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Archer Daniels Midland: 'Legal Ops Isn't One Program, It's In Our DNA'


hen David Cambria slashed his outside counsel from 700 firms worldwide to less than 25 — in just over 12 months — the legal industry applauded his efforts to "regain control" over his law firms. What many failed to recognize were the significant internal changes Cambria implemented to build a team of sophisticated buyers driven by common goals.

Making convergence stick 

According to Cambria, who is global director of operations, law, compliance and government relations at Archer Daniels Midland, in convergence, it's not always as much about the law firms as it is ourselves.

"There's nothing magic about the number of firms," says Cambria. "Convergence is about the alignment of incentives and expectations. It's making a precise decision about where to invest time and resources to foster relationships and partnerships for the long term." 

The ADM Law Firm Alliance (nicknamed ALFA), made up of approximately 20 preferred-provider law firms, is more than just a smaller pool. It helps to create an environment between Cambria's team and outside counsel that allows the parties on both sides of the equation to tackle difficult discussions around cost structures, service delivery and quality of work from a place built on mutual trust — based on the expectation and understanding there will be a long-standing relationship, Cambria says. 

Cambria joined ADM in December 2013, about six months after D. Cameron Findlay, general counsel, came on board. The two met in 2003 when Cambria was a legal department consultant for Huron Legal and Findlay was general counsel at Aon and a client. Findlay later hired Cambria at Aon, where Cambria served as one of the first dedicated legal ops executives in the industry.

In his COO position at ADM, Cambria evaluates not only the value of his outside law firms, but the value his own department creates and preserves for the corporation.

"During these processes, oftentimes you look at yourself first," Cambria explains. "You ask, 'What are the things we do as an organization that encourages the behavior of our firms? Do I, in my position, allow anyone and everyone to hire a law firm? Do we have different levels of sophisticated buyers within our own department? Do we understand the terms of business required to have legal coverage? Where are we lacking within our whole firm, and can those needs be addressed in a holistic way?'"

New processes include updated rules of engagement and guidelines as to who can buy legal services — with all outside counsel hires vetted by the law department. 

"Once we understood how many firms we were working with, we worked to change our internal dynamic and reorganized ourselves," Cambria says."We are more sophisticated buyers and can better issue spot to give work to law firms in areas where we don't have in-house expertise." 

Only by asking the hard questions of when and why to bring in outside lawyers, knowing the level of difficulty of a matter, and having a deep understanding of the capabilities of your own team, can in-house lawyers align their outside counsels' value to the business goals of the organization. 

"It's most important to make a list of potential firms who aren't simply 'good firms,' but that meet certain criteria, such as understanding the partnership desired, having a specific expertise, geographic scope, ability to perform bespoke services for a unique matter, or that offer commodity or other specialty services needed," Cambria says. "Then weave together that set of firms into a program that address all of those concerns at once."

That doesn't mean ADM won't hire firms outside of the panel — but it does mean that when the legal department does hire outside the panel, the decision has gone through a rigorous and informed process that ensures they're making the right decisions for the right reasons.

Building smooth business interfaces

Another area to receive an operations process overhaul under Cambria's watch was the legal department's internal systems, such as matter management and electronic billing. While traditional systems tend to focus on discrete activities or pieces of data, Cambria wanted information to help him better understand the risks facing the company. This required evaluating the process-driven interactions his lawyers have with the business on a day-to-day basis. 

"We implemented a program that focuses on the way people work and interact with the law department, so that we could build better initiatives around the work and information that the law department touches on a regular basis to be more efficient for ADM as a whole," he said. 

One example is ADM's innovative approach to non-disclosure agreements, a typically low-risk and low-value item for its legal department. However, for ADM professionals outside of the department requesting NDAs, the matter is highly important. 

By implementing a new tech tool, anyone in the organization can click a few buttons, fill out an input form and — if it passes certain criteria — auto-generate an NDA that can be completed via electronic signature. The legal department automatically records the NDA in the system without a lawyer having to stop and manually input information. 

"The ebb and flow of legal assisting the business occurs because we built a process, rules and a system for that to happen without much lawyer intervention," Cambria says. "The business person has what they need to move an initiative forward, and the lawyers are happy because the questions answered and information provided met a certain threshold of risk tolerance that says 'This is run-of-the-mill, go for it!' versus 'No, let's stop and talk.' Our lawyers can then focus on things that drive strategy and larger value."

He says by taking the time upfront to think about efficient processes and create workflows for items that are repeatable and scalable, the amount of time required to complete those tasks is a fraction of what it had been. Plus, people are no longer repeating the same mistakes over and over.

"We, as humans and lawyers, underestimate the time, energy and effort to address those concerns, but taken in totality, it becomes really a big number. With a few hours of time to plan upfront, we took hundreds of hours of effort out of what the law department was doing and refocused that energy on better strategizing for the business," Cambria said.

And it's the same with convergence.

"When you have how many conversations with how many law firms around prospective waivers, engagement letters, or billing guidelines — all things that have no value driving forward the legal function — all of a sudden we're talking about real time spent. It's all about building scope and scale to the things that are necessary but don't help drive to a better place or drive business initiatives in an efficient way."

Keeping a finger on the pulse of disputes 

A third initiative implemented under Cambria's watch includes tracking shipping risks and contract unit claims in its Ag Services business unit — a $45 billion business unit of ADM. 

Using the same technology platform utilized for NDAs, the legal department is able to track shipping disputes from the moment they arise, regardless of where they originate or the nuances of each. 

"Many disputes didn't make it to the legal department's attention until much further down the road than we would have liked," Cambria says. "We took a really good existing internal structure from one of our business units and are able to address on a global basis reoccurring shipping risks and contract issues through a unified intake process. Our strategy is now about decelerating claims before they make it to all-out litigation — a part-and-parcel partnership between the business and the legal department." 

The key for Cambria's team was to address and trace in a repeatable fashion the natural way people work, i.e., an email with a link taking them straight to the system, which records analytics ADM lawyers use to drive better outcomes. 

"That's why our in-house lawyers came on board — to provide value to the business. As lawyers, we're trained to do that, and that's what gives us satisfaction in our careers."

The value-add of legal ops 

Cambria finds the recent media and industry focus on the legal ops executive function gratifying.

"A lot of us spent a number of years talking about the importance of the legal ops role," Cambria says. "To see it take hold and grow this way is absolutely thrilling. But, it's important to know that much of this work has been happening for the past 20 years. What's new is people's insight into the ways we can scale what we're doing to meet the needs of the business."

"Individual initiatives are important," says Cambria. "But they must be part of a broader function. A lot of projects are done myopically — you see people saying, 'Let me tell you about this great program!' So what? How is it part of the overall DNA of your organization and what you're trying to achieve?"

The initiatives that Cambria has undertaken at ADM have improved processes within the legal department — but those initiatives have created value far beyond the direct benefits those improvements have had on the bottom line.

"Numbers are measurable — people like them," Cambria says of ADM's convergence, other programs, and the tangible metrics that result. "But they don't drive cost effectiveness and efficiencies. They happen to be a nice by-product, but ultimately it's better relationships — in-house and outside — that lead to a clearer understanding of scope of work and the value ADM places on it, and to higher-quality, more efficient work by our law firms. 

"Whether it's convergence, analytics, matter management or eDiscovery — all of those practices apply the same core principles and questions. 'What am I doing to preserve or create value?' That intention should drive everything."

David Cambria is the Director of Global Operations — Law, Compliance and Government Relations for Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM) where he works with the general counsel to develop and lead a "best-in-class" law department operations function with a primary focus on aligning the department's day-to-day operations with the business strategy. 

In 2013, David was named by the National Law Journal as one of the Top 50 Legal Business Trailblazers & Pioneers. He is chairman of the advisory board for the Annual Law Department Operations Survey, where he also serves as editor and contributor. He received his Juris Doctor Degree from the University of Dayton, School of Law.

This article was originally published in the ACC Legal Ops Observer, a newsletter for members of the ACC Legal Operation section. ACC thanks the Novus Law LLC Client Solutions team for contributing this article and producing the newsletter.

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