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Initialing a contract: is it really useful?

electronic initials
Matthieu Duault

Matthieu Duault

Content Manager @Yousign

Illustration: Mélusine Vilars

The initials, that scribble at the bottom of the page, are supposed to represent your consent and often end up scrawled in a corner of the page at the end of the 48th page of your contract.

The usefulness of the initials is often questioned and their function remains abstruse for the vast majority of signatories. While the final signing of a document is often synonymous with happiness or relief, initialling is more easily associated with the risk of tendinitis and the nightmare of endless meetings.

In the era of digitalisation of contractualisation processes, is initialling still useful? Has it ever been useful for  that matter? Is there a digital alternative for initialling documen

What are initials?

First of all, let us redefine the term “initials”, which is, strictly speaking, an abbreviated version of the signature. According to Merriam-Webster law dictionary, the terms initials means:

“to authenticate or give preliminary approval to by affixing the initials of an authorizing representative” (Merriam Webster Law dictionary)

The initials have several functions:

  • to ensure that the signatories have consulted and validated all the pages of a specific document
  • to make sure the various parties involved in the contract cannot add pages or modify elements after the contract has been signed or initialled. It therefore guarantees the integrity of a signed document.
  • initialling a document

It is therefore commonly accepted that a document with high stakes should be initialled by the signatories in order to limit the risk of disputes as to the proper understanding of the contract.

Human resources managers, solicitors, real estate agents, lawyers and others are used to having documents initialled, not for the vicious pleasure of seeing the signatories leaf through hundreds of pages for hours on end to sign their initials, but to protect them in terms of their commitment.

However, do these ever so abhorred initials have a real legal value?

What does “initialling” legally entail?

For documents signed under private seal

In the context of a private contract (signed under private seal) the initialling has no real legal value. In France, initials are ruled under the law of January 27th 1993 from the Court of Cassation that says that “outside of exceptions stated in the law, any documents signed under private seal shall be subject to any other form of consent other that the signature of the parties involved.”
For the UK, there is no trace of a specific law that says the same, but it is generally accepted that only the final signature of a document is truly authentic. Nevertheless, initials can support the validity of an agreement when there is a dispute over the contract and thus prove useful in the case of strong commitments by reinforcing the validity of the signature. You may therefore affix them as a precaution.

The case of the authentic deed

In France, in the case of notarised deeds (authentic deeds), on the other hand, initialling is compulsory, on pain of the nullity of the uninitialled sheets of the deed. The signatories as well as the solicitor must therefore initial the entire document as indicated by the law.

However, this same law states that “if the sheets of the deed are gathered together through a process that guarantees they cannot be substituted nor added, there is no need to initial them.”

In the UK, it looks like it isn’t mandatory for parties to initial authentic deeds nor is it to sign each page of a contract.
However we do encourage you to check with your local legislations to make sure you do not infringe on the law. 

That being said, the electronic signature guarantees the integrity of a document.Therefore, it is part of the processes that “guarantees the signed deed hasn’t been substituted or modified”.

However, completely getting rid of initials would be ignoring the reassuring aspect that it conveys. This habit is strongly rooted into the culture, and must therefore have an echo in the electronic signature.

Initialling a contract with the electronic signature

An agreement validated in its entirety

The electronic signature guarantees the integrity of documents, it is one of the principles that establishes its legal value. The document cannot therefore be altered after signature, which would cause the electronic certificate attesting to the authenticity of the document to be deemed null and void. This certificate applies to the entire document and not just to the page on which the signature image appears. Furthermore, in order for the parties to sign the document electronically, they must go through it in its entirety.

The electronic signature, by virtue of these functionalities, already fulfils the 2 functions of the initials mentioned above..

A new alternative, the electronic initials

Goodbye tendinitis, hello electronic initials !

Being well aware of the importance of initials and their reassuring aspect, Yousign's electronic signature solutions allow you to add the initials of the signatories on each page of your document.

In just a few clicks, this feature enables you to  display the initials in addition to the signature image appearing at the end of the contract. When validating the document using the authentication system, initials will be automatically generated on all pages. This feature helps to reassure the parties involved in the contract by adding a new element proving that the contract has been read and understood by all parties involved.

  • initial in Yousign app

This feature is available :

  • on any type of document pending signature
  • on all pages (except the one(s) with a signature)
  • for as many signatories as desired

Would you like to integrate the initials into your Yousign account?

You can activate this feature by making a request directly to our team.

Book a demo to see the electronic signature in action

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