DocuSign’s GC Reggie Davis talks disputes, country clubs and ice cream

“If Yahoo had listened to everything the lawyers had to say it would never have got anywhere. To be a successful start-up you have to have an aggressive posture.” So says Yahoo’s former associate general counsel, Reggie Davis, who managed litigation and risk at the U.S. search company at the turn of the century before moving on to become Zynga Game Network’s general counsel and, as of August 2014, GC of eSignature leader DocuSign.
“At Zynga we got in lots of fights but got lots of multi-million dollar settlements around copyright and IP so we were a profit centre. A lot of kids didn’t understand we own the IP.”
By comparison, despite pushing its own boundaries and the potentially higher risk appetite of its GC, DocuSign, which is now in use within 32% of the Am Law top 100 is described by Davis as a “country club.”
It has only had five serious disputes, four of which “went away” in the face of the certificate of completion, which tracks everything that happens to a signed document and stays associated with that document after completion.
Because Davis and his team take a pragmatic view, he says the business listens. “We’re really thoughtful about how we work hand in glove to effectuate the business, against backdrop of ethical boundaries I will never cross,” says Davis. “But if you’re not a panic merchant and only come in when there is a real problem, I seldom get push back.”
Country club or not, the complexity of DocuSign’s business is high and its legal team has almost doubled since Davis arrived just under two years ago, up from nine to 16, with most of the new arrivals having worked with Davis at both Yahoo and Zynga.
One exception is Richard Oliphant, who joined from Inmarsat in October 2015 as EMEA GC – a statement of intent for DocuSign’s European expansion.
The eSignature leader, which has three data centres in Europe and is in the process of developing a further two, is keen to respond quickly to the changing tide being brought in by new EU regulation – eIDAS – which as of 1 July will simplify and standardise eSignature laws across member states, creating a single digital marketplace.
What represents opportunity also represents a threat, and Davis and the team have been involved in creating digital transaction management standards that they hope will become the market norm. “The worry is that some company will say they do eSignatures, have a breach and get all of us tarnished,” Davis says.
DocuSign’s eSignature Legality Guide, launched in February 2015, now covers 64 countries and involved hiring local lawyers in every jurisdiction.
Meanwhile, its new standards-based signature suite offers three different standards to reflect and comply with EU regulation – standard electronic; advanced electronic and qualified electronic (also called a digital signature).
Comparing the suite to Baskin Robbins, Davis says: “We offer three flavours of ice cream: we think vanilla works for all but we also do cherry chocolate.”
The UK typically accepts standard electronic but on the continent the benchmark is currently higher, with levels of confidence also varying between sectors.
While UK law firms significantly trail the U.S when it comes to eSignatures, Davis says that recent progress has been huge.
“Post Linklaters we had a stampede and were contacted by about 50 law firms,” he says.
The Law Society is expected to publish a practice note on eSignatures, which could give the green light to UK law firms to push ahead.
Given that eIDAS is an EU initiative, the impact on Britain of its pending withdrawal from the EU is currently anyone’s guess.
However, Britain’s already more relaxed stance to eSignatures – or rather, its acceptance of vanilla ice cream – should place it in good stead.
This article first appeared in the June issue of Legal IT Insider. To sign up for the next issue click on this link – 
For other recent articles about DocuSign see: DocuSign, Momentum, and Einstein’s theory of relativity