This essay, to appear in Contract, Status, and Fiduciary Law (Miller & Gold, 2016), explores three ways fiduciary obligations might be like contractual ones: in the methods lawmakers use or should use to determine the content of the obligation; in the private voluntary acts that generate the obligation; and in the fact that the obligation is a default that parties have the power to alter. The thesis is that to the extent that these similarities exist, they are not especially revealing. Theorists who emphasize the similarities commonly treat contract law as a private power-conferring rule, then analogize the law of fiduciary obligations to it. In fact, the law of contract is more complex and serves a broader range of purposes than just giving private parties the ability to undertake legal obligations when they choose. Contract obligations are sometimes imposed for reasons other than party choice, and contract defaults and altering rules can be designed to serve other social purposes. A more nuanced understanding of the functions and design of contract law suggests that structural similarities between fiduciary obligations and contractual ones tell us less about the fiduciary obligations than we might have hoped. The explanation of why that is so, however, reveals important features both of contract law and of the law of fiduciary obligations.
Forthcoming in: Paul B. Miller & Andrew S. Gold, eds., Contract, Status, and Fiduciary Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).
Scholarly Commons Citation
Klass, Gregory, "What If Fiduciary Obligations Are Like Contractual Ones?" (2016). Georgetown Law Faculty Publications and Other Works. Paper 1522.