What is an Electronic Contract (E-Contract)?

Unlocking the power of electronic contracts

Electronic contract signing is rapidly replacing the traditional paper-based approach to contract signing. With technological advancements and the rise of online platforms, electronic contracts provide a convenient and efficient way to streamline business transactions.

What is an Electronic Contract?

An electronic contract, or an e-contract, is a legally binding agreement created, signed, and stored digitally. It eliminates the need for physical paperwork, enabling parties to engage in business transactions quickly and securely. E-contracts are becoming increasingly popular in various industries, including real estate, finance, and e-commerce because of convenience, speed, and cost-effectiveness.

Examples of E-Contracts

  1. Real Estate: Electronic contracts are standard for property sales and leases. Buyers and sellers can digitally sign agreements, eliminating the need for time-consuming paperwork and physical presence.
  2. Freelance Services: Freelancers often rely on electronic contracts to establish "terms and conditions" with their clients. These contracts define project scope, deliverables, payment terms, and intellectual property rights.
  3. Online Purchases: When making purchases on e-commerce platforms, users agree to electronic contracts; for instance, by clicking or checking a box or button - "I agree" during checkout. These contracts outline refund policies, terms of service, and privacy agreements.
  4. Software Licensing: Electronic contracts surface as end-user license agreements (EULAs) for software products. Users must accept the terms and conditions before installing or using the software.

How to Send a Contract for Electronic Signing?

Sending a contract for electronic signing involves a simple yet secure process. Here's a step-by-step guide:

  1. Choose an Electronic Signature Provider: Select a reputable electronic signature provider that complies with legal requirements and offers robust security measures.
  2. Create the Contract: Draft the contract using software or an online tool specifically designed for electronic contracts, including all necessary terms, conditions, and details.
  3. Upload the Document: Upload the contract to an electronic signature platform. Ensure the document is in a compatible format (e.g., PDF) and meets any specific requirements.
  4. Specify Signatories: Indicate the parties who need to sign the document. Provide their email addresses and other details as needed.
  5. Set Signing Order and Deadlines: If there are multiple signatories, specify the signing order and deadlines for completion to maintain an organized signing process.
  6. Add Signature Fields: Place signature fields within the contract at appropriate locations. The electronic signature platform will provide tools to insert these fields, indicating where each party should sign.
  7. Send the Contract: Initiate the signing process by sending an email invitation to the signatories. Include a clear explanation of the document's purpose and any instructions for signing.
  8. Track and Manage: Monitor the signing progress through the electronic signature platform. Most platforms provide real-time updates on the status of each signature, allowing you to stay informed.
  9. Securely Store the Signed Contract: The electronic signature platform will generate a final signed copy once the signatories have signed. Save this copy securely in a designated location for future reference.

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Why Do You Need a Contract?

Contracts are the backbone of business relationships, providing a legally binding agreement establishing rights, obligations, and expectations between parties. Here are a few key reasons why contracts are crucial:

  1. Clarity and Agreement: Contracts ensure that all parties involved are on the same page regarding the terms, conditions, and scope. This clarity reduces misunderstandings and potential conflicts.
  2. Legal Protection: A well-drafted contract offers legal protection if disputes arise. It outlines rights, responsibilities, and remedies, minimizing the risk of litigation and providing a framework for resolving conflicts.
  3. Enforcement of Obligations: Contracts create a binding commitment between parties, ensuring each party fulfills its obligations outlined in the agreement. If a party fails to meet its responsibilities, the contract serves as a reference for seeking appropriate remedies.
  4. Preservation of Relationships: By establishing clear expectations and responsibilities, contracts help maintain healthy business relationships. They provide a solid foundation for trust and cooperation, ensuring role awareness of both parties.
  5. Risk Management: Contracts allow parties to address potential risks and allocate them appropriately. They can include clauses related to indemnification, liability limitations, dispute resolution methods, mitigating potential risks, and protecting all parties involved.

Does Everyone Signing the Document Need an Electronic Signing Account?

Not everyone signing the document needs an electronic signing account. However, it depends on the electronic signature platform in use. Some platforms require signers to create an account with them while others let them sign the document electronically using an email invitation with a link.

However, parties who frequently engage in electronic contract signing may find it beneficial to create an account. The electronic signature providers lay out subscription plans for easy access to their signed documents and a smoother signing experience.

Collect Payments and Signatures in One Step

Modern electronic signature platforms often offer integrated payment solutions, allowing parties to collect payments and signatures simultaneously. It streamlines the process of conducting business transactions, especially in online sales or service agreements where payment is a vital component.

By combining payment collection with the signing process, businesses can enhance efficiency and provide a seamless experience for their customers.

Is It Legal to Sign Online Contracts?

Yes, signing online contracts is generally legally valid and enforceable, obliging to certain conditions. The legal framework surrounding e-contracts may vary depending on the jurisdiction. But many countries have enacted legislation recognizing the validity of electronic signatures.

For instance, the United States has the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce (ESIGN) Act while the European Union has the eIDAS regulation. These laws outline the requirements and conditions for electronic signatures to be legally binding, ensuring the integrity and authenticity of electronically signed contracts.

Legal Documents That Must Be on Paper

While electronic contracts are widely accepted and legally enforceable, certain legal documents may still require a physical paper format. These may include:

  1. Wills and Trusts: In many jurisdictions, wills and trusts are still accepted on physical paper and witnessed in person.
  2. Real Estate Deeds: Some jurisdictions mandate that real estate deeds be printed on paper and signed with wet ink signatures.
  3. Divorce and Family Law Agreements: Prenuptial agreements or child custody arrangements may require physical signatures only to ensure validity and compliance with local laws.
  4. Court Documents: In legal proceedings, certain court documents may need to be filed physically, especially when submitting evidence or official paperwork to the court.

It's necessary to consult with legal professionals and adhere to local regulations when dealing with specific documents.

E-Contract Requirements

For an electronic contract to be legally binding, it must generally fulfill the following requirements:

  1. Consent: All parties involved must provide voluntary and informed consent to the contract. This consent expression can be electronic, such as by clicking "I agree" or electronically signing the document.
  2. Intent to Create Legal Relations: The parties must demonstrate their intention to create legally binding obligations. It establishes through the terms and language used within the contract itself.
  3. Offer and Acceptance: The contract should outline the offer made and the acceptance of that offer by another party. Ensuring that there is a meeting of the minds regarding the terms of the agreement.
  4. Clear Terms and Conditions: The contract must include unambiguous terms and conditions outlining rights, obligations, and responsibilities. This clarity helps prevent disputes and misunderstandings.
  5. Authentication and Integrity: The electronic signatures to sign the contract should be securely linked to the signatory, ensuring document integrity. It is achievable through advanced cryptographic techniques and secure electronic signature platforms.
  6. Record Retention: It is crucial to retain a reliable and tamper-proof record of the signed contract for future reference. Electronic signature platforms often provide secure storage options to ensure the integrity and availability of the document.

Complying with these requirements verifies the legal validity and enforceability of electronic contracts.


Q: Can electronic contracts be amended or modified?

Yes, changes in electronic contracts may happen if both parties agree to them. The necessary procedures must be followed for contract amendments, as outlined in the original document or local laws.

Q: Are electronic signatures more secure than physical signatures?

Electronic signatures can offer enhanced security compared to physical signatures. Advanced encryption techniques, audit trails, and authentication provided by electronic signature platforms contribute to the security and integrity of electronically signed contracts.

Q: Can electronic contracts be used internationally?

Yes. However, it's essential to consider the specific laws and regulations of the country involved to ensure compliance with cross-border electronic transactions.

Q: What happens if a party denies signing an electronic contract?

In case of a dispute over the authenticity of an electronic signature, courts may evaluate the evidence surrounding the signing process. It might include examining email records, IP addresses, audit trails, and other metadata to establish the validity of the signature.

Q: Are handwritten signatures becoming obsolete?

While electronic signatures are gaining prominence due to their convenience and efficiency, handwritten signatures still hold legal validity in many jurisdictions. However, electronic signatures are increasingly recognized as legally equivalent to handwritten signatures, making them a viable alternative.