Dec 29 2016

eSignatures – no nothing to do with vaping!


Following on from my Uber post on innovative IT solutions, I wanted to look at one of those “been around for ages” technologies in Legal IT that is rarely used in anger yet could be a simple solution, that maybe not ground breaking, would add a real consumer feel to technology in law firm transactions. I’ve been meaning to put this post up after seeing a product in this category again and also hearing from an in-house lawyer team from a large global corporate at the recent ILTA Insight conference.

“Technological innovation is the next step…..simple solutions like e-signature to make sure its used in every context across our global legal community…..through to evaluation of AI tools”

So in the same breath as Artificial Intelligence (surely the buzzword of the year in LegalIT!) a solution that’s been around for ages is mentioned. But rarely does it get mentioned alongside big data and AI within law firms as an sexy “innovative” solution.

So what are eSignatures?

The product that I’ve seen in action recently is Docusign, however it’s perhaps the most boring of tech demoes you’ll see (not the fault of those running the demo!). Simply, like a traditional signature, eSignatures are symbols or other data in digital form attached to an electronically transmitted document as verification of the sender’s intent to sign the document. So the demo for Docusign is integrated into a document signing process, it’s slick and so like a lot of simple solutions doesn’t seem that much. (There is some more info here on exactly how it works:

Adobe Sign is another example with a nice little demo on their site to give you an idea of the process (

And this year (2016) saw the UK legislation implementing the EU directive 2014, this should be implemented by all 28 member states and so allow cross jurisdiction eSigning. What happens to the UK post Brexit who knows, but I suspect it’ll be some time before our legislation deviates from all the EU directives.

There is a lot of information that is worth reading about how the verification process can work to ensure that the person signing is who you think it is, however sometimes I wonder why we don’t worry as much about fraud and crime in the “paper” world as we do in the “cyber” world. Faking a signature or taking copies of a paper file have virtually no security wrapped around them! But that’s a topic for another day!

So why isn’t it widespread?

Tools like eSignature, document automation, speech recognition and others seem to have been around in some form or other since I came into Legal IT in the second half of the 1990’s. And I think one of the difficulties has always been about engagement with the right teams in the business and also trying to measure and justify the cost. The former is more a challenge in areas like document automation where a lawyers time is needed, this isn’t an “IT product implementation project” it’s business process change to get the real value documents automated. The latter though fits with eSignatures, unless you’re a volume business and you can measure a simple ROI (return on investment) against the cost of say postage or another tangible measure in huge numbers, it’s difficult to see the areas where monetary value could be tracked. But maybe this is it, maybe we need to look at value as something other than £’s, $’s or €’s. Something like the simplicity and feel that a client would get on being able to apply a simple online signature, rather than a paper one. In the consumer world when was the last time you signed a T & C’s document when purchasing something or had to wait for the “paperwork”?

Sometimes it’s the simple things that can give huge value. To quote Steve Jobs “We’ve got to make the small things unforgettable”.