Letting Go of John Hancock

by Bjørn Enki

18 Reader Comments

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  1. I have a way to allow clients to submit legally binding signatures through a web page or PDF file

    Is there a clear advantage you went through all the burden of doing the same work twice, i.e. both in HTML and PDF format?

    I may be totally mistaken, but forms in PDF are not so common compared to HTML ones; even though your idea is brilliant, aren’t you confusing clients with a format they use only for reading 99.9% of the time?

    If you’re looking for the emotional response that a PDF document triggers—it’s nearly paper—then you might want to (1) use HTML for form-filling and (2) create a beautiful PDF document with the submitted data.

    Airbag Industries once created a very simple and effective work request form where potential customers could fill a few fields. The result was designed to give the impression that the user actually wrote a letter. It’s not available anymore unfortunately.

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  2. I really don’t think that this problem is solved by any kind of neat use of PDF – or indeed an understanding of the law.

    The real problem is getting the client to commit psychologically to the decision.  Personally, I think getting people to physically sign their own signature – even if they then only send you a scan or a fax helps.  But even if they do this, if they haven’t actually committed themselves mentally you will still get problems. 

    This is why I think it’s a good decision to try to get the client to either commit to you as a designer – or walk away – early in the process as I recommend in this blog post:http://www.agile-lab.co.uk/2009/12/this-is-really-funny-but.html .

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  3. I’ve been debating the annoyance of print>sign>scan>email versus the lightness of the I accept email response.

    It looks like you’ve worked out all the nuts and bolts. Why not show a demo, so we can get a sense of the mouthfeel of this process?

    Thanks for the article.

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  4. Disclosure: I drafted the first federal legislation making electronic signatures legal (GPEA 1998) and co-drafted ESIGN that covers commercial transactions.

    Without giving any advice on the legality of signatures and generally accepting the premise by the author about court oversight, let me mention other possibilities. When considering building any new system, I think it would be helpful to consider the BLT methodology—that there are at least three layers to be considered: business process, legal issues and review and the technical implementation.

    For a contract on web site development it might be good to have a workflow that shows the steps involved in designing, coding and building the site. There could be rounds of client review and client sign off. On the legal side there could be an electronic contract which is represented by a permanent URL with sections linkable by fragment URLs (i.e. #fragment) which can be done either in XHTML (or PDF if you know how). Within the workflow there would always be links to the contract portions, say to the three mockup agreement with a extra cost for additional mockups. Having an active and easily transparent contract that actually shows up as appropriate in a human readable way may help with avoiding disagreements and misunderstandings.

    Also, by incorporating the client signoffs in the system there is a way to track and audit with project management the realistic time assessments on what caused any delays.

    And instead of speculating on the legality of electronic signatures, just cite the laws, especially by linking to the law(s) governing the contract (could be state or federal or another country) and to any legal opinions or briefs. Copy and paste into all of your contracts. Done.

    Daniel Bennett
    CTO, eCitizen Foundation

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  5. I work as a business analyst at an electronics components distributor, and one of the major bottlenecks in processing any paperwork involve the obtaining of signatures from all the relevant parties signifying agreement on the stated terms. As these are mostly internal agreements, I can see how an e-mail agreement can be made to substitute the traditional signature.

    But the points raise by 4 and 5 summarise the main dangers of having such an agreement: will it be admissible in court if disputes do occur? It’s a tough question to answer, and possibly unanswerable. Perhaps one way around this problem is to have contracts believed to be above a certain dollar amount be signature-only, and only those below that amount be allowed through the fully electronic agreement process. This way, if problems do occur they won’t be catastrophic.

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  6. Surely there must be cheaper ways to achieve the same.

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  7. However nice an idea this is, it’s simply not viable for me, my companies and pretty much everybody else in the field I know for one simple reason: clients are stupid.

    Our clients expect things to be faster and easier not because they’re savvy, enlightened or educated, but because “well, it’s all done on computer isn’t it, so why does it take you so long?”. Yet if I were to send something like electronic contracts or approvals (such as Adobe Clip Notes) they totally freak out with “oh this is too complicated, can’t you just fax me it?”.

    The furthest I’ve been able to go is get a few of my more tech-literate clients to deal with projects through Basecamp, but even that is too much for most.

    The 2 clients I have who would understand and appreciate such an electronic system have mind enough to not rush any contract process anyway – they know anything legally binding needs to be done properly, so saving a few minutes signing an online PDF instead of faxing aprint out is hardly worth it.

    So I genuinely envy anybody here who has a client with brain-enough to work with something like this, but for me they sign a printed contract with a pen and fax it back to me. The fact that the contract was a PDF I e-mailed to them is as technical as it gets.

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  8. Hey, we tried a few companies like echosign but found their services did not deliver the value we had hoped. Truth is, digitally signing offers a minimal amount of protection but an impressive amount of credibility. Kinda like putting a “this site is safe” image on a website.

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