Allen & Overy & Olswang roll out e-signatures with others to follow

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Allen & Overy (A&O) and UK top 40 law firm Olswang have rolled out DocuSign’s e-signature facility for clients, as rivals Osborne Clarke and Taylor Wessing both engage in trials of the cloud-based solution.
A&O on 25 July became the second Magic Circle firm after Linklaters to officially launch the e-signature facility for clients, having waited for industry consensus in the form of the Law Society of England and Wales’ practice note – also released on 25 July.
A&O will begin offering e-signatures in its London office in July, focusing initially on English law and starting with its corporate, banking and ICM departments.
The 2642-lawyer firm, which has written to its financial institution clients to notify them of the move and give them the option to ‘opt out’, then plans to roll out e-signatures to other jurisdictions where local law allows, using its global network to obtain local law opinions on the validity of e-signatures in those markets.
A&O has been at the centre of the Law Society’s efforts to establish the legal validity of e-signatures in commercial contracts, led by head of London corporate know-how, Elizabeth Wall. The project manager within A&O’s IT team was Ronald Garrick.
Wall is chair of the Company Law Committee at The Law Society and she chaired the joint working party of the Law Society and the City of London Law Society that published the e-signatures practice note. Wall said: “Although e-signatures have been in use for some time, there has been no consensus among the legal industry on their validity. The work of the Law Society and the City of London Law Society, which brought together a working group comprising almost 30 law firms, will help the industry get comfortable with electronic signatures and embrace the practical benefits of offering e-signing solutions to clients.”
The strong audit trail provided by DocuSign was a key factor in its adoption.
Banking partner David Campbell, who has championed the move to e-signatures internally, said in an announcement to the firm: “I am sure that e-signing is the future – in a few years’ time, we may look back on PDF or paper-based signings in the same way as today’s lawyers regard the fax machine (or the quill pen).”
Olswang, meanwhile, signed with DocuSign in March 2016, having been given a demonstration in November and begun conversations over implementation in January this year.
The project was headed by senior business change manager Matt Johnson, while the finance group ran the pilot and spent two months configuring the system and trouble shooting. (See our ‘e-signatures in focus: Olswang’ Q&A on page 3.)
Elsewhere, Osborne Clarke is engaged in an advanced, cross-firm proof of concept with DocuSign. Osborne Clarke’s IT director Nathan Hayes said: “The DocuSign proof of concept has taken place across the firm. e-signatures are appropriate in different places, not just in a single team or in transactional departments, so we’ve had a good cross section working with them.”
One obstacle so far has been that DocuSign is not integrated with iManage Work, although it is understood that iManage and DocuSign have discussed entering into partnership.
Hayes said: “I don’t think it’s a barrier to adoption, it just puts a hurdle in the way and we’re trying to get that removed.
“Assuming the proof of concept is a success, to what extent we roll it out is up for debate and that’s what the proof of concept is designed to tell us.”
Much like at A&O, the Law Society guidance will help to assuage doubts over using e-signatures. Hayes added: “The practice note will definitely help. As soon as I saw it I sent it to the project manager running the project.”
Taylor Wessing is undertaking a trial run of DocuSign in its talent department, according to a spokesperson for the firm.
This article first appeared in Legal IT Insider’s July/August newsletter.