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The Role of Aspiration in Corporate Fiduciary Duties

Julian Velasco

University of Notre Dame

January 30, 2012

William & Mary Law Review, Vol. 54, Forthcoming 2012
Notre Dame Legal Studies Paper No. 12-51

Corporate law is characterized by a pervasive divergence between standards of conduct and standards of review. Courts often opine on the relatively-demanding standard of conduct, but their verdicts must be based on the more forgiving standard of review. Commentators defend this state of affairs by insisting that it provides guidance to directors without imposing ruinous liability. However, the dichotomy can lead many, especially those who focus on the bottom line, to call into question the meaningfulness of standards of conduct. Of particular concern is the increasing popularity, in legal and scholarly circles, of the notion that fiduciary duty standards of conduct are aspirational and unenforceable. This theory, which I will call the “aspirational view”, is misguided. The use of the term "aspirational" is especially problematic. Whatever else aspirational may mean, it does not mean obligatory or mandatory. Whether by design or only by effect, this has the potential to undermine fiduciary duties significantly. In this article, I will argue that fiduciary duty standards of conduct are duties — fully binding on actors even when they are not enforced. I will also argue that the unenforced duty is a meaningful concept because people obey the law for many different reasons, and not simply out of fear of punishment.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 51

Keywords: corporate law, fiduciary duties, corporate governance, aspiration, enforcement

JEL Classification: K20, K22

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Date posted: February 1, 2012 ; Last revised: April 11, 2012

Suggested Citation

Velasco, Julian, The Role of Aspiration in Corporate Fiduciary Duties (January 30, 2012). William & Mary Law Review, Vol. 54, Forthcoming 2012; Notre Dame Legal Studies Paper No. 12-51. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1995734 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1995734

Contact Information

Julian Velasco (Contact Author)
University of Notre Dame ( email )
2142 Eck Hall of Law
P.O. Box 780
Notre Dame, IN 46556-0780
United States
574-631-4965 (Phone)
HOME PAGE: http://law.nd.edu/faculty/julian-velasco

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