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This Article corrects widespread misconception about whether complex regulatory systems can be fairly described as either “rules-based” or “principles-based” (also called “standards-based”). Promiscuous use of these labels has proliferated in the years since the implosion of Enron Corp. While the concepts of rules and principles (or standards) are useful to classify individual provisions, they are not scalable to the level of complex regulatory systems. The Article uses examples from corporate law, securities regulation and accounting to illustrate this problematic phenomenon before turning to a series of possible explanations for the widespread use of these misleading labels. The piece contributes to the substantive fields it uses to animate the inquiry and to more general jurisprudential literature on the rules-standards question.


File nameDate UploadedVisibilityFile size
7 Sep 2022
551 kB



  • Subject
    • Accounting Law

    • Business Organizations Law

    • Commercial Law

    • Securities Law

  • Journal title
    • Vanderbilt Law Review

  • Volume
    • 60

  • Pagination
    • 1409-1494

  • Date submitted

    7 September 2022

  • Keywords