Expediting legal work is one thing, but are electronic signatures legally valid?
In our recent post we explained some of the benefits of e-signatures. However, before partnering with e-signature provider, Sign&Send, we thought we’d check things out properly. We took advice from Edinburgh’s Stuart & Co.
Here’s what they had to say.
These are the most basic form of e-signature. Many platforms such as DocuSign and Adobe Sign use SES as their standard service. SES collects meta data on the signing, including information around the date and time of signing, the email address to which the request to sign was sent, and the IP address of the device. These platforms can also use two factor authentication. This means the signatory needs to insert a code that has been sent to a mobile number. This reduces the risk of someone with delegate inbox access signing in someone else’s name.
Examples of SES signing include:
This is the least secure of the three main e-signatures recognised by the EU Regulation No 910/2014 Electronic Identification, Authentication and Trust Services (eIDAS) Regulation.
The primary areas where simple electronic signatures, such as the standard functionality in DocuSign and Adobe Sign, are not a valid means of signing are in relation to:
Under Scots law, documents can only be authenticated electronically where AES is used. For an electronic signature to be considered advanced, it must meet several requirements:
The ability to identify the signatory is the main difference between the SES and AES. While the simple electronic signature does not necessarily identify the signatory, in the advanced electronic signature it is an essential requirement. This difference is key when signing contracts or content where parties do not require the document to be self-proving but the risk taken is higher. AESs cannot become self-proving by having an AES witnessed. The only self-proving signatures are QESs and traditional wet ink signatures witnessed by a wet ink signature.
This is the most secure form of electronic signature. A QES uses cryptography and is issued by a trusted third party. However, because the trusted third party needs to independently validate the entity of the signatory, there are only limited situations where a QES will be available. The most common would be a signature applied by a Scottish solicitor using their Law Society Smartcard as part of a closed loop system for a particular purpose. An example of where a QES can be used is a solicitor signing for and on behalf of his/her client when executing Missives.
The standard SES functionality within the platforms such as DocuSign or Adobe Sign does not meet the requirements for an AES or QES. Platforms such as DocuSign advertise the ability to use all three eIDAS-compliant eSignatures for a fee. However, it is unclear how readily accessible these are to the public.
Documents signed by SES or AES are validly signed (under exception where Scots Law states otherwise). However, if a dispute arose, extrinsic evidence would need to be led to prove the validity of the grantor’s signature. Where possible it is recommended parties wet ink sign the document in the presence of a valid witness (being an individual, not a party to the contract, who has capacity to sign and witness), scan and exhibit the wet ink scanned document to the other party. A counterpart provision can be added to agreements, this allows each signed document to be treated as an original and when the two signed documents are read together this creates the complete instrument.
There are certain deeds including but not limited to wills and testamentary writings, and certain documents which are to be registered (for example deeds to be registered in the Land Register of Scotland or the Books of Council and Session) that must be created and signed in traditional form using wet ink signatures. If you are uncertain whether a document is capable of being signed electronically you should consult a solicitor.
To find out more about whether electronic signatures are legally valid, take a look at this pdf document from the Law Society of Scotland below. The document was issued on 20th March 2020. Please check their website for updates.
© LawWare Limited 1995-2021
Our clients range from small start-up legal practices to multi-partner, multi-site firms.
Another great customer service experience from LawWare. My laptop had to be stripped back to factory settings as part of a repair - taking hours! In contrast, restoring LawWare took one phone call to the support team and I was up and running in 6 minutes. If only everything was so easy!
As the first commercial user of LawWare back in 1998, we have had no hesitation in remaining with the product through its development. We thoroughly recommend it to any firm looking for a practice management system.
The helpdesk is exceptionally good. Whatever the query there is always a human being there to help. No leaving messages or being advised to go to a website. The best computer service for solicitors I have ever used!
The linking of documents and casefiles saves so much time! I have experience of several accounts packages and I like that LawWare is simple to use and easy to learn. Support is quick and effective and staff are helpful and courteous.
I have worked with a number of Case Management providers over the years but have not come across anything with the attention to detail and thoroughness of LawWare. My colleagues and I have not been disappointed.
I can’t imagine trying to be a law firm in the 21st Century without 21st Century IT systems. Having a ‘single system’ that underpins all the work, whether we are in the office or out, is an integral part of what we are building.
The level of support is the main benefit using this system. The system itself once you have had training is simple and easy to use. We have a great relationship with LawWare and the ongoing support is second to none.
Significant preparation was required to configure and import the data from our old firm. We had to get all clients onto the new system and then learn how to use it. We just find it very easy to use, much easier than our old system.
Being a busy litigator with a growing firm it is incredibly useful to be able to view my files from any location with some form of internet connection. I am a fan, and want to keep working with LawWare to make a good product great.
The switch to the new LawCloud system, which is still on-going, has gone very well. We found the LawWare team without exception to be very helpful and knowledgeable. All queries are followed up and dealt with promptly.