DocuSign: the real (or)deal
As lockdown measures ease and ‘normality’ resumes, solicitor Alex Redford looks at how far the use of electronic signing software has come, particularly as a result of the global pandemic.
Following the instructions, later referred to as guidance, from the Government that workers should work from home wherever possible, there was an increased drive to use electronic signature platforms, such as DocuSign and Adobe Sign, for the execution of legal and other relevant documents. Which raises two important questions: How far has the use of these platforms come, and do they allow for valid execution of deeds and other legal documents?
The Law Society
In January 2021, the Law Society issued a Q&A on how to use electronic signatures and complete virtual executions, designed to help lawyers understand relevant developments since the beginning of the pandemic, and the multiple lockdowns which resulted.
The Law Society emphasised that this Q&A was not legally binding and that for real change to be effected, there would need to be a change in statute or a precedent by case law.
Why does this matter?
It matters because proper execution of a document is important in determining if that document is legally enforceable by the parties.
During the restrictions that have been in place over the course of the pandemic, the biggest challenge faced by people is executing documents by way of a deed where a witness is required but which has simply not been possible in many circumstances. To get around this at the beginning of the pandemic, the rules were relaxed to allow a member of the signatory’s family (so long as they were over 18) to be a witness, provided they were not involved in the transaction.
This relaxation of the rules showed promise but a year and a half later, there have been no further developments.
Therefore, as there has been no case law or changes in the legislation, lawyers and signatories still face the same difficulties they did a year and a half ago; whether you DocuSign, or physically sign, the same scramble to find that willing 18+ year old remains – albeit it can be a family member.
In an increasingly online world, here at Beyond Group we continue to hope that the Law Society and the Government will acknowledge this and bring the signature process into the 21st century.