? Royalties can’t be enough of a financial incentive in most cases, and citation counts might on average be lower (although I haven’t empirically tested this) because articles are more accessible to other scholars through electronic databases. So what are the relative benefits of books and articles, and does the equation change pre- or post-tenure?

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Law Professors Going Home

I assume that many of us are following the list of lateral faculty moves over at The Faculty Lounge and are eagerly anticipating Larry Solum’s list of entry-level hires. The laterals list includes Mark Janis’s move from Iowa to Indiana. Now I don’t know Professor Janis or his work, but I’m always interested in finding new scholarship to explore. In reviewing Professor Janis’s bio, I noticed something: He graduated from Indiana Law, the place to which he is now returning. Professor Janis is not alone – for example, several years ago my friend Bob Lawless returned to Illinois, from which he holds his JD. And these are just a couple of potentially numerous examples.

Which got me thinking: Do all law professors secretly yearn to return to the schools from which they graduated? There are reasons to think many do. First, while there are surely exceptions, those of us who became professors probably really enjoyed our law school experiences (if not we’d be far away from the hallowed halls). Second, we likely held those professors who taught us in the highest regard, and the chance to become their colleague has an allure that an unfamiliar school might not be able to match. Third, we may have family in the geographic area or just generally prefer it (after all, we chose to go there in the first place). And finally, our home school may have been especially supportive when we were trying to enter academia and since.

Perhaps this inquiry is largely theoretical since most law professors graduated from the very top schools where few wind up. But just for fun, if you graduated from Stanford would you pick it over Harvard if you had the choice? Do you secretly yearn to return home to the school that started this whole experience for you? Due to the sensitive nature of the inquiry, my guess is that the “anon”s will dominate any comments. But I thought it would be fun to ask…

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New Workshop Series on a Budget

While the blogosphere talk has been of cutting back on workshops, at Wisconsin we’re actually going in the opposite direction. Coming this fall, I’m starting a new corporate governance workshop series. Don’t get me wrong, my state and school are not immune from the financial crisis. In fact, it’s because our base workshop series has finite resources (and space) that I’ve had to get a little creative to bring in more corporate speakers. I tied the series to a seminar class (my models: the Larry Ribstein course at Illinois & Steve Bainbridge course at UCLA). To facilitate higher-level discussions, only students who have taken my business organizations II course are eligible for the class. And of course, faculty will be invited and encouraged to attend.

Now for the real question: How to do something like this on a budget of $3000 or less? Here’s what we came up with: 1) invite speakers every other week for a total of six speakers over the course of the semester; in the week before the speaker’s visit, the students and I will read and discuss foundational works on corporate governance related to the upcoming speaker’s paper; 2) invite nearby speakers to facilitate driving over flying and lunch over dinner where possible (this is easier in some parts of the country than others); and 3) shoulder some of the costs myself. On the last point, I committed to pay half of the expenses out of my annual research allotment, so the school’s commitment was $1,500 max. How can your deans turn you down for $1,500 for something that has all sorts of benefits to both the faculty member and school?

Of course, others might not want to use their allotments for this. But for me, I tend not to hire many RAs (cost-saving tip here: why not structure the work as an independent study for credit if it will be a true learning experience for the student?) or, with a couple of exceptions, attend conferences where my costs aren’t covered by the host. So why not spend some of the allotment to enrich my intellectual life? I won’t be able to invite everyone I want to, even limiting invitations to those at nearby schools, but I’m really looking forward to seeing where this goes. It seems that with a little initiative and creativity schools could expand their workshop offerings rather than cut them, even in tough economic times.

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Workshops, & What Floats Your Intellectual Boat?

Law professors find intellectual stimulation in many places – the classroom, writing amicus briefs, chatting about current events, and producing new scholarship. Of course the writing process can be solitary and tortured. My wife knows that for every new paper there is at least one time I will throw up my hands, declare myself a fraud and my ideas worthless, only to be followed by similarly passionate declarations that I’ve seen the light, overcome the hurdles, and am in the process of producing groundbreaking legal scholarship. (Neither is really accurate.) Tortured as the writing process is, I do enjoy it so.

But perhaps even better is the faculty workshop – where ideas wrestled with in private find their way into the public. Whether I’m the presenter or a participant, the chance to engage on cutting-edge scholarship is probably my greatest professional delight. There’s nothing better than a long day where ideas are bantered around and fires glow in the eyes of all involved. I know some who see multiple workshops a week – e.g. the base faculty workshop series supplemented by specialty series in law and economics, law and humanities, legal history – as a burden. I see them as the best thing about going to work.

Over at Conglomerate, Christine Hurt asks whether workshops will be on the chopping block in these tough economic times, or perhaps change to an online format. While the online format can work — look no further than Christine’s junior scholars workshop on the Glom each summer — I certainly hope (and think Christine hopes) that this remains the exception rather than the rule. Am I alone? Would you miss the workshop in its present form as much I would? What floats your intellectual boat?