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Danielle D’Onfro

Professor of Law

Danielle D’Onfro is a Professor of Law at Washington University School of Law. Her research uses economic and historical analysis of private law to theorize the law’s treatment of emerging assets.  She teaches Property, Advanced Private Law, and Corporations. In 2022, she was awarded the David M. Becker Professor of the Year Award.

Her most recent work, Contract-Wrapped Property, which is forthcoming in the Harvard Law Review, documents how courts have unwittingly relied on contract-law principles to de facto recognize equitable servitudes on chattels—a property category that our legal system has long forbidden. The piece argues that there are good reasons to reject this development, and argues more broadly that courts have elevated contract over other private law doctrines and in so doing have disrupted the private law’s equilibrium in which a complementary suite of doctrines developed to promote economic liberty while curtailing opportunistic impulses. Her most recently published piece, The Fourth Amendment and General Law (with Daniel Epps), which appeared in the Yale Law Journal, proposed a new theory of the role of private law in Fourth Amendment doctrine. She is also working on a theory of consumer-protecting doctrines in property law.

Her prior scholarship has appeared in the Duke Law Journal, the Washington Law Review, and the Journal of Corporation Law, among other venues. The New Bailments applies common-law property doctrine to intangibles. Error-Resilient Consumer Contracts argues that both parties to consumer contracts are frequently in breach and theorizes how to design contracts to accommodate such imperfect performance. Smart Contracts and the Illusion of Automatic Enforcement explains how existing consumer protection doctrine constrains the expansion of so-called smart contracts. Companies as Commodities uses property theory to study the controversy about the purpose of the corporation. Corporate Stewardship proposes a decentralized individual liability regime to improve the efficiency of corporate compliance. Limited Liability Property analyzes the property claims inherent to secured debt and the obligations that come with those claims. Her writing for popular audiences has appeared in the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and SCOTUSBlog.

Professor D’Onfro earned her B.A. magna cum laude in classics from Columbia College and her J.D. cum laude from Harvard Law School. In law school, she was a Student Fellow for the Program on the Foundations of Private Law. After law school, she clerked for Judge Allyson K. Duncan on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Before joining the faculty, she was a senior associate in the Debt Finance and Bankruptcy & Financial Restructuring Groups at WilmerHale in Washington, DC, and Boston, Massachusetts.

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