The Fiduciary Status of Investment Advisors

I often explain to people that as a litigator, I am typically presented with a knotty, tied up problem, consisting of all the decisions and plan choices that have been made in the past that eventually resulted in litigation, and that I then have to unravel the knot into its constituent pieces, which can then be used to defend the decisions that led to the knotty problem (if I am defending the case) or to attack the decisions that created the knot (if I am instead representing a plaintiff, whether a plan participant or a plan sponsor or other fiduciary). This is a much different perspective on plans and their design and development than that of those who assemble plans, who look at things in a more prospective manner, from the vantage point of the one developing the world from scratch. In essence, their view is the mirror image of mine, as they look at all the independent strands of a plan and assemble them into what, eventually, will become the knot that I get charged with unraveling in litigation.

That more prospective view comes through in Adam Pozek’s excellent post yesterday on the difference between different types of fiduciary advisors to plans, and how to select them, as well as in the excellent source article on section 3(38) and section 3(21) advisors he references. Adam presents a typical scenario of a plan sponsor trying to work through the issues of how to use such advisors, when to use each kind, and the factors to be considered in making such a decision. To someone like me who normally only sees those types of transactions in the rear view mirror, as they are recounted for purposes of litigation (such as in a deposition), it is very interesting to read a presentation of the decision making and the transaction back at the start of the whole process.