Every business designated as an essential service must plan for business continuity in the event of a crisis. That means preparing for adverse conditions like disrupted supply chains, power outages, employee absenteeism – virtually any circumstance that creates significant challenges to either delivering service to clients or having them reach you.
In Canada, the Public Service Labour Relations Act defines an essential service as a service, facility or activity of the Government of Canada that is or will be, at any time, necessary for the safety or security of the public or a segment of the public.
An essential service, if not delivered, creates an impact on the health or safety of an individual.
The Canadian government considers parts of the judiciary system, including practicing lawyers and para-legals, an essential service. By law, for example, even during crisis conditions, accident and safety investigations must still go forward. So, too, must food inspections, correctional services, law enforcement, and more. For many Canadian lawyers, being an essential service means being able to work remotely.
Business Continuity Matters
Business continuity refers to the ability to maintain or resume business functions quickly in the event of a major disruption, so business continuity is crucial for operations deemed “essential services”.
Smart organizations plan ahead for emergencies. Smarter organizations adopt processes that both support daily operations AND function well in the event of major interruptions. Canadian law practices that digitize critical aspects of their operation enjoy the benefits of being less dependent on paper, which means they can service clients while running their businesses from anywhere, if need be.
If your law firm faced an emergency like theft, fire, or a pandemic:
Would you be able to retrieve all your client data?
How soon before you could send an invoice?
Could you get paperwork signed?
Would you be able to service clients if your staff had to work from home?
Modern legal firms rely on services like cloud storage, video conferencing, online time and billing software, and electronic signatures, for flexible business operations and business continuity. In fact, the Government of Canada’s Digital Operations Strategy demands it, requiring services to be delivered in simple, modern and effective ways that are “optimized for digital and available anytime, anywhere and from any device”.
A good example of this is the government’s recent approval to allow electronic signatures for tax returns. Canadians using professional tax preparers used to have to sign their tax returns before submission. Now that physical signature is no longer required.
Electronic signatures provide more evidence than paper
E-signatures actually provide more evidence of the signer identity than their paper-based counterparts, and create a digital audit trail that protects the integrity of all signed documents.
DocuSign electronic signatures are encrypted with an underlying digital signature that ensures the validity of each transaction, capturing important information like:
- Identity of the signer(s)
- Date and time stamp
- IP address
- Details on a second factor of authentication if one is required
These secure and encrypted details protect against repudiation (a client denying that they signed a document) and guarantee the accuracy of documents by protecting them from tampering as they route for multiple signatures.
Importantly for the judicial community, electronic signatures offer increasing levels of security that are required in certain legal instances. The Canadian government requires a “secure electronic signature” (protected by asymmetric cryptography) in these, and other circumstances:
- Statements made under oath
- Documents used as evidence of proof
- Statements declaring truth
- Witnessed documents
Witness a Signature form DocuSign
Witnessing documents is an option within DocuSign eSignature, providing electronic evidence of a valid signing. DocuSign’s witness feature captures key digitized, auditable data (eg: IP address, date/time stamp, geolocation) and permanently links it to the signing process, assuring the necessary legal check against forgery or duress.
It’s true that not all legal documents are approved for e-signature in Canada today. For instance, Powers of Attorney and documents involving trusts and testaments still require a physical signature. One legal transaction that is fully digitized is the closing of property; real estate deals can be e-signed and registered online at any hour of the day from any mobile device.
Lawyers across Canada look forward to more legal processes going digital so they can be truly functional in times of crisis, fulfilling their role as an essential service with the help of tools like electronic signatures.