In the July issue of the ACC Observer, David Cambria shared his unique and broad perspective on legal operations' current trajectory. This column focuses on Cambria's career experience, which makes his insights worth contemplating.
From the onset of his legal career, Cambria forged a new path. After completing his undergraduate degree, he enrolled in the University of Dayton Law School, focused on using this training to accelerate his business career. This approach helped him focus on what he wanted from law school. As part of his research into legal non-traditional career paths, a 2L Cambria took on roles with the Dayton Board of Education, West Publishing, and a sports agent, providing an interesting mix of legal and business work.
After earning a J.D. and admission to the Bar in 1995, Cambria joined West Publishing as an Account Executive charged with educating and equipping the newest law students and lawyers to transform the practice of law with the assistance of computer-aided legal research (CALR). The experience stirred his interest in the nascent potential of legal technology. At the time there was an internal debate on company strategy because CALR was cannibalizing Thomson West's biggest and best business: books. However, because West was privately held, the company could afford to take a more revenue-risky path and, as a result, achieved tremendous growth and transformation. Cambria won President's National Outstanding Performance Award in three of his four years with the company for his achievement in winning hearts, minds, and revenue growth. As he looks back on this time, Cambria reflects on how established his future successes:
"At law schools and with in-house lawyers, I had hundreds of conversations on what the future of law could be,” Cambria said. “This helped to polish my storytelling and change management capabilities, critical tools in transformation management. In addition, having a law degree lent me credibility as well as an ability to empathize with lawyers treading new ground.”
From there, Cambria branched out to several technology companies before joining Huron Consulting Group in 2002. While at Huron, Cambria led and participated in several legal operations groups composed mainly of General Counsel of large law departments at finance and health sciences companies facing significant regulation challenges. As a consultant, he served several Fortune 100 companies and handled initiatives that ranged from driving transformation to significantly reducing outside counsel spending, organizational design, strategic plan implementation, and performance improvements.
Aon Client General Counsel, Cameron Findlay, then in his first GC role in 2005, brought Cambria in as the first law department Chief Operating Officer (COO). Around the same time, Aon founder and CEO, Patrick Ryan, stepped down after hiring Greg Case as his successor. Case came to Aon with nearly two decades of experience at McKinsey & Co. and was instrumental in driving company-wide transformation. Because Cambria was familiar with the language Case was accustomed to from his business consulting career and with legal, he was uniquely positioned to work with Findlay to ensure that the law department was structured and best aligned to deliver on the business strategy and vision. In the role, Cambria managed a department with 400 professionals in 29 countries with an annual operating budget of $150 million. Among his achievements were reducing outside spending by 24% and double-digit operational run-rate savings.
Cambria was on a porch at an industry legal operations offsite in Pinehurst, NC in 2005 with Elizabeth Jaworski and Aaron Van Nice. The group decided to form a regional legal ops organization and landed on the name Chicago Legal Innovation Consortium (CLIC). The first CLIC meeting was held a month later at Aon's Headquarters.
About 18 months later, with a regional membership of about 35 legal operations professionals, the group decided to host a broader meeting with "friendlies" in other locations around the United States. Reaching out to his wide range of contacts, some of whom he had come to know through the law department operations survey company Brad Blickstein and he founded 15 years before, Cambria put together a two-day seminar and invited the ACC. This initiated a conversation with Catherine Moynihan about extending the information-sharing model and inviting legal operations professionals, not all attorneys, into the ACC. Building on this initiative, with the help of Catherine Moynihan, the ACC later launched a new ACC Legal Operations section.
Meanwhile, following Findlay's departure in his sixth year at Aon, Cambria was recruited to CDW, a Fortune 50 company. Like Findlay, CDW's then General Counsel, Chris Leahy, was a former client (she is now CDW's CEO). At CDW, Cambria's mandate was to help CDW's legal, IT, compliance, and risk functions best position themselves to support CDW's business. Among other things, Cambria led the company's information management strategy focusing on process improvements to Master Data Management, Contract Life Cycle Management, eDiscovery, and Records Management. Under his tenure, the department successfully underwent three annual PCI and security audits with zero significant findings and rolled out best-in-class data loss prevention, sales automation, and software licensing/tracking programs.
In late 2013 Cambria and Findlay joined forces again at Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), a global Fortune 30 company operating in 160+ countries, with Cambria taking on the Director of Global Operations - Law, Compliance, Government Relations, and Insurance role. As COO, his achievements ran broad from consolidating several law departments and multiple adjacent functions into a single unified department; to establishing policies, metrics programs, and operations strategy; to reducing the number of firms serving the company from 700+ to 25, identifying millions in cost savings while at the same time improving service delivery.
In June 2018, Baker & McKenzie successfully wooed Cambria to become their Chief Services Officer. Once again, Cambria found himself forging the path of a new legal ecosystem role. He defined the role and function of the firm and focused on five integrated capabilities to support the full-service lifecycle worldwide, including business/practice management, pricing strategy, legal project management, alternative legal services, and innovation/service design. Perhaps, what most defined his tenure was extending client service delivery with a strong global team of legal project managers, leveraging technology to collaborate with clients, and providing guidance on developing strong partnerships with clients focused on law department and business alignment.
In April 2021, Cambria leaped into a new law venture at PwC. PwC's revenue in fiscal 2020 was more than $43 billion, a potential scale change magnifier Cambria could not resist. Two years in, Cambria's view of where his expertise can be most impactful shifted. Cambria has concluded he can do more full-time from inside an organization with ambitious plans for the future, an agile culture, an innovative and creative approach to doing business, and embracing taking calculated risks that are demand generated and in the best interest of future success.
What's next for Cambria? Look for him where he can have a fast and immediate impact, perhaps in an industry in which he has substantial prior experience. Cambria remains as ambitious and passionate about business as he was when he enrolled in law school and in particular, he remains optimistic about the future of legal operations.
“An accomplished business growth specialist, I have 20+ years of experience guiding strategic decisions and revenue stream development with programs that transform and enhance client engagement, global operations, and law departments,” Cambria said. “A core strength is re-imagining organizational structure, building scalable processes, and driving improvements through innovative system enhancements, service line development, shared services strategy, technology, and sustainable practices to reach aggressive goals.”