The use of electronic signatures (e-signatures) on legal documents can certainly save your practice time and money, but there are also other potential benefits – such as the ability to monitor exactly who has viewed and signed documents and exactly when they did so. With these advantages – and with the proliferation of e-filing – chances are that if you aren’t already signing your name with a button click, you will be soon. So, let’s take a look at some of the best currently available products and providers out there that use e-signatures to facilitate the efficient management of contracts and other legal documents.
E-signatures in Transactions
In any legal transaction, the primary role of the lawyer is, understandably, to minimize the risks and maximize the potential benefits of the transaction for his or her client. A very good transactional attorney will do this in a timely, efficient manner and be open to new ways of decreasing the costs of the transaction itself. And, one way of doing this is to make the process of reviewing and signing documents as cheap and easy as possible for all parties and doing so in a way that is legally enforceable under the Wisconsin Uniform Electronic Transactions Act and other laws. (For more information on the legality of e-signatures, see Jeffrey J. Serum, “The Legal Effect of Electronic Transactions,” Wis. Law. (Feb. 2005).)
Tison Rhine is the advisor to the State Bar of Wisconsin Law Office Management Assistance Program (Practice411™). Reach him at (800) 444-9404, ext. 6012, or by email.
For some clients and their lawyers, the final document review and signature process still involves elaborate (and difficult to schedule) signing ceremonies, the help of parcel or courier services, or both. Such meetings or the complicated shuffling of wet-signed documents may still occasionally be necessary (or requested by some clients), but for most deals, e-signatures will do. And, thankfully, there are several programs and services available to help you avoid the nuisance of printing, signing, and mailing, faxing, or emailing contracts and other documents – ultimately saving you and your clients time and money, as well as more than a little frustration and last-minute scrambling. Oh yes, there are security benefits, too.
Let’s take a look at some options:
Adobe “Fill & Sign.” If you already use an Adobe Acrobat product (Standard or Pro version XI or later, or even the free Adobe Reader DC), you might be aware of Adobe’s built-in functionality that will let you get started with e-signatures at no added cost. You simply open the PDF file you want to sign, click on the Sign or the Fill & Sign pane, and click Add (or Place) Signature. You can then type your signature or, if you want to use a realistic version of your signature, you can sign a piece of paper and scan it in, use a computer camera to capture your signature, or (attempt to) draw your signature with your mouse or touchpad.
While this basic functionality is great for signing your own documents, client use of the product requires that they also have Adobe Acrobat and be able to sign, save, and send the file back to you without too much instruction. For a process that is easier for clients, consider upgrading to one of the options below (including Adobe’s paid Sign software).
Apple Preview (Mac). Preview is an application that comes pre-installed on all Macs and includes integrated signing features on par with Adobe’s basic Fill & Sign. Just open a PDF in Preview, click the Show Markup Toolbar button (which looks like a toolbox), and click the Sign button (which looks like a signature). You can then scan in a signed piece of paper using your webcam, or sign using your trackpad.
DocuSign. DocuSign is one of the most used e-signature tools, not only in the legal industry but also in other document-heavy industries, such as real estate. It offers thorough audit trails, integrations with customer-relationship-management programs, and if needed, compliance with a range of digital certificate standards. DocuSign works by sending an email to the signee requesting a signature. The signee then clicks through to a version of the document that shows red arrows where signatures and initials are required.
Go to docusign.com to view a video tutorial and sign up for a free trial. Pricing starts at $10 per month for the personal version, $25 per user per month for the standard version, and $40 per user per month for the business version, which adds features including company branding, signer attachments, and collaborative fields.
Such meetings or the complicated shuffling of wet-signed documents may
still occasionally be necessary (or requested by some clients), but for most
deals, e-signatures will do.
Adobe Sign. Adobe Sign (formerly called EchoSign), much like DocuSign, allows you to send an email to your client and sets up an automated workflow to control the signature process, always moving the client along in an easy manner. Also, as with DocuSign, documents that require multiple signatories are automatically transferred to the next person down the line. Adobe Sign is a little different, however, in that it allows additional workflow actions, including invoicing the client or transferring the client to different departments (such as human resources or a manager) that may have their own documents and steps to complete for a deal.
Go to acrobat.adobe.com/us/en/sign for a tutorial and free trial. Pricing starts at $9.99 per month for individuals and $29.99 per seat per month for businesses.
Citrix RightSignature. RightSignature is Citrix’s cloud-based signature tool, which allows clients to sign documents online from their computer or mobile device, with no downloads, plugins, or setup required. The contracts themselves are stored on RightSignature’s secure server (Citrix has a good reputation for security), and access privileges to your archive can be customized by employees. Like EchoSign and DocuSign, RightSignature offers integrations with customer-relationship-management software such as Salesforce, but it also integrates with other software such as Dropbox, Box, Clio, Google Docs, Evernote, and many more. RightSignature is a well-designed tool that integrates into modern digital businesses.
Go to rightsignature.com for a tutorial and free trial. Prices start at $12 per month for personal users and $60 per month for businesses.
SignNow. SignNow is an inexpensive alternative to the tools described above, and although its marketing focuses heavily on its mobile ease of use, SignNow retains much of the functionality of its competitors and is worth a look. Like RightSignature, SignNow is a cloud-based e-signature tool. It offers customizable workflows and works with many of the same popular applications as does RightSignature (for example, SalesForce, Google, Box, and Office365).
Go to www.signnow.com to learn more and get started with a free demo. Prices start at only $5 per user per month for businesses and $10 per user per month for business premium.
To electronically sign documents under the new Wisconsin e-filing rule (Wis. Stat. § 801.18), simply type “Electronically signed by” and your name where your signature should go. After adding all other required information, such as your bar number for lawyers, you then simply submit your document from your e-filing account. Filed in this way, your signature will be treated as your personal original signature for all purposes under the statutes and court rules.
Also under the new rule, law office staff may also apply a lawyer’s signature and file pleadings on a lawyer’s behalf when authorized to do so (without requiring the lawyer to personally enter his or her PIN or other authentication). The authorizing lawyers, however, are responsible for all documents so filed.
To electronically sign documents under the new Wisconsin e-filing rule
(Wis. Stat. § 801.18), simply type “Electronically signed by” and your name
where your signature should go.
In other words, any document submitted to the court through the e-filing system is considered signed by the lawyer responsible for the account. Law office staff, now logging in under the lawyer’s account rather than through a delegation process, can see cases, prepare pleadings, pay filing fees, and file documents under the lawyer’s signature when authorized to do so.
Some documents, such as affidavits, still require a handwritten signature. These documents must be scanned.
E-signatures are here, they are legal, and they are either playing now or coming soon to a courthouse near you. Additionally, the amount of convenience, control, and audit security that e-signatures provide to transactional work should make their incorporation into your workflows a no-brainer. Take the step now, and save time forever more (or, at least as long as you are practicing).
So You Want To …
As attorneys, when there is a task we want to perform more efficiently, or an office product that we believe could improve our lives in some way, visiting stores and scouring the web to determine the best solution doesn’t always make it to the top of our to-do lists. Rather than go without, let Practice411™ do the work for you.
So, this month, you want to know how to sign documents electronically.
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