E-signatures: A sign of the times

Posted by John Espley, CEO of Legal Futures Associate LEAP Legal Software

Espley: E-signatures are unique to each signatory

These days, using the internet or a smartphone app to book a taxi, check-in for a flight or manage your personal finances has become second nature to most of us and handling legal transactions digitally should be no different. In fact, the emergence of e-signatures is making this an ever-growing reality.

In an increasingly competitive market, where there is growing client expectation around price and service efficiency, there is a pressing need for law firms to embrace digitalisation.

Electronic signatures are proving to be a key part of digitalisation, welcomed by both lawyers and their clients. By offering convenience and streamlining the transaction process, law firms can gain a professional edge.

There are various types of e-signature, including ones that clients can sign directly to their electronic devices, signatures created using their devices, image uploads of their signatures or a signature that they already have saved.

There was initially some uncertainty as to whether such technology would satisfy the necessary legal requirements. However, the Law Commission confirmed in August 2018 that electronic signatures can be used to sign formal legal contracts under English law. This provided a green light to law firms to digitalise their practices further still.

Leading legal software providers, including LEAP, are helping law firms on their digitalisation journey by developing software and including digital signature capabilities throughout their extensive library of automated forms and precedents.

Through its integration with the secure document management system LawConnect, LEAP’s practice management software allows lawyers to share documents and obtain signatures via DocuSign anywhere in the world. Providing access to such technology has greatly speeded up the collaboration process with clients.

Much like traditional handwritten signatures, e-signatures are unique to each signatory. DocuSign follows a specific protocol known as public key infrastructure (PKI) that uses a mathematical algorithm to generate a pair of keys – one public and one private.

Every e-signature is created using the signatory’s private key which is always kept securely by the signatory. The mathematical algorithm acts like a cipher, creating data matching the signed document and encrypting that data.

The encrypted data is the digital signature and is time stamped so that if the document is subsequently changed, the digital signature is then invalidated.

The benefits of using e-signatures are three-fold, as the technology offers law firms increased efficiency, security and cost-savings.

As part of the ongoing drive towards digitalisation, e-signatures are an important step and the benefits of this technology are invaluable to the legal profession.


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