“To the Best of Its Knowledge”

Last week a reader asked me whether I knew of any cases discussing the distinction between saying “to the Seller’s knowledge” and saying “to the best of the Seller’s knowledge.”

It’s commonplace for drafters to use the phrase the best of when referring to someone’s knowledge. For example, in the past month 98 contracts filed on the SEC’s EDGAR database used to the best of the Company’s knowledge or to the best of its knowledge, the Company. By contrast, during that period 291 contracts used to the Company’s knowledge or to its knowledge, the Company.

But I recommend that in phrasing a knowledge qualification you not refer to the best of someone’s knowledge. It adds nothing, because to the best of Acme’s knowledge means exactly the same thing as to Acme’s knowledge.

In this context, as in the phrase best efforts, the word best constitutes rhetorical emphasis. In general conversation, my adding the best of when attesting to my knowledge of a given matter perhaps represents my way of according my assertion an extra measure of importance. This sort of rhetorical emphasis has no place in the limited and stylized prose of contracts.

Furthermore, adding the best of exacts a cost. For one thing, it adds three useless words, and unless you prune useless words whenever you see them, they soon add up. But more perniciously, using the best of could lead a reader—perhaps a judge!—to assume incorrectly that it implies some sort of heightened level of knowledge, perhaps involving a duty to investigate.

I haven’t found any case law pointing to such confusion, but the reader inquiry that prompted this post indicates that the potential for confusion is real.

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.