BY MATT HUTCHINS
Acting Dean Howell Jackson congratulated Professor Robert Sitkoff on his appointment as the John L. Gray Professor of Law this Wednesday in a Chair Lecture event in the Caspersen Room. Jackson noted that at thirty-two, Sitkoff is the youngest chaired member of the faculty in the history of Harvard Law School. His appointment breaks the long standing record held by James Barr Ames, who went on to become Dean of HLS.
Jackson jested that with Ames having gone on to be a courtroom, Sitkoff has an impressive future in store. The Dean emphasized that Sitkoff represents a rejuvenation of the Trusts and Estates program and will guide the school back to preeminence in one of its historically strong fields.
Sitkoff expressed his extreme gratitude to the friends, family, professors, and publishers that had helped him achieve his rapid rise to academic prominence. He also admitted that in his moment of ascention to a chaired professorship he experienced pride in carrying forward a family tradition of legal practice.”Today, like all boys who enter the same field as their father long to, and as Darth Vader said to Obi Wan, I say to my father, ‘Now I am the master.'”
In his chair lecture, Professor Sitkoff examined the revolution which has occurred in the field of trusts and estates during the past generation. He argued that the modern practice of the field is defined by a rejuvenated body of law surrounding the “Holy Trinity” of trusts and estates: the revocable trust, the business trust, and the irrevocable trust. This canon has been rapidly restructured through the top-down efforts of legal academics and the bottom-up lobbying of lawyers and bankers. The ALI’s restatements and uniform codes have reoriented the law from in a top-down fashion, ending the role of the Massachusets Supreme Judicial Court as the superintendent of trusts and estate jurisprudence. At the same time, competitive restructuring of statutory trust law has led to the elimination of such central elements of trust law as the rule against perpetuities and the anti-dead hand principle. Current legal trends have prioritized the rights of donors above those of beneficiaries and made it possible to structure liquid assets within innovative legal devices that are professionally managed and exempt from almost all taxation.
While this may seem like hum-drum academic pettifoggery, Sitkoff assured the audience that the movement of trillions of dollars depends on asset managers seeking their preferred legal architecture. Today’s financial system, including the mutual fund and securitization industries, has created a race among state legislatures to try and attract the hundreds of billions of dollars that are moving toward preferred statutory regimes. Whether the result is a race to the top or to the bottom remains to be seen.