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Just a few weeks ago, I commented on a recent uptick in disputes centered on the breakup of professional services firms.  In those disputes, we expect that the demands of the legal, accounting, and medical professions draw individuals with keen attention to detail, focused on documentation, and prepared for all contingencies.  Less expected is the irony that many attorneys, accountants, and medical professionals fail to bring those attributes to the table when organizing their business relationships. 

The result of that failure is a tinderbox—poorly defined “partnership” relationships, mixed with high profit margins, difficult to value businesses, and type A owners willing to litigate their disputes.  The right spark triggers bitter and hotly contested litigation.  That part-legal, part-psychological phenomenon explains why business divorces of professional services corporations—especially law firms—can get complicated fast. 

Motivated by that uptick, Becky Baek and I were pleased to recently present a CLE on the complexities that arise in the dissolution or breakup of law firms.  Here are the highlights.Continue Reading Special Considerations for Law Firm Breakups

It’s not every day that New York’s highest court considers a question impacting the business divorce cases that we typically litigate. But a recent decision from the Court of Appeals requires careful consideration by any owner of a foreign-incorporated entity considering New York litigation.  
Continue Reading Court of Appeals Bolsters the Internal Affairs Doctrine, Takes a Stroll Through Scottish Fiduciary Law

There are plenty of advantages to practicing business divorce litigation in New York.  The diversity of businesses and clients, complexity of agreements and transactions, and excellence of judges and attorneys make New York, in my view, the place to be for commercial litigators of all stripes.

One downside is the reality that crowded dockets and busy judges sometimes results in too terse decisions from the trial and appellate courts.  At the appellate level, hundreds of pages of evidence, and nuanced, extensively briefed legal theories are sometimes reduced to a one-line decision.  Not only do those one-liners inevitably leave the parties dissatisfied, but they also miss an opportunity to lend reasoned, precedential analysis to complex and unsettled questions of law.

But in some sense, that’s where the lawyers come in.  New cases can be won or lost in the grey areas created by brief appellate authority, and the sharpest lawyers will find the precedential value in even the shortest appellate decisions.

These few paragraphs are already much longer than the Fourth Department’s recent decision affirming dismissal of a shareholder’s claim for dissolution pursuant to BCL 1104-a in Kavanaugh v Consumers Beverages, Inc., 205 NYS3d 637 (4th Dept 2024).  But in a few words, the Fourth Department packs a punch in corporate dissolution jurisprudence.Continue Reading Termination, Adequate Alternative Remedies Sends Dissolution Proceeding Packing

“Under any standard of value, the true economic value of a business enterprise will equal the company’s accounting book value only by coincidence . . .” says the late business valuation expert and author Shannon Pratt.  So why do so many shareholder buy-sell agreements require that the shares be purchased for book value? This week’s post explores.
Continue Reading And the Award for Most Creative Attempt to Evade a Book Value Buy-Sell Provision Goes To . . .

When a closely-held business is profitable, self-interested owners naturally want a bigger slice of the pie, especially where the personal relationships among the owners are frayed.  Perhaps that’s why we often discuss the value of freeze-out mergers as a mechanism for those in control of a closely-held corporation or limited liability company to squeeze a minority owner out of the business’ future profits. 

Equity dilution is another common method by which those in control of a corporation or LLC attempt to squeeze out a minority owner.  For one, stock dilution impairs the minority owner’s ability to influence company action by voting his shares, and it lessens the owner’s right to participate pari passu in the distributions or dividends of the company.  Perhaps more importantly, a minority owner can see his or her ownership interest diluted below certain critical thresholds—for instance, the 20% ownership required to petition for dissolution under BCL 1104-a.

Despite the potentially drastic consequences of stock dilution, many closely-held businesses we encounter fail to adequately address the issue of dilution in their governing documents.  And New York caselaw on the issue leaves plenty to be desired.  Let’s interpret those factors as an invitation to review the basics, key caselaw, and the current status of the improper dilution claim.Continue Reading Let’s Talk About Dilution