Update: Adobe just introduced Adobe Sign for Small Business that incorporates the signature features in the free Reader (though the service itself will cost $30 per month as an introductory rate for 1-9 users).
Requesting (or applying) an electronic signature is a great way to reduce reliance on paper, toner, and postage. It can help speed up acquiring signatures on documents like engagement agreements, contracts, and closing letters. The market is full of technology tools to make sending, signing, receiving and tracking electronic signatures easy, including RightSignature, Docusign, HelloSign, and Zoho Sign. Some of these tools are built into subscriptions you already have, like Adobe Acrobat DC. Are you taking advantage of all these tools have to offer?
One significant benefit in adopting Adobe Acrobat DC or Adobe Acrobat DC Pro is that, unlike the Acrobat 2017 software, it comes with a subscription to Adobe Sign, which has electronic signature features baked into the product. You can sign or request a signature from within the Acrobat software or from a browser. Acrobat DC is $13 a month and Pro DC is $15 a month. If you haven’t upgraded Acrobat in some time keep in mind that older versions of the desktop software are no longer supported, including XI, which can expose your firm to malware.
What Is An Electronic Signature?
An electronic signature or e-signature is the digital equivalent of a handwritten signature as long as it adheres to certain requirements. Some of these requirements include that the signatory must be uniquely identified and linked to the signature, and the signature must be secured to the electronic document in a way that is tamper-proof. A digital signature is distinct from an electronic signature in that it is cryptographically secured. For instance, a person can type their name on a document and is electronically signed, but if the document and the signature are further protected via authentication, data integrity and privacy then it is also digitally signed.
The laws in the United States that apply to electronic signatures include the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (1999) and the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA). All states and territories with the exception of Illinois, New York, and Washington have adopted UETA, although these states do have laws recognizing electronic signatures. Electronic signatures continue to have increasing relevance as blockchain technology and smart contracts become more prevalent.
There are, of course, exceptions to the validity of electronic signatures, although other secure means of authentication are being used. For instance, electronic filing provides an authenticated workflow so that lawyers and pro se individuals may file with the court.
Create a Transparent Image of Your Signature
While most of the electronic signature tools will let you draw or type your name in a document, you can also apply your actual signature. You can create an image file of your signature by signing a piece of paper, scanning it, making the image transparent and saving it. Then you can upload it and save it in Adobe Acrobat or insert it into a document. The reason to add transparency to the image is so that the signature image does not overwrite existing text on the document and appears as if you had printed the document and signed it with a pen. There are many graphic editing tools to help with this process including Paint in Windows 10, photo editors like Photoshop, online photo editors like LunaPic and Mac users can use Preview. For lawyers who are unfamiliar with graphic editing tools, Microsoft PowerPoint will suffice. To learn how to use a scanner, Microsoft’s Snip tool and PowerPoint and Adobe Acrobat to create a transparent signature follow this video tutorial (note: the scanned PDF needs to be OCRed or made text searchable for this to work).
Sending a Document for Signature
In Adobe Acrobat DC or DC Pro open a document that you want to get signed, such as a fee agreement. Click the button for “Fill and Sign” and you will first determine “Who Needs To Fill And Sign First? Me Or Others?”. If you need to sign the document first type any information you need to into the document, such as date, address, etc. using the “Add Text” tool in the “Fill and Sign” toolbar that will appear. When you want to add your signature click on “Sign” in the toolbar. Choose between your initials or your signature. For your full signature, you will be given a choice to use a “signature” font, draw your signature with the mouse (or stylus on a tablet or touch screen), or insert an image (your transparent scanned signature created from the instructions above). Then in the toolbar click “Next” and choose “Request Signatures” and the “Get Started”.
Now you can prepare your document for the recipient’s signature and send it out. At the bottom of the screen click on “More Options”. The next screen lets you choose what order the recipients must sign (if order is important), add the recipient’s email, an email message, add additional documents, and add options like password protection and reminders. After selecting your options click “Next” to specify where to fill and sign. You can drag and drop text fields, signature boxes, checkboxes, date boxes, and more. At the very bottom of the lower right column choose “Advanced Options” to see all the field options. You can also save this to your document library to make it a re-usable template – excellent for frequently used forms.
Once you have added all the fields in the document click “Send”. You will receive a copy of the document in your email. Your client(s) will also receive the document with instructions on how to fill it out. The client can easily fill it out and sign in on her computer or smartphone, with no additional software or apps required!
Once the document has been signed you will get an email with the signed document attached, as will the client. The signed document will show up as a certified document with a blue bar indicating that it was certified by Verisign. This lets you know that this is the official, final copy of the document and it cannot be edited or modified. The last page of the document has an appended audit report that includes time and date stamps for each stage of the workflow cycle with IP addresses and a transaction ID.
Signing a Document You Have Received
If someone sends you a document to sign, but it is a Word “form” or a non-fillable or image PDF you can still use Fill and Sign to fill it and send it back. Just convert the document to PDF (if in Word), open the document in Adobe Acrobat DC or DC Pro and click “Fill and Sign” and then fill in any form fields with the “Add Text” tool in the toolbar and insert your signature. Then click “Next”. In the next step, instead of requesting signatures you can create a link to send to the document to the requestor, which will place the document in your Adobe Document Cloud. Or you can send a copy as an attachment. Either way, the document is converted to read-only so that once you apply your signature the document cannot be modified.
Tracking Documents Sent for Signature
If you use Fill and Sign a lot you will want to track what has been sent for signature. Log in to Adobe Sign using the same login as your Adobe account and you can see all the documents sent or received for signature, including what is in draft, what is waiting on you to sign, what is still awaiting signature, your document templates and more. You can filter by name, company, or document status. You can sort by date and, of course, search through the documents. You can also add notes about a document and send reminders to yourself or the recipient if you didn’t set that up when you sent it out. You can also cancel a document sent out for signature if you realize you made an error.
Want to be able to initiate this workflow right from Microsoft Outlook? If you have MS Outlook 2016/2019 or MS Office 365 you get a few Acrobat tools in the Ribbon when you install Adobe Acrobat DC or DC Pro. If you receive a document via email the Adobe Sign tools in the Ribbon appear so you can initiate filling and signing from within MS Outlook. Sending a document for signature? Click “Send for Signature” in an outbound email with an attachment to easily launch the workflow from within Outlook. If you receive a document or an email confirmation of a document you have sent for signature the toolbar shows “Agreement Status” in the Adobe Sign toolbar to track recent activity. Want to see this in action? See the video archive of the CPM Learning Objectives: Outlook Tips and Add-Ons (skip to 53:52 if you just want to see this function).
Using electronic signatures will add efficiency to your office workflows and reduce bottlenecks caused by delays in getting signatures. Once you get the basic skills down you can think of other ways to take advantage of these tools, like handing a client a tablet with a document displayed to sign it and reduce paper and the need to scan it later. If you already have Adobe Acrobat DC or DC Pro you already have the tools you need to get started!