By Judi Flournoy, CIO of Kelley Drye & Warren

Kelley Drye & Warren LLP was founded in 1836, and the firm has endured many natural and man-made disasters over its long history. However, none of our past experiences prepared us for the spontaneous operational transformation we would have to make in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  One of the most important elements of this transformation was the firmwide deployment of DocuSign eSignature, which was accomplished in a matter of weeks. 

Initial Assessment 

In February 2020, we had our quarterly Kelley Drye technology committee meeting, during which the topic of electronic signature came up.  We had been considering it for two years, but we had not found enough interest. The firm already had a simple electronic signature function on the Microsoft Word ribbon—that enabled internal people to sign documents, and that had been sufficient so far.  

Since the de facto standard was hard copy signatures, most clients would come into the office to sign documents or the documents would be sent to the client via messenger or FedEx.  We were not getting requests from our clients for an electronic option.  We tabled the idea of electronic signature at the committee meeting and planned to revisit it at a future date.  Little did we know that in March, everything as we knew it would change, practically overnight. 

Pandemic Disruption 

On March 16, 2020, because of COVID-19 lockdowns, everyone at the firm started to work from home.  Suddenly, we needed to facilitate everything being done remotely.  Clients were no longer able to come in to sign their documents in person, and our Word signature function did not support obtaining signatures from outside parties.  And yet, engagement letters, deals and agreements had to be finalized and executed.  We realized that now was the time to reevaluate electronic signatures, and fast. 

I brought this up to the firm’s leadership, including managing partner Dana Rosenfeld.  The need was easily understood, and I got the green light to bring the decision-making process forward.  Collectively, we knew we had to expedite this project to properly support our attorneys and clients and keep business moving.   

Due Diligence 

Our lawyers researched the legality of electronic signatures for various areas of law practice and jurisdictional issues.  This was especially relevant for areas of law like real estate where there are vast differences between electronic signature acceptance, based on jurisdiction.  

In evaluating the players in the electronic signature market, DocuSign eSignature was the best product we saw.  It had a great user interface and was easy to understand.  These factors were incredibly important since we understood that introducing a new technology while everyone was working remotely would require a unique approach.   

Another positive was that eSignature would integrate with NetDocuments, our enterprise content management (ECM) system using WordTech DocMinder, a business partner of DocuSign.  When documents are signed in eSignature, they come right back into NetDocuments maintaining the integrity of the client file. 

Both DocuSign’s sales and technical teams were very responsive and easy to work with.  We had good communication throughout the process.  We brought in a systems integrator WordTech to help with the eSignature/NetDocuments integration using DocMinder.  They effectively stitched the two products together in record time. 

Product Launch 

We went live with DocuSign eSignature on April 15, 2020, just shy of fifteen days after execution of the software agreement.  This was one of the fastest technology rollouts we have ever done, and the outcome has been successful.  Attorney feedback is very positive.  In fact one partner called eSignature the “innovation of the year” because it has been so beneficial to clients and his practice. 

Initially, we made the strategic decision to centralize the DocuSign eSignature requests within our document production team, rather than giving everyone a license right away.  If lawyers needed a document set up for eSignature, they directed their request to this highly responsive, trustworthy team of document production specialists, paralegals, and assistants.  This centralized approach to delivering a targeted solution was successful, and we have since expanded access.   

Impact 

Kelley Drye thinks of technology purchases in terms of cost versus benefit.  Our main decision driver is the need of audience — what causes them friction and what we can do to relieve it.   

Historically, law firms are hesitant to adopt new technology.  We were able to overcome this challenge by identifying an excellent product to meet what was a clear need.  eSignature did exactly what we needed it to do.   

I believe that eSignature has already benefited the firm and our clients by making it possible to sign documents without having to do so in person, thus creating overall efficiency.  We anticipate this trend to continue.  Any document that requires an enforceable signature can now be signed in a matter of minutes, conveniently and cost effectively. 

I doubt we will ever completely go back to manual/in-person signatures, at least not on a large scale.  We are continuing to expand the use of eSignature at the firm.  It fits well into our overall plan of greater client engagement and transparency enabled by technology.  While some practices such as Private Clients continue to require in-person signature and notary, we anticipate that evolving law will make it possible for clients who must sign their estate documents in person to be able to do so electronically.  

eSignature was the right solution that came along at precisely the right time, and DocuSign has been an ideal business partner for Kelley Drye.  We know that their team prioritizes the needs of our firm, whatever it takes.  DocuSign was there when we needed them most, and eSignature provided the technology to help the firm continue its focus on client service at the highest levels.   

About the Author 

Judi Flournoy is CIO of Kelley Drye & Warren LLP and is experienced in strategic planning, development, and organizational leadership.  She has been involved in legal technology for more than 20 years, serving in leadership positions at major AmLaw 250 law firms, on client advisory boards, and for associations such as ILTA.  She recently received the 2020 ILTA Lifetime Achievement Award.