“On a Best-Efforts Basis”

“What!,” I hear you say. “More on efforts! You cannot be serious!

Yes, more on efforts, because I’m determined to explore every nook and cranny of the f*cked-up world that is efforts provisions in traditional contract drafting. And today’s topic is the phrase on a best-efforts basis.

A best-efforts offering is a kind of securities offering. Here’s how Practical Law Company defines it:

In a best efforts underwriting, the underwriter agrees only to use its best efforts to sell the securities offered by the issuer or selling securityholders and does not agree to purchase any of those securities itself as principal.

The term best-efforts offering has spawned another phrase used in securities documents, on a best-efforts basis. Here’s an example from something called a “custodian and investment accounting agreement” (emphasis added):

If the Offering is on a best efforts basis, the sale of Securities to the investors in the Offering will be evidenced by a purchase agreement (“Purchase Agreement”) between the Company and such investors in a form reasonably satisfactory to the Company and Wainwright.

I suspect that on a best-efforts basis arose because people thought it would be gauche to say If the offering is a best-efforts offering, as you would have to use the word offering twice.

Inevitably, by a process of cross-contamination on a best-efforts basis has made its way into contracts that have nothing to do with a best-efforts offering. Here’s a sampling from the swirling red tide that is Edgar:

The Consultant shall take reasonable steps to ensure fair treatment for the Company or its Affiliates , and shall, on a best efforts basis, make efforts so that any such transactions that are effected by the Company or its Affiliates are effected on terms which are not materially less favorable to the Company or its Affiliates than if the potential conflict had not existed.

Ultimus represents that it will maintain the confidentiality of information disclosed to its in-house attorneys on a best efforts basis.

The parties agree to work together on a best efforts basis to obtain from the appropriate U.S. governmental authorities, and maintain, such Work Authorization.

What’s objectionable about this broader use of on a best-efforts basis? For one thing, compared with saying use reasonable efforts, it requires that you use an extra word or two. And more generally, Garner’s Modern English Usage notes that use of the word basis “often signals verbosity in adverbial constructions.”

So if you’re using on a best-efforts basis other than in the context of a best-efforts securities offering, smack yourself upside the head.

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.