Email is now the predominant mode of communication in any modern business. We use them daily and sign them off without a second thought. This blog is a useful guide to some things you may not know about email.

Signing off – email signatures

Your email signature is probably automatically generated on every email you send and you probably never even look at it. But are you aware of the specific legal requirements which set out what your email signature should contain?

If you are a company or an LLP, then certain information is required in your organisation’s email footer. All of your business emails should include the following in legible characters: your company’s registered name; your company registration number; your place of registration; and your registered office address.

It is not enough to merely provide a link to this information. Any ‘display’ or disclosure of information must be ‘in characters that can be read with the naked eye’.

Failure to comply with these requirements could lead to a company being fined up to £1,000.

Interestingly, there is no legal requirement for a disclaimer to be included in an email signature. Disclaimers will often add a page, or more, of text to an email and their effectiveness is unclear. In Baillie Estates Ltd v du Pont (UK) Ltd[1] it was suggested that unless the wording of a disclaimer explicitly covers the facts at issue the courts may be reluctant to accept it. Using general wording in a disclaimer is likely to be insufficient.

Email as a signature?

There is a growing trend towards using e-signatures on legal contracts and other business documents. Whilst these are more prominent in cross-border matters, it is likely that they will become widespread as technology continues to develop and businesses, including law firms, look at ways to streamline their processes.

Where parties to a transaction are not physically at the same meeting to sign the documents, it is common for lawyers to arrange a signing via email. This will involve the signatory signing a hard copy document in person, converting the document and signature into electronic form (eg by scanning or photocopying it) and sending it by email.

The validity of e-signatures is beyond the scope of this blog, but an example of an electronic signature would be a person typing his or her name into an email containing the terms of a contract. Take a look at one of Gateley’s Talking Construction blogs for more on the validity of e-signatures.

In the case of Golden Ocean Group Limited v Salgaocar Mining Industries PVT Ltd and another[2], the Court of Appeal found that the exchange of a number of emails led to the creation of an agreement in writing. The Interpretation Act 1978 defines ‘writing’ as including ‘typing, printing, lithography, photography and other modes of representing or reproducing words in a visible form’. This would include email.

There is also authority[3] that typing a name into an email satisfies the requirement for a document to be signed and the Golden Ocean case confirms that an electronic signature has the same legal status as a ‘wet ink’ signature. The key question is whether the purpose of the signature is to authenticate the document.

So remember that even though you may just be sending informal emails to other parties, these could be interpreted as something more and could be legally binding.