Legal Innovators: David Cambria, Baker McKenzie – ‘If Innovation Were Easy, Everyone Would Do It’

When US-based David Cambria joined Baker McKenzie in mid-2018 as Global Director of Legal Operations he had many ideas about how to drive positive change at the 12,000-person global law firm. Now a year and a half later, and also since being appointed Chief Services Officer, he has been busy putting many of those ideas into action.

Take for example one initiative he tells Artificial Lawyer about: a system to make it easier and quicker for clients to keep abreast of ongoing projects. This was accomplished by leveraging Onit.

‘In our organisation, in the Services group, at present I have a team of 40-plus legal project managers around the world who are helping to manage very complex projects, not only for our lawyers, but also for our clients.

‘We have taken [Onit’s] workflow and database capabilities that were traditionally used for corporate law departments – which is where I spent the better part of my life – and we have configured it as a tool to manage large and complex projects on the law firm side.

‘What’s interesting and innovative about this, is that I have also pushed Onit to make some developments for us that haven’t been seen in the marketplace yet,’ he explains.

‘One of the things [the new system] gives our clients is the ability to log in and get a single pane of glass, or a view, of not only what is happening on an individual project, but it also gives them an insight into what’s happening across all of the projects we are working on [for them]. 

‘Not just the financials, but what are the open tasks, what are the upcoming milestones, where we are relative to budget, and what are some of the timelines and toll gates we have to get through in order to complete a matter. 

‘We also have the same system [operating] from a different point of view – for the project manager working on it on a day to day basis, and also for the partner who is overseeing all of that work for a particular client. That is something I am very proud of. This is my baby for sure.’

New Developments To Come

When Artificial Lawyer asks him what else is planned at the firm, he responds: ‘How much time do you have?’ 

‘We are always doing analysis of what the shape of our practice should be in the future,’ he explains.  

‘We are constantly adding new and creative services to our current offering and we are constantly evaluating and re-purposing technology that exists out there today. [And] we want that growth to be meaningful and purposeful,’ he adds.

Cambria then gives the example of a planned research trip to gather insights into new technology that may be of use to the firm and its clients.

‘I’m part of our innovation committee, which helps to make sure that we have the proper leadership around innovation initiatives. We will be travelling in January to Tel Aviv to really do some digging into the innovation that is happening there, not just in legal, but across several of the industries out there, [such as] around AI, around machine learning, and around other technologies for project management.

‘This is more of an exploratory mission to really see what are some of the up-and-coming capabilities and technologies that other companies are building that we might be able to pull into [our] offering, whether it’s around eDiscovery, work flow, or big data analytics search and visualisation.

‘[It’s important] to have a baseline of knowledge for our clients to help guide them through the decisions they are struggling with, [to help with] the best approach to solving a problem beyond the legal advice,’ Cambria explains.

What Does Innovation Mean For You?

With so much of a focus on improvement, Artificial Lawyer has to ask: what does innovation mean for you?

Cambria clearly has thought about this subject a lot. ‘For me, the reality about innovation is it’s hard, and it’s not free – it takes time and money.

It’s not easy, it’s messy, and there is much work to do, and there is risk – it might not work. Those are the realities. If it were easy, everyone would do it,’ he notes.

He continues to explain that one of the biggest challenges is making change real. As he says, it’s easy to explore things you’d like to change, or that perhaps should change, inside a law firm, but making something actually work in a very different way, or to introduce a new way of doing things, is hard.

‘I would say there’s a lot of talk out there about innovation. Most people actually just talk about it. For us it is about aligning the actions of our firm to the talk around innovation; that innovation isn’t a marketing slogan,’ he states.

‘It really is part of our underlying DNA, it’s part of our underlying thinking as a business that [helps] us to evolve in the process of finding the right ecosystem of solutions, of technology….that actually helps to drive innovation. 

‘And that’s a big part of what I’m trying to drive, and I think part of the leadership that I am trying to bring,’ he adds.

The leadership point is important. And perhaps that’s one reason why some firms get lost in the talking about change, rather than the doing. At the end of the day all organisations need leadership if any type of new direction is to be taken.

However, Cambria also underlines that this is not a solo effort.

‘Obviously I don’t do this [all by] myself. We have an innovation committee, and we have a partner who sits in as the chair of that committee, Ben Allgrove. And without that buy-in from people like Ben, at a partnership level, all of this … goes nowhere,’ he concludes.

The Cost Benefits of Tech

But, before we end, there is one question that is of growing importance in the field of legal innovation that needs to be asked: is the use of legal tech reducing the cost of delivering legal services?

Cambria responds: ‘Maybe, sometimes. I think when you look at technology as a way to create better enablement of the delivery of services, and to provide efficiency to what it is we are doing, it reduces the cost of legal services. 

‘However if you are using technology to actually curate more information faster, to digest more information, then in fact, like in eDiscovery, [you can have a situation where] people have gotten sloppy with their data hygiene, or are using eDiscovery really as a means to annoy opposing parties. [And then] it’s actually caused an increase in the costs. 

‘So the answer really is: it depends. The goal and objective is always to drive down the risk and to drive down the cost of delivering legal services, but in doing that we have to be careful of unintended consequences,’ he concludes.

A fascinating time then for both Cambria and Baker McKenzie. And in a firm of over 12,000 people, with 77 offices around the world, he certainly will be kept busy for many years to come as he seeks to drive positive change and innovation at the firm.

2 Comments

  1. “If it were easy, everyone would do it” – I got news for you: everyone IS doing it. Innovation, the buzzword of the decade, is so commonplace these days that you’d be hard pressed to find a firm that’s not trying to do something innovative. Many firms have people whose specific function is to identify opportunities for innovation – this is on top of the fact that numerous other people are trying to be innovative in their existing functions!
    Project managing matters (i.e. using “LPM”) is not new or innovative, either, though it is absolutely useful and something that every firm (and law department) today should be doing – heck, if they’re not doing it, they’re arguably being negligent and they’re certainly being inefficient.
    Kudos for BM for trying to be more innovative, though – it shows an interest in staying with the times and positioning the firm for success.

  2. You hardly see a law firm that doesn’t say it’s “innovative” or “committed to innovation” etc but that doesn’t mean they are actually doing anything truly innovative.

    Meaningful innovation arises in business that make the space or create the culture for this to occur – and that really isn’t easy to do when a lawyer’s performance is based on the number of billable hours they do.

    So I’m with David Cambria on this one – actually innovating (as opposed to creating marketing collateral talking about innovation) isn’t easy. And not everyone is doing it. The hope is that in time, that will change.

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