Dear Lifehacker, My company has work-from-home employees, directors and contractors spread throughout Australia. When we have a document that requires multiple signatures, I ask each person to sign, scan and email their own copy back to me. Common sense would suggest that the collection of each of these individually signed (but otherwise identical) documents equals one fully signed document. But what does the law say about this, if anything? And is there a better way to do this? Thanks, Signing Off
Dear Signing Off,
I am not a lawyer, and depending on the sensitivity and impact of the documents you're referring to, you might want to seek specific legal advice. One problem with your system is that while you have all the documents and could probably muster a case , none of the signatories have that option — all they have is their own copy. If I've signed a document, I'd like to have a copy that matches the final version, and know who else is involved/committed. (That would definitely be the case if I was signing a document as a director.)
What strikes me about the system that you have is that, legal issues aside, it isn't terribly efficient, especially if everyone is printing, signing, scanning and resending. I'd suggest a different approach: sending a PDF document to one person, getting them to sign it electronically and return it to you, then passing it on to the next person. That way you'll end up with a single document with all the signatures (which you can then send to everyone involved if you wish).
This is admittedly more work for you, since you can't send a single email with attachments, but it's less work for everyone else, since no scanning is involved. It also means you have just one definitive version of the document, not multiple copies.
This doesn't mean you have to spend a fortune on software. Nitro Reader, one of our favourite PDF packages, includes a built-in Signature mode which lets you stamp a signature directly onto a PDF (as well as editing it to add the date of the signature).
If you're regularly dealing with highly complex documents, you might want to invest in a proper workflow management system, but that's overkill for smaller organisations.
Got your own question you want to put to Lifehacker? Send it using our contact tab on the right.