A Conversation with David Cambria

A Conversation with David Cambria
  • So David, when Baker pitched you on this new role, what did they have in mind?

  • When Baker first came to me about this role, they were looking for someone who could guide them in a very important step in their strategy to seize this moment of change for the industry. Building on their history of innovation and adaptation, the decision to add a very senior leader from an in-house legal operations role was driven by a sharp focus on helping clients navigate complexity and create value.

  • I don't know if I have the context to evaluate moments of change, but I'm curious -- why do you see this as a moment of change and how did we get here?

  • To be clear - the “moments of change” I referenced in my previous answer were observations that Baker was making when looking to create my role in an effort to align legal service delivery to the way in which their clients were looking buy legal services. My observation is that in-house counsel have been asking providers to re-think they way they operate and interact with their clients for a long time and so it has been less of a “moment” and more of a movement.

    The dynamics of law departments are driving this. Increased regulatory complexity, globalization of their businesses and desire to show their business partners the maximum effectiveness and efficiency out of each dollar spent are some of the key drivers, but so too is an ever growing level of sophistication in legal operations disciplines and practices that are asking (if not demanding) that law firms and legal service providers become a more proactive and creative partner in provisioning legal advice and services.

  • It seems like there would be a number of challenges for law firms to sustain their current models as heads of legal ops demand more efficiency, which often involves outsourcing, whether it is to an offshore workforce or technology.

    How are law firms adapting?

  • There are definitely a number of challenges to the current business models in which law firms operate when addressing the question of efficiency and legal service delivery. On the service delivery side, law firms are continuing to reach out to other professionals within their firms to build out the technology and “offshoring” capabilities. For example, at Baker McKenzie we have pretty broad and robust capabilities in our shared service centers (e.g. Belfast and Manila) that are driving efficiency in the work being delivered across multiple disciplines.

    As it relates to technology, there are active and ongoing initiatives on how to not only adopt technology to serve our clients but also to scale it to provide firm-wide and industry-wide disruption to the current delivery of legal services and advice.

    Having said all of this, there is still work to do at all law firms on how they measure and reward those lawyers who adopt alternative legal service and technology mechanisms that while driving efficiency, can negatively impact a practitioner who is mainly measured on the number of hours they output. This will require adopting new measurements and “investments” to drive these efforts such as rewarding timekeepers based on client profitability and satisfaction as well as allowing for “hours relief” for those who invest in building out technology and innovations for the betterment of the legal industry and the clients they serve.

  • Do you see firms rethinking the role of junior attorneys and where they fit into the firm’s business model? Is it something clients are demanding?
  • There is no doubt that firms are dealing with a lot of business issues as it relates to junior attorneys. Two such issues are (1) ever-growing first year starting salaries (and the ancillary impact on all other associate rates) and (2) the shrinking demand for junior attorney time by their clients.

    Clients aren't specifically asking the firms to rethink the role of junior attorneys, rather they are just refusing to buy/pay for those resources. Instead, clients are voting with their feet - either bringing much more experienced talent in-house for similar costs or looking at ALSP's. Firms are feeling the impact, but they have not been quick to rethink the role of the junior attorney in delivering legal services. They still reward and measure the success of their junior attorneys based on hours billed, not the value they provide and have been reticent to adopt new hiring models that would drive associate behavior.

  • I know you’re on the law firm side but I’m curious how you, as a client, would have evaluated the following proposal from a partner: rather than push menial work down to my junior attorneys (that I should be outsourcing to India), the junior attorneys are going to more or less shadow partners on deals, and ask a lot of questions. But — and here’s where it gets messy — they’re going to bill for their time. In other words, junior attorneys at big law firms would more closely resemble medical residents, but with higher pay.

    Would you find the “we’re a teaching law firm” persuasive as a client?

  • In fact, I was just talking about some of these issues with some of my operations colleagues (my life before moving to a firm) in both New York and Chicago at the LDO10 Operations Survey roundtable which Brad Blickstein and I have been running for over a decade and which is now live for your 2018 submission at www.LDOSurvey.com.

    I am failing to see where the value to the client is in your hypothetical or how what you describe is that much different than what is happening today.

    No, I would not find this model persuasive as stated – “bill for their time.” As a client, would I support a law firm that proactively and methodologically trained young lawyers to be “better” yes, but this would have to be in the context of a pricing structure where the client was paying under an AFA modeled on overall value or output not the number of hours spent. This way the “cost” of putting less experienced and perhaps less efficient lawyers is shared by both - the client in that they are agreeing to have the work done with some less experienced resources and the firm in that they are making an investment in the training of their future lawyers without directly passing the costs onto the client.

    One closing comment to the above hypothetical – outsourcing or leveraging a shared service center is not about pushing “menial” work to them, but rather operationalizing that work which could be more effectively done with a routinized process and/or with the aid of technology. This is sometimes but not generally considered “menial.”

  • I’m glad you brought that up. In fact, the first time I heard you speak at ALT Law last year, it was on the topic of outsourcing and re-engineering process. I was discussing this with Casey Flaherty recently, and we both agreed that, at the moment, there seems to be a healthy retreat from some of the “AI is replacing lawyers” tripe to a healthier understanding of value-add technology especially within the context of process.

    I’m curious if (1) you agree with that assessment and, (2) especially given Baker’s earned reputation as a technology driven law firm, what role you think the law firm will play in the continued deployment of “legal technology?”

  • I do agree with your and Casey’s assessment. Technology, when properly deployed is a value add to the delivery of legal services. In my mind, AI (and many other technologies) only enhance the critical thinking, mental agility, and ability to synthesize complex inputs of lawyers thus making them ever more critical to the goals of delivering efficient and effective legal services.

    Law firms must continue to play a critical role in the deployment of legal technology not only because clients are demanding it, but because ever growing business complexity does as well. Legal service is about legal advice and established methods to provision that advice. The key here however, is not to deploy technology for technology sake but rather to lead in its development, deployment and scale. Baker McKenzie continues to lead as a technology driven firm across many practice areas and disciplines because of our commitment to those ideas but also because of our commitment to be “demand driven” rather than “supply driven” with our clients. We continue to have our clients provide insight, input and influence over new technologies and ask them to meet us at the intersection of law and technology to help us evolve and enhance these capabilities.

  • Thanks David, this has been fun!