Comments on Letting Go of John Hancock

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  1. I absolutely agree that it’s vital to webbusiness to make contracting easy. Since the most secure way to contract still is a underwritten document I use an efficient way to create the contract on the fly:

    (1) Create an OpenOffice Doc containing your contract with some “variables”. Unzip the saved oo doc, you’ll find a content.xml file containing your “variables” in plain text.

    (2) In your PHP backend, present the contact’s options to your customer. On submit, load the template contract’s content.xml and substitute your “variables” with the values/choices of your current customer.

    (3) In your PHP backend, pack-zip your oo doc (ie with zib.lib.php) and call oowriter to produce a PDF file from your modified contract template.

    (4) Deliver the PDF to your potential client’s browser to make her print it, underwrite it and finally fax it.

    I found this to be the most simple - while professional and legally reliable (german law) way to contract in the web.

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  2. Or you could just use — I’m not a salesman, promise! We use them at my agency, it’s pretty cheap, professional, and has dramatically reduced both our sign-off times and the number of sign-offs we can send (contract, order form, design, testing, go live, project completion).

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  3. I may be being naive here, but if I send my terms & conditions document and require that the client responds in an email affirming those Ts & Cs, have I not achieved the same thing?

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  4. @3: Everything is easy before it comes to court. If you need to submit evidence email won’t work…

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  5. Full disclosure: I work for and electronic signature vendor, eOriginal (

    Electronic signatures are a great way to improve and speed up your business processes, however to make your documents legally admissible in court there are a few steps in the process that must be taken to ensure that your documents hold up to a legal challenge. I could get into all that here but it would make for a very long comment stream. But if you would like more information or have any legal questions you can view our compliance information, it may clear up a few questions.

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  6. Proxiss — Doesn’t the author quote a lawyer stating that reciving a mail back is good enough?

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  7. Hi.

    I require from my clients an e-mail confirmation with the quote attached, and a downpayment (by check). That’s enough legal evidence (at least in France).


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  8. A lot of us Mac folks use Preview to view PDF files. Acrobat is massive and slow on the Mac—or so I’ve been told. Preview would not have the capabilities to submit the form, but of course it would still be readable. Just something to be aware of.

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  9. I realize this is a bit off topic but posting php examples with incomplete data sanitization is not good.

    “Thank you, “.$_POST[‘accepters_name’].”! Your acceptance» “

    This is especially confusing as your very next block of code does some sanitization.

    I really enjoy the content and A List Apart and consider it a top notch resource for quality examples.  In the future when providing examples that make use of php and $_POST/$_GET you could also reiterate the importance of sanitized data by including an extra 7 lines of code for data sanitization:

    $post = array();
    //filter post data once we get, filtyers out any unwanted html tags the user may submit as well as converting entities back to characters.
    foreach($_POST as $k => $v)
      $post[$k] = trim(strip_tags(html_entity_decode($v, ENT_QUOTES)));     

    . . . .
    do whatever php your page needs here using the $post array you just built instead of $_POST
    . . . .

    //make the output safer with htmlentities before we go echoing it back tp our html
    foreach($_POST as $k => $v)
      $post[$k] = htmlentities(stripslashes($string), ENT_QUOTES);     
    //end php block and begin our html output if echoing $_POST data back to the form once again use the $post array you created

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  10. bq. 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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  11. 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: .

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  12. 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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  13. 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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  14. 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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  15. Surely there must be cheaper ways to achieve the same.

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  16. 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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  17. 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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  18. Sorry, commenting is closed on this article.