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Monday, November 2, 2015

The Fine Print: A Quick History of Boilerplate

As a business owner, you know that terms of a contract are typically negotiated between you and the other parties to the contract. However, some contract terms are already established, usually by lawyers and are attached to your contracts. The term “boilerplate” may sound like it belongs in an equipment manual, but it is a legal term that refers to standardized, formal contract language that addresses the “what if” situations. In other words, it’s the fine print of a contract. 

A Quick History of Boilerplate 

There’s a good reason why the word “boilerplate” doesn’t sound like it belongs in law, it didn’t originate there.

Steamships

During the mid-1800s, boilerplates were steel plates bolted on to the boilers for steamships. Steamships operate via a boiler that heats water over a fire to generate steam which is then sent under pressure to the engine. The boiler has the double purpose of transferring heat and containing the pressure from the boiling water. Extra steel plates provided security against the steam engine exploding while full of pressurized boiling water.

Newspaper Presses

During the 1900s, the newspaper industry began using the term, albeit with a slightly different meaning. The printers used to have large steel plates for the printing presses and some of those plates would be designed with the same information on them every time, such as the newspapers name and the city or county that it reported on. These giant pieces of printing press steel were often taken from reclaimed ‘boilerplate’ off decommissioned steam ship boilers.

The use of this item, as strength and security in case of an emergency as well as something that was regularly reprinted in identical form has led to the modern understanding of its use in contracts.

Sweaters in Florida

Today, lawyers use the concept of packing sweaters in your luggage for a trip to Florida. Most likely you won't need your sweaters, but if you do, you’ll be sure glad you brought them. That is the concept of adding boilerplate fine print to your contract. Lawyers are often only called in to help when a situation is about to explode and so we’ve seen a number of “what if” scenarios and if we can pack your contract with a few more sweaters, hopefully, you will have enough boilerplate to protect you from an explosion!

Don’t underestimate the value of the fine print. If you are entering into a contract consider having us take a look at it with you to make sure you are covered for that cold day in Florida.


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