As the world moves closer toward going paperless, it’s inevitable that your clients who need to sign retainer agreements, contracts, and settlement agreements are finding it difficult to make the time to print out a document, sign it, scan it, attach it to an email, and then send it back, causing serious delays in the day to day workflow, and sometimes even leading to lost business when it comes to executing legal fee agreements. An electronic signature saves time and is enough to form a valid agreement. The “signature” can take several forms such as third-party certifying authorities i.e. e-mailed text or digitized images, passwords, personal id numbers, biometrics such as voice prints, as well as public-key encryption. The takeaway is that the electronic signature represents the intent of the person to sign the document and the association of that electronic signature with the document. Therefore, e-signature software has become popular as a key element in many law firms.
Although deceptively simple, what exactly is an e-signature? Let’s start with what an electronic signature is not. It is not a wet signature: a signature using a pen on paper. It is also not done by simply pasting a pre-existing signature image to a digital image or document. Neither is it inscribing /s/ near the client’s typewritten name. And it most definitely is not the same as using the cursive font on Microsoft Word. An e-signature is a “legally authenticated signature conforming to the requirements set forth under the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (the “E-SIGN Act”), in combination with various state and local acts, and having the effect of being equal to the original paper copy documents from which they derive.”
Fundamentally, a proper electronic signature is obtained through a service that opens a verification process with the signatory and creates a digital fingerprint; generating and storing an audit trail that will uniquely identify the person signing. The creation of this information, as well as how it is stored, is the touchstone that makes the entire process legitimate, as it must be done in compliance with the law and its related rules and regulations.
In practice, these legal standards are typically met by setting up an account through a third-party service that assumes the responsibility of legal compliance. Therefore, anyone who accepts a digital signature on a document will have already met the pre-requisites required for obtaining and storing e-signatures before they begin considering how they will go about getting that digital signature on a document.
Going forward, here are five reasons why your firm needs an e-signature solution:
- Clients can sign a legal form in seconds and seamlessly collaborate on documents
Now you can collect legally binding e-signatures by sending forms or agreements to multiple recipients. E-signature software lets your staff customize invites and set the order of signing, remove or add signers and then get notified when a form has been processed. The software integrates into your mobile device to allow you to process a power of attorney, estate planning or prenuptial legal document with a single swipe of your cursor. Your clients can sign any legal document from their own smart phone or tablet from any destination – they no longer must be sitting across from you in your office. Your e-signature platform simplifies and accelerates agreement preparation, management and execution, further reducing the cost of administrative tasks, such as faxing, scanning, printing, overnight mailing, and storage all while integrating seamlessly with legal document management systems.
- Keep data confidential and protected
E-signatures are a legally acceptable mechanism for your clients to sign a contract, using the latest and most secure technology available that automates and tracks digital signatures. Legal documents processed with e-signature software are protected by advanced encryption and two-factor authentication safeguards while also complementing current attempts by many firms to centrally integrate and manage their contracts into digital repositories. Moreover, forensic security controls, combined with e-signatures provide reliable and quick verification, reducing the chance of fraud or any subsequent challenges to authenticity all while letting you keep track of the signed and completed documents whether you are at your desk or not. To ensure authenticity in case of a challenge to an electronic record or electronic signature, your firm should also remember to:
- Provide an audit trail that will identify the signatory, the document that was signed, and when it was signed, including date, time, and sequence of events.
- Make electronically signed documents unalterable.
- Collaborate seamlessly on documents
With e-signature software, you can automate your workflow by creating teams who can collaborate on specific legal documents. Invite as many clients to the team as you need and track the activity of all signed and completed forms, agreements or notes, ensuring that your documents receive any and all necessary approvals before they are sent out. Pair this with sequential signers, allowing your firm to preset the order of signers, and keep all interested parties in the loop, all while maintaining a streamlined workflow. Electronic signature software will also track documents throughout the signing phase by allowing you to know when each document has been sent, viewed, approved, and signed. Additionally, the review and signature processes are verifiable with tamper-proof audits that show the access data for each signed document.
- Create professional looking documents every time
Now you can create multiple legal forms simply by embedding fields for different content to ensure that your recipients provide accurate information. Required fields can be easily designated and then guide signers by inserting magic fields into your documents.
- Payments can be collected with ease
Payments can be collected easily from your clients using fillable forms. Your designated staff member can set notifications that will inform you the moment a payment has been made and help you keep track of all payments from any internet-connected device. For the legal industry, client relationships are of paramount importance. The convenience and ease of e-signatures will inevitably make them a necessity to maintaining client relations. By using electronic signatures, firms can grow their legal client base and still efficiently maintain the work required by preexisting client issues. While the legal industry is traditionally monetized by the billable hour, the electronic signatures will save administrative time while allowing firms to allocate their resources towards a better streamlined intake process of new client. Take a moment and view the video by Law Ruler to learn how implementing e-signature software into your firm will increase your legal client intake and retentions.