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Signing Documents Online

This is a substantive legal issue, is context specific, and the Law Society does not regulate how documents are executed. Lawyers and paralegals should review applicable legislation to determine if electronic signatures are permitted in the context of their matters. For example, the Succession Law Reform Act includes provisions that govern the execution of testamentary documents. Lawyers and paralegals may also wish to review the Electronic Commerce Act, 2000.

No. Because the Law Society does not require that lawyers or paralegals to enter into retainer agreements with clients, there is no requirement that a retainer agreement be signed. However, as a best practice, the Law Society’s existing guidance materials do recommend that engagements be confirmed in writing by way of either a retainer agreement executed by the client or an engagement letter. Additional information about the terms to include in retainer agreements or engagement letters is available in the Law Society’s Retainer Agreement or Engagement Letter resource.

In order to comply with public health directives to exercise social or physical distancing, at this time, lawyers and paralegals are encouraged to confirm the essential terms of an engagement in writing through whatever means is most practical. For example, lawyers or paralegals may wish to send an email to a client confirming the terms of engagement and ask the client to acknowledge the terms by email. Alternatively, lawyers or paralegals who wish to continue to use retainer agreements may mail, email, or courier documents to their clients for signature.

Last updated: March 26

Lawyers or paralegals who are retained on a contingency fee basis must consider the requirement in Regulation 195/04 to the Solicitors Act R.S.O.1990, c. S.15, which provides that in addition to being in writing, a contingency fee agreement “shall be signed by the client and the solicitor, with each of their signatures being verified by a witness”.

The courts and the Law Society share responsibility for the regulation of contingency fee agreements. Although the Law Society’s jurisdiction is limited in this area, as a result of COVID-19, until further notice:

  • The Law Society will interpret the above requirement as not requiring the lawyer, paralegal, or witness to be in the physical presence of the client(s) to verify the signature(s).

  • Rather, alternative means of verifying signatures such as witnessing via video conference and verifying against a scanned copy of the agreement will be permitted.

If lawyers and paralegals choose to use virtual witnessing of signatures, they should attempt to manage some of the risks associated with this practice as outlined below:

  • Employ the best practices for using video conferencing in providing legal advice or services and adapt as appropriate.

  • Ensure the witness can see the agreement as it is being signed by the parties.

  • Have parties hold the signed document to the camera to demonstrate signature to the witness.

  • Scan and send the signed agreement to the witness at the time, so that the witness may verify the signature(s).

  • Provide the party with a unique identifier phrase or code to write in a particular place on the document, which can then be used to verify the electronic copy against the original.

  • Document the process used for signing and witnessing in case of subsequent controversy.

Last updated: March 26

This is a substantive legal issue, is context specific, and the Law Society cannot provide advice or guidance about the validity or enforceability of settlement documents. Lawyers and paralegals should review applicable legislation and case law to determine if signatures are required in the context of their matters.

Lawyers and paralegals may wish to consider:

  • Courts may enforce informal settlement agreements, including where the terms are agreed to over electronic communications, that are not signed by the parties

  • Certain prescribed settlement forms may require signatures and witnesses

  • The Law Society’s guidance on providing legal services via video conferencing

Regardless of the circumstances of the settlement, lawyers and paralegals should still obtain written confirmation from their clients of agreements to settle on specific terms (by mail, fax, or email), and the settlement should be confirmed between the parties in writing (by mail, fax, or email).

Last updated: March 26



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