“From the Beginning of Time” and “At Law or in Equity”

Recently someone asked me about settlement and release agreements, and that put me in mind of a picturesque drafting usage that’s a fixture of release language—from the beginning of time, as in “Jones hereby releases Acme from any claims … arising from the beginning of time to the date of this agreement.”

I searched for this phrase in the material contracts filed on the SEC’s EDGAR system in the past year and got 447 hits. I got 280 hits when I searched for a related phrase, from the beginning of the world. So while these phrases aren’t a feature of everyday drafting, they’re nonetheless part of the drafting landscape.

I hope I’m not being controversial in suggesting that besides being quaint, such language is also redundant. If I agree to release all claims against Acme, that means all claims, as opposed to just those claims that arose in the past year, or the past century, or during some other limited period.

Release language tends to feature other instances of such redundancy. For example, drafters often provide that the claims in question are being released whether they are at law or in equity. Omitting any reference to claims being at law or in equity would not somehow make a release any less all-encompassing. Furthermore, for purposes of U.S. law such references have a musty air to them, as in most states distinctions between actions at law and suits in equity have been abolished.

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.