It wasn’t long ago that executives were using ink and a rubber stamp to “sign” documents. In an effort to speed the process of signing, they would entrust their stamp to another “authorized user” who could stamp or “sign” documents on their behalf. The premise was that if the person had physical access to the stamp pad, then they must be an approved user and have the authority to sign agreements or other legal documents.
The Questionable Signature
Fast forward to the even more not-so-distant past and you will find electronic documents that were “signed” when someone added a signature image to the document. Anyone can drop a JPEG onto a contract, although the assumption is that if they have access to the signature file, then they must be authorized to sign on the individual’s behalf. This is where the process breaks down. There is no quick and easy way to verify that the individual or someone they authorized was the actual signor of a document. No audit trail or metadata exists to prove whether it was an approved, authorized signature and not a fake.
We continue to see these short cuts in the signature process all the time. As lawyers, it is our responsibility to make a reasonable argument to a court about why we believe a signature is valid. You may find yourself making logical arguments such as, it came from the correct email address or domain, it was the correct draft, or it included what appeared to be a valid written signature. Electronic signature images on electronic documents make it harder to validate that it was the person who affixed it themselves or someone authorized to do so on their behalf.
Digital signatures are another type of electronic signature; however, they are like having a fingerprint on the document. They are tied to a certificate that always includes an audit trail which means that at any point, you can see when it was sent, who received it, what time, etc. Additionally, the signature itself is time and date stamped automatically, giving you something to follow and provide proof that the signor was who they said they were. This trail is so clear, that digital signatures are rarely contested and are accepted in most courts thanks to the clear chain of custody from sending to signing.
6 Essential Reasons to Have A Digital Signature Fingerprint On Your Side
What makes a digital signature service an absolute requirement for any legal professional or law firm? As you know, inclusive of contracts, any transactional document that needs a signature must withstand scrutiny in court. Everything from real estate transactions and acquisitions, to wills and trusts, estate directives, etc. must include an authorized signature that can be certified or validated in the court of law.
Here are 6 reasons why a law firm or legal professional wants to use electronic signature (or e-signature) services that follow the digital signature guidelines:
- Peace of mind knowing people cannot alter, duplicate, or do anything untoward, with a document that has been sent through an electronic service vendor that utilizes digital signature protocols. Because documents uploaded to an electronic signature service with digital signatures are protected from alteration, users are restricted from altering or copying the text directly and cannot export or change the document contents or import/upload a new version. They may only review and sign (or refuse to sign). This means the security of the document, and veracity of the content, are not in question.
- Signatures can be verified with an audit trail. Most electronic signature vendors with digital signature protocols provide certifications and audit trials for documents that are processed through their systems. Certificates can be issued against those signatures and are accepted and defensible in most jurisdictions.
- Time and cost needed for closing an agreement is greatly reduced. There is no longer a need to overnight documents back and forth between signatories unless working on documents that need to be notarized or go through the apostille process. You can now close a deal from across the country in about 30 seconds which reduces both hard costs (printing and shipping) and soft costs (scanning and uploading). Automated workflow, as well as knowing the document is retained once signatures are all there, increases the savings.
- Security of knowing that document, once it’s fully signed, is secure. Fully executed documents need to be stored electronically within a system like NetDocuments. It provides peace of mind knowing that you’re not going to lose it somewhere and that it remains searchable within the system.
- Electronic signatures with digital signature fingerprints are intuitive, convenient, and can be completed almost anywhere in the world, from practically any device. We’re all looking for ways to increase efficiency and productivity. So why create a process that is hard for you or your clients?
- As stated previously, digital signature validation is easier to defend in court. Courts are treating electronic signatures with digital certification the same way they have treated wet signatures in the past. When you have a time and date stamp with a signature along with a clear electronic chain of custody, it’s difficult to challenge.
Modern legal transactions demand the convenient and compliant nature of today’s e-signature tools. But with new tools comes new tasks to ensure documents end up in the right place—which can reduce your overall pace.
How to Get the Most Out of Your E-Signature Tool
Lawyers everywhere are burning out and clients are less likely to pay for time spent on administrative tasks. While an e-signature tool may relieve the time burdens associated with the printing, scanning, sending, signing and tracking of traditional signatures, downloading and transferring prepared or signed documents between your systems can still add steps and clicks to an already packed process.
But as my colleague explains, the right legal technology can certainly relieve these extra steps when implemented correctly.
It stands to reason then that the key to a trusted and powerful e-signature tool truly unlocking productivity for your team is its ability to integrate with your document storage system, such as NetDocuments. The ability to have signed and tracked copies of a document automatically stored within your system of record will be vital to your team’s ability to remain focused on critical tasks—not the everyday administrative ones.
Learn about the NetDocuments integration with DocuSign eSignature and how it can help you get the most out of your e-signature solution.