Everybody wants to use shortcuts whenever possible. So boilerplate came to be to allow lawyers (and other professions, I presume) to save time when producing legal documents. In other fields, one might have “standard forms” or “precedents” or form letters, and so on.
The use of boilerplate text and boilerplate code has become a necessity in producing machine-assembled documents and software, respectfully.
But it is negligent to use boilerplate under 2 conditions:
1. you do not know what it means,
2. you have not read it carefully to determine whether it suits the present use you have in mind.
Young lawyers seem to worship boilerplate even though they do not have a clue whether it properly reflects current law or suits the client’s interest. I caution them in my book, Plain Language Legal Writing:
Since we call boilerplate documents precedents here in Canada, I wrote:
It is a mistake to use wording from a precedent if you do not understand the meaning and effect of the wording. You should never assume that a precedent is adequate for your needs even if that precedent is commonly used in the legal community or in your office.
An effective way to edit a precedent written in out-dated legalese is to follow this two-step process:
First, rewrite the material in your own words to confirm that you understand its meaning and effect.
Second, edit and revise your version for clarity and conformity with the firm’s official style.
In working with precedents, you will often find gaps, omissions, and ambiguities that have been overlooked in previous uses. By revising and updating the material, you are actually making it more accurate and effective.
When you are drafting fresh material, it helps to look at a precedent after your first draft – to check if you have missed any common components.
Often formbooks containing precedents and model agreements also have checklists for contents. Review and use these checklists when appropriate.”