Digital Trends for Contracts with LexisNexis & HM Land Registry - the Highlights

The pandemic has highlighted as never before how new and existing technology can help the Legal, Real Estate and Finance industry quickly adapt to get contracts signed digitally in a virtual world. Those industries were relieved when HM Land Registry made changes last year that allowed witnessed electronic signatures (WES) on land registration deeds. 

DocuSign recently surveyed over 800 Global Corporate Legal Professionals to discover which technologies legal teams are adopting and how professionals are modernising during the transition to remote work. LexisNexis, DocuSign and HM Land Registry recently ran a complimentary webinar to discuss the latest legal trends for contracting workflows and how legal professionals modernised during the transition to remote work. The webinar also covered the types of technology legal teams are adopting and an overview from HM Land Registry of the latest guidelines for Witnessed Electronic Signatures for Land Registration deeds. The panel included Genevieve Loveland, a Professional Support Lawyer from LexisPSL Property Team; Doug Luftman - VP & Deputy General Counsel - DocuSign; Emily D’Alburquerque, Deputy Director, Central Legal Services, HM Land Registry and Michael Abraham, Product Line Manager at Land Registry Digital Services, Digital, Data and Technology Directorate.

The legal, real estate, and finance industries are embracing new technology. Here are some of the key takeaways from the webinar:

Key trends in the way legal teams prepare and manage contracts today

The panel discussed how the pandemic has affected the legal industry and how many are embracing new technology. DocuSign surveyed over 800 Global Corporate Legal Professionals regarding the contracting responsibilities and the tools they use to manage their work. The panel discussed their thoughts on trends in the industry and the key findings from the report. 

Doug Luftman suggested that we will see an acceleration in the technology adopted by legal professionals and that end-to-end digital workflow management will become increasingly important from the initiation of a digitised document all the way through to the management of those documents. He believes that the industry will embrace electronic and digital signatures, identity validation in the trust framework, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. Emily D’Alburquerque agreed with Doug that eSignature, digital documents, and digital identity technology are fundamental. Legislation has allowed digital conveyancing to take place since 2003, but at that time, both the market and technology were not ready. She said the pandemic has put a rocket booster under digital innovation, and the government appetite for digital conveyancing has started to match consumer appetite for a full digital lifecycle. Genevieve asked Doug and Emily which technology they believe would be critical in the next five years. They agreed that electronic signatures, robust digital identity solutions, document insight and analysis, automation of transactions and smart contracts using machine-readable intelligence would be essential. 

Key Priorities for Legal Teams

  • 44% improving contract storage or retrieval
  • 43% improving response to regulatory change
  • 42% Accelerating contract resolution - part of a digital workflow and being able to get a contract to completion quickly
  • 42% Better Internal Collaboration - increasing the value of what we do
  • 42% Increasing impact on the business
  • 41% Digitising processes to improve efficiency - no scanning, signing or printing - keeping it all digital makes things easier. 

Doug noted that regulatory compliance is accelerating worldwide, and it’s important for legal and conveyancing teams to react to those changes quickly. Emily also recognises the trends and noted that there are definitely areas of conveyancing where processes could be digitised to make them more efficient and that it’s crucial to improve collaboration between parties and support customers through a digital journey.

Key Industry Trends for Legal Teams

  • 42% are accelerating the use of AI
  • 41% are adapting to work from anywhere
  • 40% are digitising legal workflows
  • 40% are updating data protection and privacy
  • 38% are focussing on customer satisfaction and value
  • 38% on regulatory compliance
  • 36% investing in legal employees

Doug noted that it’s vital for legal teams to efficiently locate and find information - retrieving what you need when you need it is an area where artificial intelligence can help. Emily suggested that customer satisfaction is vital and that digital innovation is being driven partly by customer needs. She says, “While artificial intelligence and machine learning can be seen as a threat, it’s there to support and serve customers and employees well”.

HM Land Registry and Witnessed Electronic Signatures

Michael Abraham is a key member of the HM Land Registry Digital Services team responsible for recent developments to HM Land Registry’s digital signature policy and the introduction of the Digital ID Standard. Michael shared two ways that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted HM Land Registry. Firstly, they had to get employees working from home, including thousands of caseworkers, to ensure continuity. Secondly, customers asked HM Land Registry if they could work with them to work remotely. Michael said that the conveyancing process is heavily paper-based, but the pandemic has accelerated thinking around digital signing. 

Michael says, “Customers need to be assured of the ability to have something signed remotely and that the person signing is who they say they are. We have enabled platforms and technology that are already available and guided customers and citizens on using them”. Like other government departments and also customers, the pandemic has encouraged increased adoption of technology. In 2020, HM Land Registry accepted electronically signed registrable deeds for the first time, provided certain conditions were met. Witnessed Electronic Signatures are a hot topic; Michael shared more on the Witnessed Electronic Signature practice requirements. It requires a signature platform like DocuSign to create a document that can then be signed by the client and electronically signed by their witness; both parties need a mobile phone and need to go through an identification process and enter a one time password. Many people are already familiar with the one-time password process, which gives additional assurance that signers are who they say they are. 

Michael said, “As we move forward, we have issued guidance on Gov.uk on what you can use Witnessed Electronic Signatures for and who can certify. Head to Gov.uk and Practice Guide 8 to find the latest guidance on electronic signatures.” Michael also referred to the HM Land Registry blog post on the developing use of electronic signatures. The use of electronic signatures by HM Land Registry will continue to evolve and form part of a suite of products you can use for signing. 

Witnessed vs Qualified Electronic Signatures

A witnessed electronic signature reflects the wet-signature process using a signing platform, but a Qualified Electronic Signature is formed of a much higher level of security because of the ID check undertaken just before you sign. This means that not only do you not have printing and posting costs, but you don’t have to find a witness. The QES can also be appended to a digital deed and machine-read, so QES will help to enable the more comprehensive digital transformation journey. Doug said that the innovative work that HM Land Registry is doing reflects what’s happening across the world. Here’s more about Witnessed Electronic Signatures and Qualified Electronic Signatures.

Finally, the panel share their most important takeaways from the session. Michael encouraged users not to be daunted by electronic signatures, which he says are easy and intuitive to use. He says, “Give it a try.” Emily said that lawyers and law firms currently have a real opportunity to shape how technology supports them in their role and that it’s important to engage with both technology and government departments. Doug said that the current law allows users to embrace new technology, and technology is now so much easier to use, so it is time to use it. 

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