Have you ever heard your legal counsel use the term ‘boilerplate’? Recently a client asked me where the term actually comes from. Sadly, I couldn’t give an answer at that moment. Strange, really, that I had never asked myself before where that term comes from. It’s quite often used by lawyers amongst themselves, but clearly it is a strange term for non-legal people. Also not one that makes any sense if you try and translate it literally into another language.

We need to go back in time quite a way to find out where this term comes from. It apparently has to do with metal printing presses that were used in the early 2oth century. Metal plates were used in these printing presses to make an imprint. I understand that these metal plates were very similar to the name plates that manufacturers of steam boilers attached to their boilers at that time, to show who had made that boiler (see illustration).


That is why the metal plates used in the printing presses were also referred to as ‘boilerplates’. As tends to happen with repetitive work, gradually standard metal plates were made for texts that needed to be printed time and time again. While the term ‘boilerplate’ was initially used for the plate that was used in the printing process, over time it became a synonym for standard texts that were repeatedly printed from that plate.

Nowadays, lawyers use the term for the standard paragraphs that are usually inserted at the end of an agreement. These paragraphs always have more or less the same contents, and are considered as having been ‘tested in practice’ and always leading to the same result. All being well, they are not open to differing interpretations and mean what is intended.

Incidentally, I also came across another interpretation where the term does not necessarily mean the name plates attached to the steam boilers, but the material itself that was used at the time to make the steam boilers. The reasoning is that a considerable amount of energy is stored in a steam boiler in the form of steam under pressure. If the material from which the boiler is made cannot withstand that pressure, the boiler will explode. That’s why the steam boilers and the materials used to make them had to meet strict safety requirements and be sufficiently strong. ‘Boilerplate’ must not explode under pressure, regardless of whether it’s in a steam boiler or in court.

Conseiller specializes in boilerplate provisions as well as company-specific provisions in agreements, and we will be pleased to help you keep the legal pressure in your business under control.