High-Frequency Trading (HFT)

If I spend time reminiscing about the wayback times — all the way back to when I was a summer associate — I am reminded that one of the benefits of litigation (at least as described to me by an older associate nearly a decade ago) was supposed to be that it was recession proof. Meaning that just when the deals that characterize good economic times were slowing down that was when the real litigation would begin. So you’d be busy with new cases created by deals gone bad while your friends that joined corporate departments would find themselves without work to do at the same time a firm might be looking to make some cuts.

Now that didn’t prove quite true — when it’s time for Biglaw to do layoffs, litigation personnel find themselves as much at risk as every other department. But it is accurate that we do see an uptick in litigation after bad economic events. After all, it was only about two years ago when nearly every document reviewer or contract attorney found themselves on cases dealing with residential mortgage backed securities (RMBS). Yes, those same deals that nearly crippled the economy spawned massive litigation that kept food on my table. It didn’t matter what firm, agency or even city you worked for/in all the big document review projects seemed to be about RMBS. Now that that boom is nearly over we are left to wonder — what questionable business practice will lead to tomorrow’s doc review boom?

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Last week, Netflix announced that it received a Wells notice from the SEC. Apparently, while the SEC was cruising Facebook (what else is there to do while neglecting to investigate Wall Street?), someone noticed Netflix CEO Reed Hastings posting that Netflix had surpassed one billion hours of streaming old episodes of Facts of Life to shut ins.

The SEC staff thinks Hastings disclosed material information in this Facebook post, possibly violating Reg FD, the 2000 regulation that put a stop to companies giving an advantage to small subsets of investors by disclosing material information between blowing rails of coke off strippers.

But Facebook isn’t a seedy strip club full of free drugs and prostitutes (read: Christian Mingle). Reed Hastings has over 200,000 “fans,” many of whom are analysts and reporters. In pursuing enforcement without exercising a little discretion, the SEC ignores these facts.

Netflix is arguing that the disclosure was not material and that most investors knew that the CEO’s Facebook page is recognized as an avenue for public disclosure.

Regardless of the specific resolution of this matter, this is one more reminder that the SEC is woefully behind when it comes to adapting to technological developments. Like, oh I don’t know, HFT perhaps?

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