The rise of the digital signature

Compared to other professional services, the legal sector has historically been a slower adopter of technology, predominantly due to risk-averse practitioners, the partnership and billable hours model – promoting the slow sifting of precedents and casework, along with minimal time to explore the adoption of new technology and learn new tools.

Today, thankfully, the legal sector is catching up to other professional services sectors. However, the sector is still facing challenges that demand rapid attention and adaptation. Client expectations are changing as lawtech is providing a more enticing customer experience.

One of the latest changes in the sector includes the HM Land Registry announcing their adoption of digital signatures as part of their official recognised guidance. This latest change now provides the means to remotely sign deeds, entirely negating the requirement for an on-paper process, tech is undoubtedly ensuring greater convenience.

Digital signatures can be significantly more secure than wet signatures – as they can hold unique identifiers specific to the person signing, almost like a digital fingerprint. Digital signatures are now very commonly used for transactions as authentication can ensure the document or message has not been intentionally, or unintentionally modified in transit.

Exploring some of the benefits digital signatures bring to the industry reveals the full impact technology can have on the legal process. The different variations of signatures include:

  1. Digital Guarantee/Qualified Signature

A Digitally Qualified Signature is where individual identity can be associated with the digital signature. For example, an identity check using facial recognition technology, ensures some certainty about the signatories.

  1. Digital Witness Signature

A witness can now digitally sign documents and confirm their observation of remotely signed deeds. Once the signing process is completed, a full audit trail of all digital activity such as date, time and the location the document was signed, is produced.

  1. Electronic Signature

An electronic signature can come in numerous formats now and nearly all are still legally enforceable. The best guidance around what constitutes an electronic/digital signature for legal purposes can be found in the recent Law Commission guidance on the subject, found here. Generally, the principles of Contract Law have been expanded to reflect the modern world. The one notable omission in the Law Commission’s report was in reference to property law and left HM Land Registry to it when it came to using electronic signatures for registration purposes. Fortunately, the land registry progressed this element considerably with the implementation of this practice guidance on electronically witnessed and signed deeds.

Benefits of Digital Signatures:

  • Enhances security, functionality and effectiveness
  • Removes the paper process, saving operational costs
  • Reduces the “lag-time” when sending information for a better customer experience
  • Security is assured by requiring clients to sign using authentication technology
  • Legally valid
  • The simplicity of use for clients and businesses 
  • Digital recording of all communications and signed documents

Digital signatures are responsive, flexible and paperless and can be completed from your electronic device. However, wet signatures can take time to process due to printing, postage, scanning and even extra travel to the post office, these factors are all added time constraints to the legal process. Digital signatures are now being recognised across many sectors and will keep improving at a vast pace.

Rob Hosier is Sales and Marketing Director at InCase

Today's Conveyancer