My email inbox is often inundated with seminar pitches, book offers, and informational material, much of which, even if it looks valuable, I could never get to unless I decide to give up the practice of law and just read all this stuff full time. Fortunately, though, I can cut through the junk pretty quick and spot the diamond in it within minutes of sitting down at my desk in the morning (or, more often than not, while remotely surfing my inbox in the middle of the night).

And here is one such diamond, a really terrific paper on the rapidly evolving nature of the fiduciary standards affecting plan sponsors of defined contribution – most commonly 401(k) – plans and the steps they should be taking as a result. The paper, authored by Laurence Cranch and Daniel Notto of AllianceBernstein, is Evolving Fiduciary Standards for Defined Contribution Plan Sponsors – The Impact of New Thinking About Employee Participation and Investment Selection, and you can find it here.

In short, the authors argue, correctly I believe, that we are not only in an era of rapid change in the standards of care expected of fiduciaries, driven to a large extent by advances in knowledge in the area of retirement investing and the transition from pensions to defined contribution plans, but also in a time of vastly increased litigation threats to such fiduciaries. Perhaps the most interesting part of the paper concerns using the tools provided by the Pension Protection Act, in conjunction with the investment selection thinking that underlies the statute and its enabling regulations, to simultaneously demonstrate prudence on the part of the fiduciary and decrease the likelihood of litigation.

Just a terrific paper, and well worth the time to read it.