Law Society eSignature Endorsement Further Enables Digital Transformation

LONDON, July 27, 2016

The Law Society this week publicly endorsed the use of electronic signatures in English law B2B contracts – a move welcomed by global eSignature and Digital Transaction Management (DTM) leader, DocuSign, and the more than 225,000 companies and 85 million users across the DocuSign Global Trust Network.

Prepared jointly with The City of London Law Society, the new practice note confirms that electronic signatures are a valid method of executing commercial contracts under English law. Hard on the heels of the eIDAS Regulation (EU No 910/2014) which came into force on 1 July 2016 and established an EU-wide framework for electronic signatures, the practice note is expected to spur greater adoption of electronic signatures and boost the digital transformation of business.

The practice note has been developed to give parties (and their legal advisers) greater confidence to adopt electronic signatures over manual, paper-based processes – and reap the benefits of agility, efficiency, cost savings and superior user experience.

“Clients appreciate the quicker and more convenient alternative to traditional methods of signing documents and the security that electronic signatures afford – given there is an audit trail that captures who signed what, when and where for every transaction,” said Mark Nuttall, a partner at Linklaters LLP, the law firm that co-chaired the working group producing the note. “Completing a signing in the traditional way can be a lengthy process, whereas through this mobile technology, with the click of a mouse or the tap of a tablet or smart phone, it can be reduced to minutes, while maintaining the formality and security of a hand-written signing.

“We saw the need for this for high value transactions, as it is clearly applicable to the work we do and is already becoming common-place for high volume transactions in procurement, employment and compliance.

“However, in order for the technology to have real value, it needs to be adopted by lawyers across the City. For example, DocuSign alone facilitates a million signatures a day – and of course, we all use and trust internet banking. This is a great opportunity for our clients to save money on transaction execution, whilst at the same time, increasing security and streamlining compliance processes.

“City law firms shouldn’t get left behind by the modern world and should constantly be looking for ways to provide the latest innovative technology for their clients. Working with the Law Society, the City of London Law Society and a number of other international and local law firms, we’re delighted that electronic signatures will be rolled out more widely.”

The practice note encourages the adoption of electronic signatures at a time when the recent implementation of the eIDAS Regulation is moving the EU towards its ideal of seamless cross-border e-commerce. It points to the fact that as technology advances, modern businesses are increasingly mobile and lawmakers have to respond and tailor legislation to the needs of the workforce. This trend has been instrumental in driving the European Commission’s vision of a ‘Digital Single Market’– and it’s one of the reasons why DocuSign has committed to an ‘Invest for Europe’ strategy to facilitate the digital transformation of businesses across the region.

The practice note also highlights that an electronic signature can take many forms – and the evidential weight given by an English court will depend upon the circumstances of the signature’s creation, and the steps taken to verify the identity of the signatory.

“The case law on electronic signatures in the UK is sparse – we therefore welcome the Law Society’s initiative in publishing this practice note,” said Richard Oliphant, General Counsel EMEA at DocuSign. “It offers lawyers (and their clients) the confidence to use an electronic signature to create valid and enforceable commercial contracts under English law.

“In addition, we are seeing companies of all sizes looking for electronic signatures that offer a higher level of authenticity and security – and we are seeing them turn to DocuSign’s platform as a result. Our view is a platform offers more than just an eSignature. It allows you to prepare, execute and manage the lifecycle of business transactions in a fully-digitised environment. You have access to a real-time audit trail, you can track every step of the transaction, and you have the ‘proof’ of signature that you can rely on in court to establish the authenticity and integrity of the electronic contract.”