Q&A: Meet David Perla, Class of 2015
During the dot-com boom of the late 1990s, many young lawyers left big firm jobs to become general counsels of young companies. David Perla was one of those young lawyers. And, if being General Counsel at Monster.com was his final stop, his would have been one of the success stories of that era.
But, that’s not David. At the age of 35, David left the comfort of his GC position to co-found Pangea3, a legal process outsourcing company that grew to more than 800 lawyers and was sold to Thomson Reuters. Last year, at the age of 45, David became the President of the Bloomberg BNA Legal Division. His 10-year journey, in many respects, was not necessary. But David is a visionary who refuses to sit still. If you ask David about improvements in the legal profession, you will gain several business plans worth of material and ideas.
President, Legal Division
Where were you born and raised?
Born in Queens, NY, and raised on Long Island. I live in New Jersey now, but as they say, “You can take the boy out of Long Island ….”
What’s your favourite thing to do away from work?
I’ve got three young kids and try to spend as much non-work time as possible with them. It keeps me laughing and learning.
What achievement outside of work makes you most proud?
Helping to increase enrollment at my kids’ school more than 10 percent in one year, with great families whose kids are thriving there.
Did you choose your career or did it choose you?
I think being a lawyer chose me, at least for the first decade of my career. From there, I chose to be an entrepreneur and to do something with the skills I’d built. I realized that if I didn’t choose to be something new and different, being a career general counsel would choose me and define my career. So I quit and chose my own future and the next chapters in my career.
Who was your mentor and what made him or her so influential?
Most recently, Larry Graev, formerly head of O’Sullivan, Graev & Karabell. He served as Chair of Pangea3, and was a lead investor as well. He helped me understand the market, selling, blending the delivery of legal services with financial management and profitability, balancing long term growth with short- and medium-term needs, delighting the client, and creating a culture. But, most importantly, he helped me learn to do all of that with decency and kindness to our people — team members, clients and shareholders. Even at the sale of our company, rather than negotiate the last nickel of an expensive final bill, he commented that our outside counsel, who’d done a great job, “has a right to feel good about the deal as well.” It spoke to me about viewing relationships long term, and doing right by people who’d done right by us.
What is the most vivid moment or experience in your career?
Late September 2008. I’d flown to India to work on a plan for rightsizing Pangea3. The company was losing hundreds of thousands of dollars per months, and costs were rising. Clients were in a panic over the financial markets, and capital markets were frozen solid. Our board was furious and we risked running out money in 2009 if we didn’t make radical changes. My business partner and I spent many hours into the night on the phone with our board, which was demanding massive changes and savings. We finished our board call near 2 a.m., at which point we opened and drank much of a bottle of scotch. We sat alone in his office, noting out loud to one another that this would be the night that we either made the company succeed, or the night it failed. Four months later, revenues were up over 50 percent, expenses were down by over 30 percent, and we were profitable. Less than two years later, revenues were five times as big, and companies were seeking to acquire us. We sold the company in November 2010. It really was the seminal night and the turning point for the company — and we knew it exactly when it was happening.
Of the law-related projects or initiatives you’ve worked on in the past year or so, what has you the most excited or shows the most promise?
Hard to say, since we we’ve developed new products and solutions in so many areas. But the hottest topics, and the products that generate the most excitement, center on (1) data and judicial analytics and (2) privacy and data security. So it’s exciting that new and developing technologies and newer areas of law are generating the most conversation in the market.
What is the most engaging law-related thing you’re doing right now?
Every day is different, but the most fun is the regular work of trying to anticipate the needs of our clients (law firms, in-house lawyers, courts, government and academia) and build products that will address those needs years from now.
Get to know the rest of the Fellows by visiting the Recent Inductees page and by browsing the Fellows Directory.