No office will ever truly become paper free, but the trend is “paperless” as technology and legislature has made printing out a document for a physical security an unnecessary and irrelevant step. I’d highly encourage you to read, “Digital Signatures Are Safe Than Ink On Paper in Law Technology News by D. Casey Flaherty, corporate counsel, Kia Motors America. I have excerpted part of the article below.

Before I converted my internal clients to electronic signatures, executing contracts was a daily struggle. The main signatory works out of the corporate headquarters in Irvine but travels constantly. His staff is responsible for securing his signature. Our regional offices are responsible for securing the signatures of our typical counterparty, dealer groups (I work at a car company), which often have multiple signatories living in different locations. Moreover, the dealers rely on their own attorneys who, understandably, want to review what their clients are signing. Finally, impending deadlines (e.g., lease expiration, loan contingency, administrative hearing) regularly compel immediate execution.

With so many steps, the execution process could easily, and too frequently did, go wrong. One person — of the five to 10 in the chain —would have a problem finding a printer, scanner, or fax. Human error intrudes with outdated addresses, inaccurate fax numbers, missing pages, forgotten exhibits, printing of the wrong version, failure to put the executed copy in the correct file, etc. Indeed, even when the process went right, much was sacrificed at the altar of expedience. The scans and faxes were often limited to signature pages that offered little evidence of what was actually signed.

Electronic signatures fix much of that mess. One person can now upload one copy of the contract and route it for signature. The signatories can still print the contract out, if that is that their preferred method of review, or forward it for input (e.g., from their lawyer). But the actual signing takes place online. Upon completion, an identical, verified, secured copy of the executed document is automatically placed in a central repository, as well as and emailed to each signatory and every cc (e.g., staffers and lawyers). The executed document includes an audit trail with the routing information, email addresses, and IP addresses of the signatories.

Because documents can be executed on a smartphone, disparate locations and finding equipment are no longer issues. During the process, anyone involved can immediately and accurately answer the question, “where are we on that?” Mistakes still occur but are limited to the single instance of uploading; nothing is lost in transit or after execution. The final document can always be located, and its contents are virtually impossible to dispute. As always, anyone could claim not to have signed what they signed but the document itself contains a record of the multiple emails they and their lawyer received, including the final email containing the executed copy of the document — i.e., a story of an undetected, phantom signer is far more incredible than a forged signature.

The technology is there. So is the law. With few exceptions, electronic signatures are equal to their ink counterparts. Since being introduced in 1999, the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act has been adopted in 47 states and the District of Columbia. The U.S. federal government joined the party in 2000 with the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act. ESIGN has a European counterpart in the 1999/93/EC Directive on Electronic Signatures…

I don’t care if you have an implacable vendetta against trees or a soft spot for the ink industry. Print out whatever you want as often as you like. But when the process finally reaches its denouement, sign electronically. Your record will be better for it.

If you want to learn more about digital signatures, then take time out later out this month to attend the AIIM Webinar: Digital Signatures Demystified: Defined, Defensible and Deployable. The webinar is May 22nd and if that date does not work for you can view it on demand at a time that is convenient for you.

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