Using electronic signatures during social distancing

Using electronic signatures to sign documents legally during social distancing

With many people working from home, and businesses functioning remotely, signatories need to be able to sign documents remotely too. While social distancing is being urged by governments and health professionals in the UK, it’s important to know what kind of contract execution method and process is permissible at this time. 

Here, Bird & Bird, a London based law firm, has clients who are now asking how they can sign agreements at home. Fortunately, they are using Docusign eSignature which enables their clients to sign agreements remotely, while also meeting the most stringent global security standards and complying with the EU eIDAS Regulation. 

Let's delve into why electronic signatures are so important for your future business, and unpack how electronic signatures maybe the solution to signing while social distancing.

Electronic signatures and English law 

Though contracts do not require a written signature under English law, most formal commercial contracts are finalised with a signature to act as evidence of the authenticity of the agreement and the acceptance of its terms. In general, electronic signatures are legally valid for most transactions. 

What are your options for signing while social distancing? 

As people continue to practice social distancing for the foreseeable future, avoiding face-to-face meetings and in-person signings is necessary. Here are your options for transacting business remotely: 

  1. Email exchange of signed documents: This process involves printing, signing and scanning and assumes that individual signatories have access to printers and scanners or similar equipment at home. 
  2. Electronic signatures: Docusign eSignature allows you to sign documents from nearly anywhere in the world, from almost any device. This means you can sign from home, or anywhere else you may be. This process is also extremely convenient for the recipient  who does not need a Docusign account in order to sign documents that you’ve sent.

Read more: COVID-19: signing transaction documents during social distancing

What do legal professionals think?

Bird & Bird is a leading international law firm in business sectors where technology plays a key role. 

They know that electronic signing is bringing numerous benefits to client communications and team efficiency, especially during a time when social distancing is in place. 

Legal entities need to be especially careful when considering how to get agreements signed. Bird & Bird provides a comprehensive list of potential legal issues:

  • Jurisdiction: For each non-UK legal entity, will the law of its place of incorporation permit the chosen electronic execution method for that party?
  • Formalities: Is there a legal formality to comply with when executing a type of document? For example under English law, the formalities for execution of deeds can include signing in the presence of a witness and always requires delivery by the parties.
  • Filings and record keeping:  Are complete "wet ink" originals required of any documents for filing and record keeping purposes? 

Now, witnessing can be done electronically too, with a process that mimics traditional witnessing. A consultation paper from the Law Commission states, “the law requires that a deed must be signed in the presence of a witness who attests the signature. Their report concludes that the current law probably does not allow for ‘remote’ witnessing where the witness is not physically present when a signatory signs a deed.”

However, the Law Society recently shared an update. While the best practice remains the same, ongoing work, as a result of COVID-19, involves evaluating the modification and the practice to allow for video witnessing. 

Ultimately, it’s important that the technology be sufficiently secure and clear to verify that witnessing has taken place. That criterion is fulfilled by the option of a digitised document. This document is backed by technology that captures rich witness evidence such as geolocation, IP addresses and timestamps of the signatures. And this shows when the document was signed and where all the signatories were located at the time of remote signing.

Now, electronic witnessing is as simple as dragging and dropping an extra box or two - there’s no excuse for sticking with the cumbersome process of printing and posting documents. It also makes sense to use electronic signatures while people are social distancing. 

Docusign eSignature

  • Industry leading availability: The Docusign eSignature infrastructure has enabled us to deliver 99.99% platform availability worldwide for the last 24 months.
  • Sign from anywhere: Our highly-rated mobile apps for iOS, Android, and Windows let you work on the go - even when you don’t have internet access.
  • Proof for legally binding electronic signatures, including a clear digital audit trail: Docusign eSignature meets electronic signature requirements under the EU eIDAS Regulation. We automatically generate and store a robust audit trail for every agreement. 
  • Highly secure: Docusign meets some of the most stringent US, EU, and global security standards, and uses the strongest data encryption technologies available.
  • Integrations: Docusign integrates with over 350 systems and tools you already use.

Read more: Using electronic signature to avoid meetings and in-person signings . To discover the benefits for yourself, sign up for a free 30 day trial to get started.