The global legal services market is expected to reach $788 billion in revenues by the end of 2022, with the United States accounting for more than half of the market. However, despite its immense scale, the legal industry is still relatively archaic throughout many of its practices, especially regarding documentation and record-keeping.
While many industries have experienced rapid digital transformation, particularly in response to Covid-19, law firms have been somewhat slow to adopt digital practices, relying heavily on paper and physical document storage – but why is that?
Simply put, most law firms depend entirely on their reputation to generate new business and attract clients, which often reinforces any risk-averse stance they might have toward adopting new tech. Furthermore, law firms avoid spending time on non-billable work, such as installing new tech systems, since it generates no revenue on its own.
However, this short-term mentality is a huge barrier to future-proofing firms against the inevitable wave of digitization.
The Rise of eSignatures in the Legal Industry
In spite of the bureaucratic nature of the law industry, one effective digital solution that is becoming readily adopted is the eSignature, which provides a plethora of benefits to law firms looking to streamline operations and improve efficiency.
Utilized on legal documents, contractual agreements, and invoices, eSignatures offer a simple way for law firms to connect with clients remotely while reducing their reliance on paper documents. This, of course, is welcome news to those prioritizing sustainability.
For those unfamiliar, an eSignature (electronic signature) is a symbol, usually a person’s name, that is digitally attached to a form, document, contract, or letter, demonstrating consent. It functions in the same way as a handwritten signature on a physical letter, except it offers law firms much more flexibility when working with clients, plus a bunch of other benefits.
The United States approved the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN) in 2000, which, together with the earlier Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA), establishes that electronic signatures are legally enforceable documents if all parties opt to sign digitally. Moreover, eSignatures are legally binding for practically every commercial or personal transaction worldwide, so there is no legal reason not to use them.
Streamline Legal Processes
Law firms can use eSignatures to streamline legal processes in various ways. To begin with, regardless of their geographical location, attorneys can now request client signatures. Clients in a different state or even another country can prepare a document and email it to them for signing.
This eliminates bottlenecks within internal processes that typically arise due to scheduling conflicts caused by an attorney’s inability to meet with clients in person.
Secondly, with document signing and maintenance taken care of, law firms can put their attorneys to work on more critical operations like maintaining client satisfaction and concentrating on billable work.
Quicker Onboarding with Estimate Sign-offs
When onboarding new clients, law firms can use vcita’s price estimate builder to obtain immediate approval on estimates. This enables attorneys to quickly establish their fees with new clients, including hourly rates, the scope of work, and an approximation of the total cost.
While predicting fees for a case at this stage might be tricky, the benefit of promptly signing off on an estimate is that clients are onboarded much faster because they will have already signed off on the agreement and terms of service.
Using vcita’s system, you can attach additional documents to these estimates. Once an estimate is accepted and signed, you can quickly start scheduling appointments with clients and even set up automated recurring billing to invoicing clients at the start of the month for all services rendered during the previous month.
Digital Audit Trails
Firms that employ eSignature rely less on paper-based documents, allowing them to depend on digital document management to store and find what they need when they need it. This improves organizational document visibility, enabling all parties that require access to the documents to do so swiftly and efficiently.
Furthermore, digital documents contain crucial metadata that can include additional information about the eSignature transaction, such as who signed, the date of signing, the location of signing, and so on.
All of this contributes to creating a digital audit trail that optimizes operations.
One of the more tangible advantages of adopting eSignatures is the cost-saving it provides to law firms. Paper documents are expensive to produce, organize and store – from a space perspective as well as a human resources perspective, and that’s before considering the equipment and materials required.
Fortunately for legal firms, the adoption of eSignatures has resulted in cost reductions ranging from 55% to 79%.
Furthermore, paperless operations reduce the possibility of human error while signing physical documents. And, since digital documents are easily remediated, legal firms can ensure a more seamless workflow from start to finish.
Client Data Protection
Firms may use eSignatures to retain sensitive customer information on secure digital networks instead of conventional paper-based file systems, which are more challenging to maintain.
Digitizing documents prevents papers and files from being lost, destroyed, or stolen, ensuring that client data is always secure.
In addition, this makes it easier for legal firms to comply with regulatory authorities and privacy laws.
While there is no doubt that the legal sector is one of the most resistant to new technology, it is apparent that eSignatures can bring significant benefits to law firms. From streamlining operations to safeguarding client data, it’s difficult to argue against the utility of eSignatures, especially given that they don’t necessitate an expensive infrastructure update or any radical digital transformation process.
In most circumstances, eSignatures merely involve using a low-cost application that makes it simple to produce, sign, and store documents in a compliant manner. Not only will this allow companies to work remotely with clients and speed up legal processes, but it will also result in considerable cost savings.