There are various mechanisms that can electronically generate and apply a signature, ranging from simple e-signature pads to large scale Advanced and Qualified Electronic Signature systems.
An electronic signature allows a person to give consent or show they approve of the contents of a document. Also known as e-signatures, electronic signatures can be legally binding for many uses. E-signatures can take several forms: the individual’s name typed out, an uploaded image of the person’s cursive signature, or a signature drawn on the screen of a smartphone or tablet. Some electronic signatures use digital identifiers to verify that the person signing a document is who they claim to be.
Generally, e-signatures can be used to replace traditional or ink-based signatures for many uses around the globe. In the U.S., the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (E-Sign Act) confirms that electronic signatures have the same legal effect as handwritten signatures for most types of transactions — as long as an individual gives their consent. In the European Union, EU Regulation No. 910/2014 allows something similar.
The terms digital signature and electronic signature might sound synonymous, but the two are not the same and shouldn’t be confused with each other. One way to understand the difference is that all digital signatures are a type of electronic signature, but not all electronic signatures are digital signatures.
A digital signature is usually more secure than other types of electronic signatures. At its simplest, an electronic signature offers a way for someone to attach their name to a document. Digital signatures go a step further and actually confirm the person signing is who they claim to be. Before an individual can digitally sign something, they need to provide a form of certificate-based authentication. The person signing must provide a password or PIN, and they also need access to a private key.
Another way to understand the difference between a digital signature and an electronic signature is the comparison of a signed and notarized paper document versus a signed paper document that has not been notarized. When someone signs a physical piece of paper, they put their name or mark on it. If they sign in the privacy of their office or home, there’s no real way to verify they are who they claim to be or that someone else didn’t forge their name.
Enter a notary. A notary witnesses a person signing a paper document after looking at identification and confirming they are the individual who should be signing. Digital signatures offer the same additional layer of verification that you get from notaries.
Along with using additional methods of verifying an individual’s identity, digital signatures typically have features such as encryption and audit trails that ensure the signature is legitimate and reduce the risk of document tampering.
Provided everyone who needs to sign something has an email address and access to a device that connects to the internet, it’s relatively easy to collect the needed signatures. If you store the document on a cloud-based platform, you can give access to the people who need to sign it.
Once they have access, the document is available to them instantly. They don’t have to wait for it to arrive in the mail or via a courier. They also don’t have to print out the contract or agreement, sign it, and send the signed copy back to you. Instead, they can open the document, attach their signature to it, and be finished.
Along with being simpler to manage than physical signatures, e-signatures also speed up the process of getting documents signed. Everyone who needs to put their signature on a contract or agreement can get access to it at the same time. They can all sign within minutes. Unless you choose to set a signing order, there’s no need to have one person sign, then send the contract to the next person, then on to the next until it gets back to your business.
The rules governing electronic signatures vary by region. For example, under the EU’s Electronic Identification and Trust Services Regulation (eIDAS), e-signatures are enforceable. But an e-signature needs to be a digital signature for it to have the same status as an ink-based signature in the EU. Since its departure from the EU, the United Kingdom has adopted its own form of eIDAS, known as U.K. eIDAS.
Japan’s Act on Electronic Signatures and Certification Business notes that e-signatures are as valid as ink-based or so-called wet signatures. Unlike the EU’s law, which gives more weight to digital signatures, Japan’s law views digital signatures the same as other types of e-signatures.
Other countries where e-signatures have the same or similar weight and enforceability as wet signatures include:
It’s a good idea to review the e-signature laws for particular regions.
Paper-based signature collection isn’t the most environmentally or resource-conscious process. First, there’s the need to print out at least one physical copy of the contract or agreement. The first individual signs it, then sends it to the next signatory. Depending on how the document gets passed along, transportation can involve a fair amount of fuel and energy use. The document then needs to travel to the next individual or back to the original owner.
Once everyone’s signed a paper document, each signatory typically requires a copy for their own records. That means more paper and ink used, and more energy and fuel needed to send the paper contracts or agreements to each person.
There’s no paper or ink needed with electronic copies, which helps save forests. There’s also no need to physically send the contracts from point A to B and back again.
Think of the costs traditionally connected to signing documents. There’s the cost of paper products, ink, or toner — plus the cost of maintaining printers and copiers. There are also postage or courier costs to consider, plus the time spent delivering envelopes to the post office or mailbox or scheduling a courier pickup.
Storing files in the cloud and collecting electronic signatures eliminates many of the typical office costs. It’s also cost-effective because it cuts down on travel expenses, particularly when used for sensitive documents. With ink-based signatures, a person would often have to travel to an office to sign in person or use the services of a notary. Digital signatures verify identities without the extra trip or need for a third party.
E-signed documents can be more secure than paper-based documents. A lot can happen to printed and signed documents. Someone can spill their morning cup of coffee on a contract, making it illegible. A paper contract can get put in the recycling or shredded accidentally. There can also be the risk of physical theft of the document.
Secure cloud platforms can keep e-signed contracts and other documents safe and sound, away from prying eyes, bad actors, and coffee mugs
PDF is a document format that’s understood by lots of different software platforms and workflows. As such, there are lots of different ways to include eSignatures on this type of document, depending on the software you’re using to read or amend it. Four examples of this include:
When opening PDFs on a laptop or desktop mac, they tend to open in Preview by default. To add a signature, choose ‘Tools’ from the menu, then ‘Annotate’, and then ‘Signature’.
Within this menu you can choose to ‘Manage signatures’, where it allows you to add different signature options to the menu by drawing them with the trackpad or mouse. Select the signature you want and it will be added, allowing you to where drag it to the right place and save the now signed agreement.
However, it’s worth noting that since this is simply a drawing of a signature, it won’t have some of the necessary security properties that businesses want when concluding contracts, like authentication.
To digitally sign a PDF on an iPhone or iPad, open the desired document using the ‘Files’ app, and then hit the ‘Plus’ button (+) in the bottom right to annotate it. From here you can choose ‘Signature’ and it will be created.
You can also add or amend your saved signatures here, using the device’s touchscreen to sign. However, like when using MacOS, this lacks the security desired for most transactions, as there’s no audit trail attached.
But what does make them valid? Well, there are a few factors, including:
To sign PDFs on an Android device you’ll need to download an app, like Adobe Reader or SignEasy.
Although, like the previous examples, this would likely fail to meet certification standards, as the signature won’t contain an audit trail.
Adobe has historically been an easy way to get simple PDFs signed. Simply hit the fountain pen icon in the top menu and choose ‘Fill and sign’ to enable rudimentary signature features.
As Acrobat is part of the Adobe offering, it’s powered by AdobeSign. Unfortunately, this means that it’s so robust that it lacks any useful contract collaboration, automation or management functionality, which can hold legal teams and those they enable back.
That said, it’s common for individuals to want to esign a document in PDF format. This is often the case because:
However, while they are a good baseline for the most basic documents that need to be signed, they do have drawbacks when it comes to handling contracts at scale. These disadvantages include:
Juro is a free contract automation tool that enables you to create contracts from templates by navigating a natural language Q&A. You can then collaborate on contracts, get them approved, negotiate them, send them for signing, securely eSign, store and track contracts – all without ever leaving the browser.
This will enable you to manage contracts across all the devices and platforms listed above, but with a rich feature set that helps you achieve your contracting goals quickly – get in touch to find out more.
Word is still the default currency for more than 99 per cent of documents, and therefore for contracts too. Although it’s possible to insert a signature in Word, it’s fairly basic.
With the cursor select where you want your signature to appear, from the ‘Insert’ tab, choose ‘Text, then ‘Signature List’, then finally ‘Microsoft Office Signature Line’. You can set up the signature at this point, by entering the signing party’s name.
If you’re receiving the document and want to sign it, simply right-click the signature line and click ‘Sign’.
Word is the global currency for documents in general and has various advantages. These include that:
However, whilst everyone can use Word, that doesn’t mean it’s suitable for all use cases. Much of the functionality of Word is still aiming to reproduce the hard-copy experience in digital format, which creates uncollaborative static files. Because of this, contracts, in particular, face several challenges with regard to Word:
If you want the rich editing features of Microsoft Word, but need more robust and expansive features to handle the specific needs of contracts, then Juro offers an in-browser editor that was custom-built for contracts.
You can create beautifully formatted documents, just like in Word, but your document is browser-native, collaborative, and has access to all the features of a contract automation platform. The contract exists as structured data, rather than as a static document, so it’s searchable and can integrate with other systems too.
Google docs are considerably more collaborative document format than the legacy platforms we’ve just discussed. They’re browser-based, built from structured data, and they allow people to collaborate on the same document at the same time.
However, the signing functionality in a Google doc is limited. Without using any third-party software, the only way to do it is to select ‘Insert’ from the menu, choose ‘Drawing’, then in the subsequent screen, navigate to ‘Scribble’ and draw an approximation of a signature.
Needless to say this isn’t anywhere near as secure and recognised as more advanced electronic signature solutions are, though.
To create a certified signature electronically, you’ll need an add-on, like the tools available from DocuSign, or other alternatives.
Google docs represent an inherently collaborative way of working – the format is flexible, and easy to send and share, much like Juro. This makes it easier for teams to work together on agreements, with some basic features which support some degree of collaboration, like comments.
This is definitely an improvement compared to the online signing experience for static files, but it still has it’s limitations.
The native functionality in Google docs doesn’t really allow for valid digital signatures. You can use a third-party add-on, but if you want a free add-on to make Google docs passable for contracts, why not just use a free tool that’s purpose-built for contracts instead?
Adding an electronic signature to contracts to static files is an unintuitive process. It’s manual and uncollaborative, meaning friction often occurs at the signing stage.
Legal teams and those they enable need a better, more efficient way to sign contracts electronically. Fortunately, legal teams no longer need to labour over adding binding electronic signatures to static files, as you can escape this painful process by using a contract automation tool like Juro.
Electronic signatures are another way to provide consent or approval for contracts and other documents, without needing to provide a wet ink signature. It’s the use of a digital markup or impression to signify that the individual creating it has agreed to the terms of an agreement, much like an ordinary signature but in a digital form.
There are numerous ways to create a signature electronically, including by inserting a signature in a PDF, Word or Google docs file. However, as this post has discussed, these signatures aren’t as sophisticated or secure businesses need them to be. So using an eSignature tool, like the one provided by Juro, is often a better option.
Any electronic process that confirms and communicates an individual’s agreement to certain terms can constitute an eSignature.
However, like with handwritten signatures, the signatory must demonstrate that they clearly intended to esign the agreement for it to be accepted. This is usually by inserting an online signature in the appropriate place within a digital document.
Certain jurisdictions will also have more specific requirements about what makes them valid. Read more about where eSignatures are accepted and with what criteria.
Yes. DocuSign is one example of an electronic signature provider. However, there are lots of DocuSign alternatives available if you’re looking for a cheaper or more rounded solution.
Yes. Electronic signatures are widely regarded as legally binding. However, different jurisdictions have different laws on the legality of eSignature. They have been regarded as legally binding since 2000 when the Electronic Communication Act was introduced in the UK. They are also deemed as legally binding within the EU, so long as certain conditions have been met. This is outlined within the eIDAS regulation, which was introduced in 2016. Under the ESIGN Act, electronic signatures are also allowed in all 50 states where federal law is applicable.
Yes. Electronic signatures can be admissible in court just like wet ink signatures, so long as they meet the individual requirements set out by the governing jurisdiction.
Electronic signatures are used widely and are suitable for both businesses and individuals seeking to sign contracts and other documents electronically for greater convenience. However, electronic signatures are particularly valuable for businesses that need to sign contracts at scale and across borders.
Under English law and the law of most jurisdictions, most contracts will not need any signature to be witnessed, regardless of whether it occurs in wet ink or electronically.
However, there are still some circumstances where legal documents do need to be witnessed when signed, such as for land transfers, security documents, and other types of deed, including but not limited to shareholder agreements, loan documents, and the transfer of assets.
It’s also possible that parties will request for eSignatures to be witnessed for added security in other cases. Fortunately, like ordinary signatures, electronic signatures can still be witnessed to ensure these agreements are legally binding.
According to the European Commission, you must have a valid digital certificate in order to create an electronic signature that constitutes either an advanced or qualified eSignature.
Yes, electronic signatures can be created by typing your name into a contract, electronically pasting your signature, or by making a different type of mark-up that satisfies the regulations.
Electronic signatures are actually less likely to be forged than wet signatures are. This is because wet signatures are easier to forge and tamper with, whereas, electronic signatures are often accompanied by certain security measures, like digital signatures.
An electronic signature can be verified by checking that the contract’s eSignature was signed by the designated signatory, and that this signatory can be identified.
Juro enables users to see the exact email of the person signing, as well as their IP address and the exact time and date when they signed the contract.
Contrary to what most think, digital signatures and electronic signatures are different features that achieve different purposes.
Read more on our digital signature vs electronic signature comparison page.
Yes. Juro’s native eSignature functionality enables business and legal teams to sign contracts electronically in bulk. Check out our guide to bulk actions to find out more.
Get to yes faster, with Juro’s legally-binding advanced electronic signature that works on any device.
With Juro, users can set up signatories and send contracts for signing in seconds. Juro’s native electronic signature is safe, secure, and optimized for any device – including mobile. Plus you have access to all the features you need to manage the whole contract lifecycle from end to end in your browser.
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