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The Business of Trusts - LAW00035H

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  • Department: The York Law School
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Richard Nolan
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2021-22

Module summary

A module that allows you to see, analyse and critique real world uses of trusts.

Related modules

Co-requisite modules

  • None

Prohibited combinations

  • None

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Spring Term 2021-22

Module aims

This module builds on the Foundations in Law modules you have taken in your first and second years (or, if you are a Senior Status Student, in your first year), and particularly on the property law aspects of those modules. Please note, the module catalogue only allows one set of pre-requisite subjects to be entered, so I have entered the pre-requisites for the LLB, that is, the first year and second year Foundations in Law courses. In the case of Senior Status students, the only pre-requisites are the first year Foundations in Law papers.

So, what about the course? Using precedents and transactional documents generously supplied by various leading law firms, the module will examine in much greater depth various representative uses of trusts in the modern world, from wealth management to corporate finance. It will examine how practising lawyers both work within and develop legal doctrine to achieve their clients goals. Finally it will explore the broad theoretical implications of this practice.

Why take this module? As well as learning much more about how trusts are used in real life, there are clear links to legal practice in commerce, finance and wealth management, both in this country and abroad. In addition, the module will provide a useful theoretical overview of trusts. It also has generic value as a good introduction to how lawyers in practice use, adapt and modify the legal institutions they inherit and so create new structures for future use. This is a vitally important process that occurs in many areas.

The course will be taught by a mixture of classes and through an inductive approach. The principal form of teaching on the module will be a series of weekly workshops. In the week prior to the workshop the relevant sample trust instrument(s) will be released to the students together with questions relating to it. One group of students will present on the trust in response to the questions. There will then be a full group debate. Following the workshop there will be a discussion session which will wrap up the debate from the preceding workshop and provide some guidance for the next workshop. The module will end with a formal plenary drawing together the overarching themes from the workshops.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module students should be able to demonstrate:

  • An awareness and understanding of common structures for wealth management and distribution using trusts formed under English law and trusts formed under the laws of so-called off-shore jurisdictions;
  • An awareness and understanding of how trusts are used in asset management and corporate finance;
  • The ability to evaluate and manipulate concepts of trust law for diverse purposes;
  • A critical engagement with, and evaluation of, trust theory in the light of examining the sample trusts, and in particular a practical and theoretical appreciation of the flexibility of the trust concept.


Task Length % of module mark
Agreed essay topic
N/A 65
Reflective Note
N/A 10
Oral presentation/seminar/exam
N/A 10
Oral presentation/seminar/exam
N/A 15

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Agreed essay topic
N/A 100

Module feedback

Formative oral feedback is provided to students in seminars. Written summative feedback is provided as part of the return of marks.

Indicative reading

  • Hansmann & Mattei, The Functions of Trust Law: A Comparative Legal and Economic Analysis (1998) 73 New York University Law Review 434, especially at pp. 459-463
  • John Langbein, The Contractarian Basis of Trust Law (1995) 105 Yale Law Journal 625
  • John Langbein, Secret Life of the Trust: The Trust as an Instrument of Commerce (1997) 107 Yale Law Journal 165

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.