Be prepared to take calculated risks. Have clarity of strategy and flexibility in implementation.”

In our #Spotlight Series we get to speak with some of the freshest thinkers and hardest workers on the frontlines of the modern legal industry. These are the individuals and organizations building the future – and delivering on the promise each day.

It was a particular pleasure to sit down with the leadership team at MLA, Mark Yacano and Christine Kennedy to discuss their progress and perspectives on the marketplace.

What do you see as being the greatest change in the legal industry in the next decade?

CHRISTINE KENNEDY

To refine how AI is married with substantive human capital; Less volume, more substance.  The past decade saw a drastic shift in the legal industry triggered in great part by the mortgage crisis.  This shift, driven by less cash flow and higher scrutiny, resulted in the hiring of a temporary and contract-based workforce on a large scale to save money for e-discovery and form-based practice.  But the short-term solution has resulted in a brain drain of the lower paid legal market and clients are suffering.  The decade upon us is taking note of the bill for services and the results are as we should have known they would be – you get what you pay for.  If you want good attorneys, you must pay good money.  If you want a strong bottom line, it is best to invest smart, not spread yourself thin across unyielding commodities.

MARK YACANO

I will steal from my Bakers Dozen interview and say the same thing here: Firms and legal departments will evolve the ability to take a multifaceted approach to delivering legal services. I think that we are entering the age of the Legal Alchemist.  The Alchemist can blend interdisciplinary teams that span technology, finance, process management, talent management and substantive legal expertise to create better ways to deliver services to internal and external clients.  The message here is that there is a big opportunity to create new legal eco-systems of service providers doing what they do best.

Who are you – and how did you end up in the legal business?

CHRISTINE KENNEDY

I am the Director of Solutions for MLA’s Managed Legal Services Practice. Once I gave up wanting to become a Marine Biologist, I set my mind on becoming an attorney.  That was around age 8.  From there on I volunteered and interned with groups such as Youth Court in Onondaga County in middle school, and with the Syracuse District Attorney’s office in High school.  I was hooked.

MARK YACANO

I am the Global Practice Leader of MLA’s Managed Legal Services Practice. I knew I wanted to be a lawyer in high school.  My mother was Vice-President of the Better Business Bureau of Western New York. She worked with several great Buffalo law firms including Philips Lytle.  I got great exposure to gifted lawyers with a strong sense of community service.  It inspired me.

“Once I gave up wanting to become a Marine Biologist, I set my mind on becoming an attorney.” CK

Tell us a bit about the organization you’re part of – what was the inspiration for you in joining the organization? What do you like about it most?

CHRISTINE KENNEDY

I joined MLA because I experienced the shift in the legal industry firsthand.  I joined the team to develop client-directed services centered on blending cutting-edge technology with great talent.  The technology that we have leveraged is designed for aiding the legal industry, not destroying it.  Our Smart-Look Analytics services enhance the ability of great people to do great work.  I wanted to be in on the ground floor of a new venture within a well-established company, and I think I’ve found it.

MARK YACANO

MLA is the best legal recruiting firm in the world. Its ethic of care and client service are inspiring. MLA expanded into consultative services to meet the needs of its clients. Its clients asked MLA to do more. I joined because I wanted to help a world-class company deliver even more value to its clients.

Describe your team – what do you (each) bring to the table? What’s the best part of the team dynamic you experience?

MARK YACANO

Christine has extraordinary analytical skills.  From her extensive experience as a litigator and consultant she can assess our clients’ objectives and then develop and execute on tactics and strategies that accomplish those goals.

I bring the ability to hire good people and give them room to thrive.  My skill set is identifying systemic challenges in how legal services are delivered and bringing the right people together to build solutions that solve those problems.

CHRISTINE KENNEDY

My background is litigation.  I look at problems through the goal post, how do we get there best.  I bring years of hands-on, high volume, highly-publicized litigation experience.  I have been in the trenches.  I know where to look for the problems, and if I am new to the forum, I will not hesitate to ask the important questions to educate myself, this is a field where a good practitioner will never stop learning.

The team dynamic is strong.  Our backgrounds vary both in years of experience and daily practice, but the common thread is problem solving under pressure.  One of Mark’s greatest strengths is keeping his finger on the pulse of the technology community and the innovation impacting legal departments at all levels.

Who or what inspires you in what you’re seeking to achieve – and why? Feel free to share your favorite inspirational quote or anecdote.

CHRISTINE KENNEDY

“Show me a day when the world wasn’t new” Sister Barbara Hance. I have this quote memorialized at home, encapsulated with a black and white picture of a bright-eyed toddler witnessing a feathered sparrow on a window ledge for the first time, the two young creatures eye-to-eye. For me this speaks to the evolution we are constantly in the midst of, not alone, but with the world in its entirety.

MARK YACANO

I want our team to do work that is breathtaking.  I am inspired to see us do work that delivers enduring value to our clients and our colleagues.  My passion is in creating platforms, products and services that give our team members opportunities to find their voices and create their own bodies of breathtaking work.

Its corny but my favorite quote is from Rocky Balboa “You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya get hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward.” Throughout my life I have been under-estimated and, in some cases, written-off by others as not talented or smart-enough.  I have had to learn to push those thoughts out of my head and find the strength to pursue my dreams.

What was your greatest failure – what did you learn from it and how have you applied it in your work?

MARK YACANO

My greatest failure goes back to high school.  I grew up in a small town in New York state called Eden.  If you google Eden Volleyball you will see that that small town has built a volleyball dynasty over the past forty years.  Two of my best friends helped do that.  When we were in high school our coach’s father became very ill and ultimately died early in the season.  While he was out some alumni and other teachers helped run our practices.  I was the one of the captains and had the responsibility to lead. I didn’t do that.  I let others do the hard stuff because I was intimidated.  I let my team, my coach and myself down because I did not meet the challenge. That feeling of not stepping up still haunts me.

CHRISTINE KENNEDY

This is tough.  International law has always been a great passion of mine.  Having early exposure to it while at the State Department, my failure and regret to this point has been diverting my career away from it.  Given the current political state the world is in today, the continuous need for experienced international litigators has never been greater.  With experience in different litigation practice areas, I appreciate that I can serve the community now through pro bono work and strive for cross-border clients whose challenges may lead me yet to international practice in the future.

What was your greatest success – and, similarly, how did you leverage the experience?

CHRISTINE KENNEDY

I have had many triumphs, but it may be too early to count my greatest success.  I’ll keep you posted.

“I am ready for open roads and not afraid of the speed.” CK

MARK YACANO

I will answer that by sharing one of my proudest moments.  In the latter part of my years in private practice I realized my firm could benefit greatly from a merger. I was part of a leadership team that found a merger partner that was willing to take our entire firm. We valued our colleagues and agreed that we would not enter into an agreement with a firm that want to pick and choose who came into the new firm.  We gave all our attorneys and staff the chance to thrive in a new environment.

I am a work in progress and my story is still being written.  I will let others decide if the body of work I leave behind is a success or not.

“I was part of a leadership team that found a merger partner that was willing to take our entire firm.” MY

What does your typical client look like – what are the issues they’re facing?

CHRISTINE KENNEDY

We think of the service we offer as valuable to a company finding themselves in need of assessing the state of their contractual agreements. This could be mid-market players to top of the industry.  A major merger and acquisition, to a simple review of the state of legal affairs.  Running a health check on legal obligations shouldn’t be available only to those in the Fortune 500.  We pride ourselves on tailoring our service to the needs of the client, not demanding they raise capital to reach us.

MARK YACANO

We can deliver services to a client of all sizes and that is one of our differentiators. Because the technology we harness works just as well on small numbers of contracts as it does on large numbers of contracts we can create a project plan that is right for the client.  We can help emerging and mid-market companies save money by getting control over their contractual obligations and in the process, set them up for the time when they can afford a contract management system. We can help larger clients conduct due diligence or integrate a merger. The ability to build an interesting cross-section of clients challenges us to constantly find new and better ways to do business.

In your words, what new or better opportunity do you create for legal industry clients?

CHRISTINE KENNEDY

Better, faster, more complete delivery of contract analysis. The standard method is to run a contract abstraction and analysis project the same as a document privilege review Project.  Using the same technology and personnel structure that worked in e-discovery which simply doesn’t cut it. Its antiquated, expensive, and frankly delivers poor results. Other companies try to use technology as a broad-spectrum solution that greatly reduces or claims to fully eliminate the role of experienced people. Our method is simpler and smarter. We hire expert attorneys who can analyze contractual agreements on a project-by-project basis.  The technology we bring enables expert attorneys to work faster, and we wrap strong workflow and process around all of it. We provide the metrics identifying the agreed to obligations and liabilities, a Rosetta Stone of where the obligations lie and leave it up to the client on what to pursue next. This gets the ‘dirty work’ done cleaner, with great efficiency.

MARK YACANO

I absolutely agree with Christine’s thoughts on the topic.

Describe your solution – from a client’s perspective – not yours. How does it help your clients.

MARK YACANO

An approach that blends both technology and substantive expertise. We did a presentation to a potential client and he made a comment at the end that really excited me.  He said that we developed an offering did not devalue that important role that human judgement in the contract review process. We use the technology to help people better apply their expertise.

CHRISTINE KENNEDY

Fast technology paired with exceptional talent in a way that saves me money.  And they’re right.  We deliver high quality that is in-part achieved through the use of cutting-edge, patented technology. We also have the deeply experienced recruiters in MLA’s Interim Staffing group to source the right talent for each project.

“We will never stop adapting and improving.” CK

What stage are you at? How’s it going? Give us a sense of things – the good, the bad and the ugly.

CHRISTINE KENNEDY

We have invested time with our technology partners in honing the software development, ensuring it is operating at the highest level for client needs.  We have also established a strong personnel management culture and a lot of operational discipline on how we sell and deliver services. We are launching now and are still fairly new. We continually improve the technology and our approach to delivering the work. We will never stop adapting and improving.

MARK YACANO

We are methodically building a brand, creating market awareness and creating a community of believers in our Smart-Look Analytics™ services. The excitement about what we are doing is palpable and every day we gain momentum. We are in the process of finalizing several pilot projects. There is no ugly when you are launching a world-class service offering.  There are only opportunities to learn every day.  Some people choose to view challenges as “ugly”.  I view them integral to the building of a successful offering.

What aspect(s) do you find buyers are most receptive to?

MARK YACANO

The combination of blindingly fast, accurate technology with our ability to find the best people to leverage it through our interim staffing group.

CHRISTINE KENNEDY

It’s hard to demonstrate how expert an attorney is without putting them through their paces, but the technology speaks for itself.  When we demonstrate the platform, it brings the “wow” factor.

“The technology we bring enables expert attorneys to work faster, and we wrap strong workflow and process around all of it. We provide the metrics identifying the agreed to obligations and liabilities, a Rosetta Stone of where the obligations lie, and leave it up to the client on what to pursue next. This gets the ‘dirty work’ done cleaner, with great efficiency.” CK

Where do you see more questions or push-back?

CHRISTINE KENNEDY

To date, it’s the comparison to competitors – “Why shouldn’t we go with the established guy, what assurances will I have with your firm?”  To that we respond that we are nimble.  We are building a service that is based on both human capital and AI – the highest quality of each.  We run lean by making efficient use of technology, but that’s not what defines us.  We are not beholden to large operating costs that require a shifting of high fees onto the client.   We do more for less, and we offer the same quality assurance as an expensive outfit.  Bigger is not always best.

MARK YACANO

I think it is the question that many legal departments ask themselves every day.  Can we afford to engage a partner that provides a managed suite of services or do we do it with our existing staff as best we can?  When they see how we blend high-octane technology with very skilled practitioners it creates a new reality for them. We build workstreams that allow their teams to focus on other priorities while we deliver faster, better and less expensive contact review services.

Which do you think is driving most activity for clients: cost savings, time savings, access to better tools – or what else?

CHRISTINE KENNEDY

All the above.  That’s the sweet spot, somewhere in the middle.  ‘Time is money’ is the adage for good reason.  Saving money keeps the client happy.  And the ability to carry out your practice while delivering on a cost savings in an efficient manner, is exactly what we are premised on.

MARK YACANO

Clients are looking for ways to catch-up.  Many legal departments are very lean, and they do not have the bandwidth to wade into a population of legacy contracts and identify key issues and risk factors.  They need a cost-effective way to deploy a solution that is capable of giving them business critical information.

“I used to watch my grandfather work in his restaurant. He would take a lump of pizza dough and work it with his hands until it was soft and able to be stretched into the right thickness and shape necessary to make great pizza.” MY

Do you find legal industry buyers to be receptive to innovation? How ready for change do you think the legal industry is?

MARK YACANO

I used to watch my grandfather work in his restaurant.  He would take a lump of pizza dough and work it with his hands until it was soft and able to be stretched into the right thickness and shape necessary to make great pizza.  It’s called kneading the dough and it takes time to get the dough ready for the oven.  That is what has been going on in the legal services sector for some time.  Technology gets deployed some of it works, some of it doesn’t.  But, overtime it works better and better and lawyers and the professionals begin to adopt new tools and new ways of thinking about solving problems.  The legal industry is changing and both firms and corporate legal departments are making intelligent decisions about innovation. The “pizza dough” is almost ready to give rise to amazing era of change in our business.

CHRISTINE KENNEDY

I think we are just about there.  The general temperature across law firms and in-house groups is that the legal sector has to get in line with the ever-evolving technology age and adapt, like it or not.  This of course varies by size and capital backing of the firm itself and its clients, but the need is there across the board.  In knowing this, more legal department heads are welcoming the discussion of how to get there.

And a little fun:

Fancy restaurant or gastro food truck – what’s your go-to favorite food?

CHRISTINE KENNEDY

I pride myself on being flexible.  Some days you want a fine steak, aged to perfection.  And other days, you need some off-the-truck flavor!  It really depends on the day.

MARK YACANO

None of the above.  I travel all the time and have to go to restaurants.  My favorite place to eat is at home with my family.  We all love to cook, and we love to experiment.

“My favorite place to eat is at home with my family.” MY

What’s your favorite movie? Just one. And why?

CHRISTINE KENNEDY

Charlie Wilson’s War.  The cast for starters, but the premise at heart, really.  I have an affinity for public service and recognize the impact the U.S. as a nation can have on the world, the bitter and the sweet.  No matter how good the intentions may be, if in the end we do not follow through, the results of our actions can be catastrophic.   A running theme through the movie comes from the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s character who consistently reserves judgment on what is good versus what is bad, “We’ll see, said the wise man.”  This is how I proceed.

MARK YACANO

I am sentimental.  My favorite movie is Brain’s Song. It is a story about friendship, breaking down stereotypes and love.

What’s your favorite hobby when you’re not busy improving the legal industry?

CHRISTINE KENNEDY

I do not leave much time for “hobbies”, but I make time for reading and learning.  I enjoy watching my children grow, and I adore learning again through them.

MARK YACANO

My kids are in their 20’s now so I have more time to read and to write.  As I confessed in my Bakers Dozen interview I am a huge fan of Boho Cycle Studio in Richmond and Soul Cycle, particularly in DC.  I love the energy you get from a community of people working hard to feel better physically and emotionally.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what one book would you want?

CHRISTINE KENNEDY

“Sapiens:  A brief History of Humankind”, by Yuval Noah Harari.  I just picked it up and would love to contemplate its theories on humans and culture as we’ve come to know them, while sitting in sand.

MARK YACANO

As you know from my Bakers Dozen interview I love history.  I would pick anything written by Ron Chernow.  His books are so darn long that maybe one of them would tide me over until I got rescued. I have his yet to be read 965-page book on Grant sitting on my shelf.

A Ferrari, a Prius or a bicycle – which would you pick?

CHRISTINE KENNEDY

This is a loaded question.  A bicycle would allow me to be grounded and move about the community in an eco-friendly manner.  A Prius gets me farther than a bicycle while maintaining a sense of environmental conscience.  But if I am being honest, I would pick the Ferrari today.  I am ready for open roads and not afraid of the speed.  Getting there first and in style is sometimes a necessity.

MARK YACANO

A bike.  My son and wife are avid car buffs.  I see cars as functional.  I don’t love driving and luckily, we live in a part of Richmond where I can do much of what I need to do on bike or on foot.  The world is a safer place when I am not in command of a motor vehicle.