Investment Crowdfunding Requires an Attorney — with Long Securities Law Experience

Joseph R. Soraghan

By Joseph R. Soraghan

The entrepreneurial press, indeed, even the popular press, is abuzz about regulation crowdfunding (i.e., investment crowdfunding), which became legal on May 16, 2016.  And according to some advertisements (primarily by portals, the businesses which will provide the platforms for such crowdfunding), the fund-raising company does not need an attorney, although it would be “nice.”  Rather, they say, or imply, small and large businesses with their portals can simply get on the internet to quickly fund their ideas and better the economy at the same time!

Do not believe either the buzz or the advertisements.

Regulation CF is Only a Small (Albeit Very Important) Part of the Applicable Law

Regulation crowdfunding (17 CFR Parts 200,  et seq.)(“Reg. CF”) though it is a sea change from (some of) the rules governing entrepreneurial finance, it is not for everyone.  Indeed, for most entrepreneurs it should be considered as a last resort only.  (See, for example, “Regulation Crowdfunding; Is it Right for You?”, St. Louis Small Business Monthly, June 2016, p. 29.)  Secondly, Reg. CF adds to the rules and required steps for legally raising capital , and thus creates even more of a need for the assistance of a lawyer.

That is, the only (albeit very important) change in the law is that now certain “general solicitation” is allowed to promote certain types offerings of securities.  But not all general solicitation is allowed.  (For example, much information which could be promulgated other than on the platform of a portal such as by newspaper or television is still illegal.)

Virtually all other regulations, statutes, laws – and judicial lore – applicable to raising capital prior to Reg. CF remain applicable and will be applied by securities regulators – and by attorneys for investors who lose money in their crowdfunded investments. The securities regulators, which have authority to prosecute suspicious offerings,  have been opposed to and wary of investment crowdfunding since it was required by the JOBS Act in 2012, including Missouri (see, for example, “Kander Issues Investor Alert on Crowdfunding.”)

With the exception of allowing (limited) general solicitation, all the law (and the lore of the regulators and courts which developed since the Securities Act of 1933) still applies to all offerings, including crowdfunded offerings.  So do the complicated rules and methods. For example: Continue reading »

Hurry Up! We Have a Plane to Catch! The Effects of Time Pressure on Negotiation and Mediation

Joseph R. Soraghan

By Joseph R. Soraghan

Not surprisingly, there is both anecdotal and empirical evidence that time constraints affect behavior generally.  It is also, therefore, not surprising that high time pressure (hereinafter “HTP”) probably affects both parties and mediators in mediation.

I recently ran across this question, and found particularly interesting (though not recent) articles by social science researchers which could assist both parties and mediators in their participation in mediation sessions.

In “Time Pressure in Negotiation and Mediation,” a 1993 article, Professors Peter Carnevale, Kathleen O’Connor and Christopher McCusker, then professors in the Department of Psychology, University of Illinois (“Carnevale, et al.”), reviewed the scientific research to that date on HTP in negotiation generally, and mediation in particular, to identify common themes, interesting questions, possible outcomes of differing HTPs and resulting behaviors.  It is only possible here to review possible conclusions of (not the methods of) the research and suggest actions to be taken accordingly by mediation participants to benefit their outcomes.  [This article was one of 18 chapters in a larger volume entitled “Time Pressure and Stress in Human Judgment and Decision Making” (Plenum Press 1993). The article, as did the other chapters, discussed the effect of HTP in negotiation generally; it then discussed the effects of such pressure on mediation in particular.]

The authors initially noted that the three strategies primarily used in mediation are: Continue reading »

Investment Crowdfunding Will Be Legal But Will It Be an Improvement?

Joseph R. Soraghan

By Joseph R. Soraghan

In the JOBS Act adopted in April 2012, Congress required the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) to adopt rules legalizing (i.e., exempting from the requirement to register with the SEC) the offer and sale of securities by small business issuers (which cannot afford registered public offerings) using mass media, to-wit: the Internet, social media, etc. Historically, both state and federal exemptions required “privateness” and forbade “general solicitation.”

On October 30, 2015, the SEC, in a 686 page release, finally adopted rules (see pages 547-686) to allow investment crowdfunding (the use of mass media to make offers and sales to non-accredited investors, i.e., persons with less than $1 million net worth and incomes under $200,000 annually). The rules will become effective in April 2016.

Supporters argue that these rules simply bring the offering and sales of securities into the modern age of mass media and allow persons of limited means to participate in the great boom of entrepreneurship. Critics, on the other hand, point out that those are the very persons who are the least investment sophisticated and the most vulnerable to financial fraud.

What Was Available Before Investment Crowdfunding?

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Regulation Crowdfunding: Is It Right for You?

Joseph R. Soraghan

By Joseph R. Soraghan

To much ballyhoo, on October 30, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) finally adopted rules to allow investment crowdfunding (which the SEC calls “Regulation Crowdfunding”). That is, it allows the use of mass media (Internet, etc.) (called “general solicitation”) to make offers and sales to non-accredited investors. Those are persons with less than $1 million net worth and annual incomes under $200,000. (Under present rules, general solicitation may be used only to solicit purchases from “accredited” investors.) The new rules will not become effective before April 2016.

“Regulation Crowdfunding”: A Method for True Investment Crowdfunding

Conceptually, allowance of general solicitation to solicit non-accredited investors is a sea change, in direct conflict with the basic investor protection philosophy of the SEC and state regulators since adoption of the Securities Act of 1933. The actual benefit of the new rules, however, is in some doubt. Continue reading »

SEC Finally Proposes Rules to Allow Crowdfunding

Joseph R. Soraghan

By Joseph R. Soraghan

Not quite ten months late, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on October 23, 2013 proposed rules to allow entrepreneurs and other small businesses to advertise investments in their companies on the Internet and in other general venues, and to allow persons other than wealthy investors to purchase those investments. Congress, in the JOBS Act signed by President Obama on April 5, 2013, had told the SEC to propose such rules by December 31, 2012. (In fairness, the SEC was faced with great pressures from numerous quarters, including the legislators themselves, concerning the content of the rules, which made that deadline impossible to meet.)

This type of investing, called “investment crowdfunding,” was illegal, and will remain illegal until the process of review, amendment and adoption of final rules is complete. The SEC has asked the public for comment on the proposed rules within 90 days. At least a few months of further processing after that 90 day period will be required before the rules are final. Continue reading »

Sometimes It’s Good to Have the DTs (Decision-Tree Analyses) in Mediation

Joseph R. Soraghan

By Joseph R. Soraghan

In my Med-Arb Memo of August 2010, I pointed out that a formal mediation session actually should be considered as just one part of a possible multi-part process.

I just read an interesting article suggesting that disputing parties each hire a (separate) consultant to perform decision-tree (DT) analyses when entering into negotiation or mediation.[1] The article argues, and cites instances in which, the hiring of neutral consultants by both parties to the dispute to perform DT analyses led to a greater number of resolutions of those disputes.[2] For many disputes, particularly high-dollar disputes, this is an excellent idea.

But use of DT and other risk analyses and probability assessments in mediation should not be restricted to use of expensive analytic consultants. The parties and the mediator should consider using them without consultants, with much less expense.

DT analysis in litigation is not rocket science. It simply calls on each party (or counsel) to (honestly) analyze and decide the following: the ultimate issues (those whose outcomes individually or in combination would be dispositive of the case with respect to liability, plus those comprising the major components of damages) on issues which each party must prevail in the case in its entirety; and finally, to assess (again, honestly) the percentage likelihood of prevailing on each such issue. At each step in the analyses, of course, the likelihood of success on each issue being less than 100%, the likelihood of total success is discounted. Continue reading »

Quick! . . . Mediate That Business Divorce!

Joseph R. Soraghan

By Joseph R. Soraghan

One of the officers of a corporate client calls. You note the distress in his voice immediately. He tells you that a dispute has arisen between the major shareholder factions of the company, and he wants you to advise on what he and those in his faction can do to win this. And you can tell he expects you to talk “reason” to the other faction.

But you quickly realize that although for the moment knowledge of the dispute is restricted to people in the company, it will only be a short time before it gets out to the customers, suppliers, banks and others with whom the company does business, threatening the existence of the company.

You should consider recommending the factions mediate the dispute, if possible before litigation is filed.

Advantages of Mediation

Some advantages of mediation are:

No Publicity. No lawsuit is filed. The situation can be kept as confidential as the parties want.

Speed. Trial, or even a hearing for significant injunctive relief, will take months, if not years. And as soon as customers hear there is an internal dispute — and they will — they will take their business elsewhere, to a “stable” competitor. And this risk increases significantly if a lawsuit is filed. A mediation can begin immediately.

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There are Fewer Accredited Investors Now: “Dodd-Frank Act”

Joseph R. Soraghan

By Joseph R. Soraghan

Wednesday, July 21, 2010, the number of investors available to entrepreneurs dropped significantly. On that date, President Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer and Consumer Protection Act (the “Dodd-Frank Act”) into law.

As we pointed out in the February 2010 Enterprise (Missouri Venture Forum), the legal requirements for raising capital from investors requires that either the offering of the investments be registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission, or that an exemption be available for the offering. The exemption which has become far and away the most used, and the most useful, to entrepreneurs is that for “accredited” investors under Regulation D.

Regulation D allows an investor to be “accredited” by having a net worth of only $1,000,000, or have an individual annual income exceeding $200,000 or $300,000 if investing with one’s spouse. Most users of this exemption qualified for it simply by assuring that all investors met the net worth requirement of $1,000,000.

And in calculating that net worth, until last Wednesday, essentially all of the investor’s assets could be included, including the investor’s primary residence. This is important because many, if not most, such investors’ $1,000,000 net worth consisted primarily of his or her primary residence.

But the Dodd-Frank Act excludes the value of an investor=s primary residence from the calculation of net worth for determining the accredited investors status (Section 412(a)).

Some persons in the entrepreneurial community predict that this will significantly reduce the number of persons who can qualify as “accredited.” (Other proposals were made in the legislative process leading to the Act which arguably would have effectively eliminated the usefulness of the exemption completely, but they were not adopted.)

Entrepreneurs seeking to raise capital, or in the process of doing so, must now use the new standard in determining compliance with the accredited investor status.

The changes emanating from the Act will eventually likely not be restricted to this one adjustment. The Act authorizes the Securities and Exchange Commission within one year to review and promulgate rules amending the definition of “accredited investor” (which amendment will likely require some showing of experience in “angel” investing). Within three years, the Government Accountability Office is required to submit a report to Congress regarding income, net worth and other criteria for accredited investor status, and within four years the SEC must review the accredited investor exemption in its entirety.

Joe Soraghan is a past president of the Missouri Venture Forum.

Released by permission of the Missouri Venture Forum newsletter ENTERPRISE (August 2010).

A Primer — Legal Considerations When Raising Capital From Individuals

Joseph R. Soraghan

By Joseph R. Soraghan

On occasion, entrepreneurs seek to raise capital from individual investors. But whenever an entrepreneur sells an interest in his company, whether it is common stock (equity/ownership) or notes (debt) or any other investment, that interest is a security, and the securities laws apply, even if he is offering only to FF & F (family, friends and fools).

Federal law and the law of all but two or three states, separately, include securities laws which must be complied with when making requests for investments. However, all those laws, as a class, have some common general principles.

First, every offering of a security must either be registered under both federal and state law, and an exemption from federal law, and the law of every state where any investor resides, must be available and provable by the entrepreneur. To prove that an entrepreneur is liable, an investor only needs to show that he was sold investments in the company, and that the company did not register the sale with both the federal government and with the state where he resides. And registration is almost always impossible for entrepreneurs. Therefore, the entrepreneur must prove he has exemptions under federal and all the relevant state laws.

General Principles for an Offering to be Exempt: Both federal and almost all state laws have their own securities exemption requirements. They usually fall into common categories. For an offering to be exempt, the federal law and/or laws of almost all states:

  1. Require smallness! The company must place limits on the number:
    a. of persons who purchase shares;
    b. sometimes, of persons contacted.
  2. Require the company to have reasonable grounds to believe, before it contacts a prospect, that the prospect is wealthy and investment-sophisticated (“suitability”).
  3. Forbid “general solicitation,” i.e., advertising, mass mailings, large group meetings, telephone campaigns, etc.

In addition to these restrictions, both the federal government and almost every state have additional requirements and filings which are unique to them.

Is a Private Placement Memorandum (“PPM”) Required? To meet the requirements for an exemption, if raising less than $1,000,000 in a twelve month period, a PPM is generally not required to meet exemption requirements. However, if the entrepreneur seeks to raise more money and to do so from any unaccredited investors (this usually means persons with less than $1,000,000 net worth) a PPM is required and it must meet specific, sometimes expensive, requirements.

However, even if a PPM is not required to qualify for an exemption, the offering entrepreneur must be able to show that he has told the investor everything which the investor reasonably needs to know in making his investment (in order to meet the “anti-fraud” securities law requirements. Therefore, it is best to have a disclosure document for all offerings in order to establish that the company has informed all offerees of all material risks. Frequently this need not be a long, involved document, and may consist largely of materials which already exist, such as financial statements, descriptions of the company, etc.

You Should Exchange Your Briefs

Joseph R. Soraghan

By Joseph R. Soraghan

Your pre-mediation briefs, that is.

It is generally agreed among lawyers that some amount of information must be possessed by both disputing parties to a mediation, if the mediation is to result in settlement. (Of course, theories on how much information is necessary, i.e. how much discovery, if any, differ with types of case and frequently from attorney to attorney.) I’ll write more about that in future memos.

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