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Can Digital Signatures come to the Rescue?

In these times where we are supposed to be working remotely – how to you get documents signed? If you are used to posting documents out for signature – should you be making your clients walk/drive out to the post box?

Even without the coronavirus there was a strong argument for using digital signatures to make life easier for your clients, to speed up the process, improve conversion rates, improve efficiency and profitability. Now, the alternative is almost as bleak as: not being able to convert work or bring it to a conclusion = no income!

Last autumn the Law Commission concluded that there was no legal barrier to digital signatures being good signatures in law. Earlier in March this year the Law chancellor confirmed this – even for wills and deeds. https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/law/electronically-signed-deeds-are-legal-lord-chancellor-confirms/5103306.article

In October 2019 the Law Society issued guidance for digital signatures: https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/support-services/advice/articles/signing-and-exchanging-documents/

The Legal Aid Authority has, amongst other guidance for coping with the coronavirus crisis, stated that it will accept digital signatures in place of wet signatures: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-legal-aid-agency-contingency-response#history

Several categories of particular importance come to mind:

  1. Client Care Letters, CFAs, Retainers and other internal documents you need clients to sign – whilst in some circumstances you can operate on terms of trading, in others it is not possible, or you may not want to run the risk.
  2. Wills & LPAs – sadly this is likely to be a growth area for the next few months. People will be faced with their own mortality. You can’t go out to visit people to take instructions and get them to sign – especially the elderly – for risk of infecting them. However, it may be urgent for them to get these documents completed (and you might need the money as other revenue streams may be constrained!). You will need to be careful about checking capacity and understanding. You will need to consider insuring against heightened risk, getting indemnities from the beneficiaries etc. However, a solution has to be found. Witnessing the signatures is also an issue.
  3. Property – this is an area where I fear there will be a significant slow-down. We do not want any other problems adding to that. The Lord Chancellor has stated that a digital signature is a good legal signature, even for a deed. However, deeds for the transfer of land will not be registrable until the Land Registry issues a notice saying they will accept them. Over to the Land Registry to sort this out ASAP please. There is a potential issue over fraud. They need to square this circle quickly and find a solution.

Other areas are affected, but these spring to mind with particular urgency.

We believe that we have come across a solution which easily allows you to arrange for the electronic signature and does not require you to first of all buy a case management system. It also claims to have a solution for the witnessing of signatures. Contact us if you would like to learn more.

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