October 3, 2022
Online Document Signing in the Conveyancing Sector
Electronic signatures have been used across many industries for several years now, thanks to their speed, convenience and security. Moving away from traditional ‘wet’ signatures allows businesses to streamline processes, actioning items faster than ever. Online document signing for solicitors is now possible, especially so in the conveyancing sector, where new regulations allow e-signatures to be legally binding.
In the world of conveyancing, speed and a streamlined process are crucial, but security and legal requirements must also be met. Thankfully, technological advances mean that in 2020, the Land Registry (HMLR) began accepting electronic signatures to improve security and speed in the conveyancing process.
The move means that conveyancers can now take advantage of the benefits of electronic signatures, providing a faster, more efficient and secure service for their clients. Given the volume of paperwork in conveyancing, digital signatures can reduce costs, improve auditing and streamline the entire process.
What Is E-Signing?
Online document signing is the process of signing documents digitally. However, this broad definition doesn’t necessarily cover the specific requirements for eSignatures to be legally binding for conveyancing.
Part of the process to change the legislation was a consultation between HMLR, conveyancers and online document signing companies to establish the codes and practices governing legally binding eSignatures. Legalesign was a part of this consultation process, providing advice on adopting eSignatures in conveyancing and the capabilities of software to meet potential requirements.
The successful consultation period resulted in the adoption of conveyancer-certified electronic signatures (CCES) for use in the conveyancing industry, with established guidelines and regulations. We won’t cover every regulation and guideline in this article, but the full HMLR release can be read here (grab a coffee if you plan to read the whole lot!).
Are eSignatures Legally Binding?
In short, the answer is yes, eSignatures are legally binding in conveyancing, but only if they meet certain requirements.
At this stage, it’s important to note the difference in terminology that is often misused. Ascending in order of security, the terms electronic signatures (eSignatures), digital signatures, qualified electronic signatures (QES), and advanced electronic signatures (AES) are all very similar. Still, they represent different tiers of trust and legality in electronic signing.
The interchangeable nature of these terms can make it slightly confusing to determine what eSignatures are available for conveyancers. So, let’s take a closer look at the different terms and what they mean.
Basic Electronic Signature
This is the minimum form of security offered in a digital version of wet signatures. Electronic signatures can be a scanned copy of a wet signature, a typed name at the end of an email or something similar to the box you sign in to receive a package.
Advanced Electronic Signatures (AES)
Advanced electronic signatures (AES) are significantly more secure than basic electronic signatures, as they allow the signatory to be uniquely linked to their signature. AES will also be able to identify if the document or any data accompanying it has been changed after the signing, and invalidate the signature if this is the case.
Qualified Electronic Signatures (QES)
These deploy an additional technology to create a unique token and link it to a person before applying it to a document using cryptographic techniques. For a qualified electronic signature, a digital certificate must be created by a qualified signature creation device, alongside the conditions required to qualify for an AES.
QES stems from an EU regulation that requires a signing device to be approved to qualify.
What Kind Of eSignatures Can Conveyancers Use?
The terms above can be confusing, as there is a general tolerance of the terms being used interchangeably. You might have noticed that there is no mention of HMLR or conveyancing in the above terms. That’s because the kind of e-signature used in conveyancing is specifically developed for the industry.
Electronic signatures in conveyancing are now legally binding. For HMLR to accept an electronic signature, it must be a specific form referred to as a Conveyancer-Certified Electronic Signature (CCES). It’s similar to an AES but with some additional checks. Essentially these are advanced electronic signatures that meet some extra requirements set out by HM Land Registry so that online document signing for conveyancing is possible.
Thankfully, e-Signature software providers usually take care of the nuances of these different terms as a part of the package they offer. This means that you can electronically sign legal documents for conveyancing, provided the process meets the CCES requirements set out by HMLR.
Choosing The Right Online Document Signing Software
We’ve covered the benefits of eSignatures, and how they can be legally binding for conveyancers, provided they meet the requirements set out by HMLR. In spite of the HMLR requirements around CCES, online document signing software for conveyancers is not always identical. There are many different providers, so how do you find the best e-Signature software for conveyancing?
Since HM Land Registry began accepting electronic signatures, online document signing software companies quickly introduced specific packages that provide CCES alongside various other workflow-enhancing tools. Outside of the big-name eSignature software providers, many smaller companies have more flexibility in the additional workflow tools they offer, with greater customisation depending on the specific needs of each conveyancer and their clients.
eSignature software will have access to confidential information, so it’s important to make sure data is stored securely and in compliance with general and industry specific regulations. Similarly, you want it to work alongside any existing software your business uses, so ease of integration is important and is usually provided by an API. (Your IT team will know about this!).
Finally, given the time-sensitive nature of conveyancing, it’s worth finding out what kind of support an eSignature provider uses. After all, you don’t want to come across a problem in the middle of an important process and be unable to get hold of any support.
Why Should Conveyancers Use eSigning?
With all the different types of electronic signatures available, and strict regulations in place governing their use, conveyancers might be wondering why they should use eSigning in documents. Well, adopting online signatures has several benefits for both the conveyancer using them and their clients.
Cost - Environmental and Financial
Electronic document signing software is better for the planet and a company’s budget. With less printing and scanning, energy and consumable costs are lowered drastically, making it a win-win for accounting and the environment.
Minimising the use of paper and printing is not only environmentally and economically better but also speeds up the workflow internally and externally. Internally, documents can be signed and sent back with a few mouse clicks. For clients who often don’t have easy access to a printer or scanner, eSignatures are substantially more convenient.
eSigning is also easier to audit, should the need arise. Unlike traditional wet signatures that may require someone to go over multiple papers and filing systems, most reputable eSignature software has audit capabilities built in, allowing for a more transparent ‘paper’ trail and increased accountability.
Along with the initial introduction of online document signing for conveyancing in 2020, HMLR has also announced that it intends to further increase the use and acceptance of eSignatures moving forwards.
The result is that CCES are expected to become the industry standard for almost all transactions related to conveyancing, within the next few years. As with most new technologies, early adopters usually enjoy a stronger market position versus competitors that are slower to take advantage of it.
With benefits to internal workflow and the customer experience, it’s time for the conveyancing sector to embrace eSignature technology.
To find out more about how to use online document signing in conveyancing, get in touch with us today for a free 1-2-1 demo.