David Cambria has left Baker McKenzie less than three years after joining the global law firm to move to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the Big Four accounting firm that has ambitions to grow its U.S. legal business.
Cambria was dubbed “the Godfather of legal operations” for the work he did in major corporate legal departments prior to joining Baker McKenzie in 2018. He had worked at insurer Aon Corp., technology sales company CDW Corp., and food processing giant Archer-Daniels-Midland Co.
Cambria confirmed his move but declined to comment ahead of an official announcement. He will serve in a leadership position for PwC’s Legal Business Solutions team, which is marketed as a technology and operations consultancy for corporate legal departments.
His move to Baker McKenzie was viewed as a major Big Law investment toward building a more efficient law firm—something many in the industry have clamored for but few major firms have tackled. His departure to a Big Four competitor will likely stoke further discussion in the legal industry, where accounting giants are seen as having a resources edge in the competition to scale products aimed at handling more repetitive legal work.
Baker McKenzie is among the largest law firms in the world with revenue of $2.9 billion in fiscal 2020. PwC’s revenue in fiscal 2020 was more than $43 billion—$10.7 billion of which came from its tax and legal services group.
To round out his team at Baker McKenzie, Cambria hired Casey Flaherty and Jae Um as director of legal project management and director of pricing, respectively. The trio was called “the A+ innovation team” among Big Law firms by Indiana University Maurer School of Law professor William Henderson.
All three have now departed Baker McKenzie, which also saw its longtime chief operating officer, Jason Marty, leave for rival Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner in December.
Baker McKenzie in a statement Tuesday thanked Cambria for his service to the firm, and noted the firm continues to field a team of business professionals focused on innovation, pricing, legal project management, practice management, e-discovery, and alternative legal services.
Cambria oversaw a team that was expected to reach 800 employees, he told Bloomberg Law in 2019 when he was promoted to chief services officer. The services function Cambria led, Marty said at the time, “underpins our efforts to transform our operating model and how we serve our clients.”
For his part, Marty was instrumental in building a back-office operation for Baker McKenzie in Belfast, Ireland. The firm has doubled down on that model, opening an operation in Tampa, Fla. in 2019. The Belfast office has about 300 employees and the firm has said the Tampa operation will eventually have another 300 workers.
Big Four accounting firms have increased their investments in the U.S. legal services market despite prohibitions limiting them from selling lawyers’ actual legal advice.
Those bans were already scrapped or modified in Arizona and Utah, and other states, like California, are considering similar moves that could open the door for larger investments by accounting and consulting firms.
Still, the Big Four can sell administrative functions that legal operations professionals like Cambria manage. Deloitte last year launched a legal services business with in-house legal offices to streamline functions that track client contracts, invoices, eDiscovery, and other core functions. PwC in 2017 acquired about 600 professionals from General Electric Co.'s tax department.
These developments haven’t yet rattled Big Law, according to a recent survey conducted by Harvard Law School, which found 70% of global law firm leaders are not making strategic changes in response to the competitive threat from Big Four accounting companies.