Baker McKenzie has promoted David Cambria to chief services officer just over a year after the global firm hired him as its first ever global director of legal operations.
His promotion is a signal he has had at least some success in his task of integrating Baker McKenzie’s pricing strategy, legal project management and other alternative legal services offerings into the firm’s main, lawyer-led business.
That has been a historically difficult task within law firms, where service capabilities often thrive only if individual partners choose to engage them. But offering broad services beyond lawyers billing by the hour is viewed as increasingly important for law firms facing greater competition for once-lucrative work such as M&A due diligence and e-discovery projects. A number of firms this year have launched business models aimed at competing for that type of lower-value, higher-volume work.
“I don’t think the billable hour is going anywhere anytime soon,” Cambria told Bloomberg Law. “But what I think is happening in the marketplace is clients are looking for multiple ways to buy legal services. In some instances, that is the billable hour. In other instances, we may have a lot of lawyers on our global platform, but we are looking to deliver something in an automated or a much more centralized and efficient way.”
Cambria, who is often called “the Godfather of legal operations” in industry circles, replaces Ilnort Rueda, who was named CSO in January last year and departed the firm earlier this year.
Cambria joined the firm in June 2018 from his position as global director of operations for law, compliance and government relations at Archer Daniels Midland Co. where he helped dramatically transform and reorganize the company’s legal department and its outside counsel relationships.
At the time of his move to Baker McKenzie, William Henderson, a professor at Indiana University Maurer School of Law and legal market analyst, said Cambria’s new role would include convincing partners that there are more ways to make money than partners and associates billing by the hour under the traditional law firm pyramid structure.
Baker McKenzie has for years been building out teams to handle high-volume project work. The firm’s back-office operation in Belfast, Northern Ireland, which launched in 2014 and handles e-discovery, due diligence and other projects, now has more than 300 employees. Another operations center is on pace to launch this summer in Tampa Bay, Fla., which the firm has said will house another 300.
Cambria’s services team will ultimately reach a headcount of about 800 global employees, he said, including legal project managers, pricing specialists, business managers and others. The firm’s legal project management team, which currently counts about 40 members and plans to grow to around 70, is among the largest at any U.S.-based law firm.
Cambria said the firm’s decision to promote him to chief services officer was partly an attempt to bring “internal alignment” to the service offerings that generally fall under the legal operations banner, such as pricing, project management and services design.
“When I was brought in with this legal operations role, I think there was an appreciation for the things I’d done in-house that they thought would translate well into better alignment with clients,” Cambria said.
“They started to realize that insight is helpful but only insomuch as we can execute on it,” he added.
Shortly after Cambria was recruited last year, Baker McKenzie made two other splashy hires by bringing on Casey Flaherty as director of legal project management and Jae Um as director of pricing strategy. Both were well-known consultants on law firm business strategy.
“We recognize that our clients are looking for more than legal advice,” Ben Allgrove, chair of Baker McKenzie’s global IP and technology practices and its global R&D leader, said in a statement. “They are looking for creative, business-minded, cost-efficient solutions that meet their business needs. David’s growing team is enabling us to translate our innovation efforts into tangible improvements in how we deliver our work to clients.”