Tuesday, September 2, 2014

In-house Counsel, Outside Counsel, Legal Rebel: Insights from Bloomberg BNA Legal's New President David Perla

David Perla at the BBNA "Wall of Firsts" c.BBNA
On July 14th, Bloomberg announced the appointment of David Perla as the new President  of Bloomberg BNA Legal. Perla was a fascinating choice given his path from corporate lawyer (Katten Muchin) to in-house counsel (Monster) to outsourcing pioneer  (Founder and co-CEO of Pangea3) to CEO (Matterhorn Transactions). ABA Magazine named Perla one of the year’s “Legal Rebels” in 2011 and American Lawyer named him one of the top 50 legal innovators of the past 50 years.  He has sat on many “sides of the table” … in the chair as the  provider, the consumer and the disruptor  of legal services. This will give him a unique perspective on how Bloomberg BNA can pursue its' intent to rewrite the rules  of engagement between law firms and legal information providers. I might as well brag that I got the first post-hire interview with Perla and a shot of him standing at the "Bloomberg BNA Wall of Firsts" at their headquarters in Crystal City, Virginia.

Bloomberg Disrupted Financial Reporting - Perla Disrupted Legal Practice

I examined the evolution of the Bloomberg empire  in an earlier post.  Bloomberg was created when Michael Bloomberg looked at the dominant financial data service Dow Jones Telerate and wondered why it couldn’t do more than spit out stock and bond prices. From  the simple insight of adding math functions to the  data reporting,  Bloomberg has built an unparalleled media empire and Telerate has been swept into the dustbin of forgotten products. Perla likewise looked at the legal marketplace and recognized that in-house counsel didn’t like to pay “Wall Street” rates for repetitive legal processes and set out to prove that certain  functions could be done both reliably and more cheaply by lawyers in India.

He developed one of the most successful legal process outsourcing companies, Pangea3, which was ironically sold to Thomson Reuters, one of Bloomberg BNA’s main competitors.

Both men were inspired by insights into business process improvement. Legal process improvement is on the radar of managing partners if not yet fully impacting the practice of law. Law firm leaders are hungry for new solutions. Can Perla and Bloomberg BNA deliver? Should Thomson Reuters, LexisNexis and Wolters Kluwer be worried at this high voltage disruptive pairing?

I met with Perla in one of the signature Bloomberg BNA glass conference rooms. Bloomberg has a famously “open plan” work environment which has transformed the BNA offices following their acquisition.  Perla explained that his first priority was getting to know the Bloomberg BNA teams. He recognizes that Bloomberg BNA is a unique organization which was born of two distinctive cultures and  legacies of professional excellence. Bloomberg brought strength in technology and business analytics and BNA staff brings premier legal analysis.   He is confident that the combination of these two legacies will enable Bloomberg BNA to solve  emerging challenges facing the legal profession better than their competitors.

The Interview

JOG: Having been in the role of both inside and outside counsel, is there a difference in their information needs? 

Perla: Outside counsel are expected by their clients to be masters of their areas of expertise.  This is the traditional role of outside counsel. But today, outside counsel need to be able to obtain, understand and analyze strategic business information, both because their clients want this and because the lawyers need this mastery in order to both remain competitive and/or differentiate themselves.  So mastery of a particular legal area is no longer enough – understanding of, and some mastery of, business information is now critical.

JOG: .What is your  vision for BLaw? 

Perla : My vision is for Bloomberg Law, along with the full suite of Bloomberg BNA Legal offerings, to be the go-to information solutions provider for the legal industry, and to be the first source lawyers turn to in looking for solutions to information driven problems.”  Bloomberg BNA and Bloomberg are widely regarded as experts in matching technology, information and products with the needs of their clients.  So Bloomberg Law will leverage that expertise in matching technology, information and products to solve the various pain points of its legal industry clients.  

JOG: Do you think that Bloomberg BNA has a unique opportunity for growth as the result of the changes brought on by “The Great Recession?” 

Perla: Law firms today understand that they are practicing in a new environment, and that the practice of law and business of law has changed.  Bloomberg BNA and Bloomberg Law, in serving those law firms, provides tools for both precedent retrieval and analysis AND market data precedent analysis.  As a result of this combined expertise, we are uniquely positioned to address law firms’ legal and market data needs and demands. 

JOG:  Based on your experience in-house, do you plan to expand marketing of BLAW to in-house counsel? 

Perla: This is an ongoing initiative, with a continued and growing emphasis.  I spent nearly five years at a Big Law and another five-plus years in-house, and have spent the last decade serving in-house counsel and the law firms that represent them.  So in-house counsel is a unique area of expertise for me.  In-house counsel have specific legal needs, but also have extensive market information needs that are different than the needs of their outside counsel.  Because of the depth of business information that Bloomberg BNA and Bloomberg Law are able to offer our clients, we as a company are uniquely situated to solve and address those market information problems and needs. 

JOG: How much will your experience/insights  at Pangea3  impact your vision for BLAW Products and services?  

Perla:  As I mentioned, I spent a decade between Big Law and in-house, and then another decade serving those groups.  As a result, I bring a unique insight into how both sets of clients operate, and into their needs and goals.  That insight influences both my vision for our products and solutions, and the way in which we offer those products and solutions to our clients. 

Perla’s First 

Since I met Perla in front of the Bloomberg BNA ”wall of firsts” I began wondering what Perla’s “first” contribution might be.  In preparing for the interview it became obvious that Perla comes to Bloomberg BNA with a  significant social media footprint. Here is my “first” observation about Perla.  He  is the first major legal publishing executive  who is a “social media native.”  His hefty digital  “footprint”  is proof that he is  "engaged with" rather than an "observer of" new media. This is an important and distinctive asset in a chief executive. This is likely to inform his vision of Bloomberg BNA’s place in the evolving digital world.  In one of his previous video interviews he talked about the importance of “clear intention” in leading Pangea3.  He is fond of repeating a wonderful adage that one should “never confuse a clear vision with a straight line.” So I think it is fair to expect that both Perla as a leader, and Bloomberg BNA as a company  are likely to explore some uncharted territory at the frontiers of legal innovation.

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