The original inked paper has been regarded as the true mark of authenticity by lawyers for years while photocopied documents were thought to be vulnerable to forgery.  Nowadays, the authenticity of paper documents is only verifiable if every page is signed.  Pages are easily modified after they have been signed because of a new version of Adobe Acrobat.

If you’ve been using the full version of Adobe Acrobat, you’re most likely familiar with being able to redact a scanned document to remove sensitive information.  As well as the feature that allows you to fill in forms.  These tools have always been incredibly useful for attorneys.  While useful, it’s pretty obvious when these tools have been used in a document, making the newly typed text look like it in fact was typed in after the fact.

Well, that’s a problem of the past now.  Adobe has rolled out some new, powerful tools over the last few years.  The typewriter tool has been replaced with the “Fill & Sign” function.  This tool allows a user to fill in a form and insert a signature on the document.  The redact tool still remains the same, but a brand new tool has also been added to the mix: the “Edit” tool.

The Adobe Acrobat “Edit” tool can be both incredibly helpful and a bit terrifying at the same time.  Essentially, the “Edit” tool allows you to open any PDF file and literally edit it as if you were using Microsoft Word, for example.  Your font, font size, color and formatting will be matched up exactly.  As if that wasn’t enough, the “Edit” tool will even match the background noise and print quality of the document.  Changes to these documents are very hard to detect unless someone was looking for them.  While this tool is amazing, it also presents some problems.  Here are some solutions:

Make Sure to Sign Every Page

If you insist on using paper and you’re going to send out contracts for counter-signature, double and triple check that each page contains an actual inked signature.  Make sure the check the back of pages for pen marks if you decide to take this approach.

Go Over Every Word

If you’re not able to have your client execute every page, upon receipt of a counter-signed document, you must inspect every word. While it may very well be actionable fraud for opposing counsel to edit the contract surreptitiously before returning a counter-signed copy, the fact that you could pursue opposing counsel will not make you feel all that much better when your client files a malpractice claim and a grievance against you for failing to make sure the executed documents were in fact accurate.

What About E-Docs?

Locked electronic documents are the solution to these problems.

How, you ask?  After you upload your work product to the site as a PDF, you’ll indicate where on the document the signor(s) should initial, sign, date, fill-in, etc.  Then you can designate who the signor(s) is/are and also who has permissions to edit certain fields.  After providing the site with the signor(s) email address(es), the website will ship the document for signature.

The actual documents won’t ship though.  The signor will not be able to download an unsigned document and edit it.  Instead, the signor is provided with a link to view the document on the website.  The signor’s identity will be verified using one of a few methods if they elect to e-sign the document.  For added security, the site will record and track the MAC address, IP address and other info about the signor.

The final product is a digital copy that can be printed from the website by each party.  The online repository will maintain a clear and irrefutable record of the contents of the document.