Mary Mack 

Executive Director of ACEDS

• Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be in (or a customer of) the legal business?

I scored high on my LSAT’s, yet decided to “work in business” after college.  It was 1978.  I graduated from LeMoyne College with a degree in Classical Languages. Returning to my hometown of Lackawanna, NY right when steel, auto and our other industries left the country, the best job of many I could find in business was to manage a chicken wings restaurant.  My manager title meant that I got to clean the refrigerator as well as do the books.  This undesirable experience was the spark that caused me to apply a handful of law schools. I was accepted at Northwestern University in Chicago.  Immediately after applying, however, the bus company where I was working temp had an IBM computer whose programmer died.  After one college course in BASIC (another structured language to go with my Latin and Greek), I modified their payroll program to deduct union dues under deadline pressure.  I was hooked.  But a Lackawanna gal does not get into Northwestern every day, so I went.

• What do you do for a living right now?

I am the Executive Director of ACEDS, the Association of Certified E-Discovery Specialists.  I drive the mission of this leading domain certification organization for eDiscovery, with a focus on community, connection and careers.

• What has been your greatest triumph and your greatest success in the legal services field and what did you learn from each?

From walking into the UN Criminal Court, or the FTC, a Fortune 10, or into the marbled halls of Cravath, my greatest triumph was getting over my fear to serve great clients.  I learned that, while the government appears very powerful, they are incredibly resource constrained. Also while the top law firms look like they have and know everything, it is the attitude of the people that determine whether they can accept outside help to be better.  My biggest success is at ACEDS.  I assumed leadership at a time when the organization was struggling, and with generosity of spirt and help, created the vibrant community you see today.

• Do you think the legal industry is headed in the right direction, the wrong direction – or which direction?

The legal industry, that is, the revenue generating engines in legal, are still headed in the wrong direction. There are too many engines chasing the higher dollar clients, and too few engines chasing the majority of the world’s citizens to solve their legal problems.  The green shoots of legal collaboration rather than always being adversarial and the early adopters on tech are promising.

• Who – or what – inspires you – and why?

Resilient, caring people who get up and go, every day.  When I look at hero, John McCain, I think of my father, who worked each day in the seventies after his chemo.  Others include my sister who took care of my mom and aunt until their deaths and is now facing her own wife’s health issues, Malala and Gabby Gifford who were shot and continue to speak out inspire me.

• What advice would you give to the younger generation contemplating law as a career?

Northwestern stopped sending prospective students to me in the 90’s because I would ask them if their dream had the necessary pre-condition of having a law degree before taking the time, and the debt to go to law school. Traditional legal practice is not for the faint of heart.  I suggested they work in legal before going to law school, and to look closely at the economics.  I would have given my eyeteeth for the new programs with Bill Henderson and others at Northwestern—so my answer now is to find a law school that gets it.

• How ready for change do you think the legal industry is?

Legal people put a very high value on precedent and risk mitigation.  That makes us more backward looking and slower to change.  Our economic engine (billable hours) still rewards inefficiency.  Every big headline brings more legal people into a place where change is possible.  For example, the data breaches at law firms have legal people actually considering encryption.

• Is more – or different – leadership required? In what ways?

Yes, I believe we need a return to when the lawyer was the steward of society’s structures in a servant leadership mode.  Currently, attorneys are being left out of the structural decisions for algorithms and platforms due to tech aversion. These platforms and their use and governance have the effect of legislation and regulation. Maximizing our monopoly position over legal services to optimize our power and money at the expense of underserved families and companies is not sustainable.  We will lose our status as a self-regulating profession unless we do better.

• How deep do you think will be the inroads of technology in the industry?

Very deep.  Once statutes, regulations and case law can be understood by AI, and decision trees and document assembly get democratized, the white collar, high dollar legal careers will change and morph dramatically.

• In ten years, do you see an industry much as it is – or do you see new players, new technology and an altered state?

In 10 years, I see highly optimized corporate legal departments being served by a combination of legal and technical organizations, and legal consumers being served by voice or visual applications with paraprofessionals to solve landlord-tenant, family, wills and the like.  Yes, I believe in the rise of the legal engineer.

• Are consultants and lawyers looking increasingly similar? Should the distinction continue?

Yes, consultants and lawyers are looking more similar.  Lawyers do work within an ethical mandate that consultants do not have.  Not that lawyers are inherently more ethical, just that there is a structure there, particularly around conflicts, confidentiality and fiduciary responsibilities.  Lawyers have a systemic education that consultants do not have.

• What are your thoughts on the increasing availability of data to guide client-side procurement of legal services?

There is a collision between data to guide and “attorney advertising” and fee splitting that needs addressing in today’s environment.  Hopefully, the data informs, as in Premonition or Clarilegal, and allows for intangibles like trust and responsiveness.

• Lawyers have typically regulated to keep non-lawyer investors out but that’s a two-edged sword these days. What are your thoughts?

With a ‘flat earth” perspective, that ship has sailed.  It is in the US that this prohibition has the biggest impact, and it puts quite the damper on investing for the future.  International firms without this prohibition will eat our US legal lunch.

•  What’s the one most significant factor that will drive change in your view?


• Are we seeing the demise of the “profession” and the real emergence of the “business” of law?

This has already happened.  We need more professionalism and client centered advances, and serving those without.  We need to open the doors to better situated providers for the things not needing professionals to do.  At ACEDS, we are professionalizing the business of eDiscovery, with our Guild dinners, mentorships and community involvement.

• What do you consider is the greatest challenge facing the industry?

The visceral hatred for elites and professionals addressing a legal community that looks quite wealthy, and looks like it is stacking the deck in its favor.

• What do you see as the greatest opportunity for the sector looking forward?

Leveraging our ability to see many sides of an issue, to look upstream and downstream for impacts, and to create structures that sustain.  There has never been a better opportunity to reduce inefficiencies and create better value for clients with mature and emerging platforms and technology.

• Do you think law can improve its track record on diversity and inclusion?

Absolutely. How?  A commitment from the top.  The top is older, white and male.  The top must invite and support diverse members, and sometimes step aside in favor of more diversity.  This can include white women making room for people of color, even though the law’s inclusion of white women at the top is abysmal.  It was encouraging to see Ropes and Gray, for the first time, select a female chair.

• Will the current regulatory framework around law help or hinder it in the future

Hinder.  We are self-policing, and not accountable to the society we serve.

• Who do you think are the greatest influencers on the industry these days?

Corporate legal ops departments and the corporate counsel organizations and lobbyists have the biggest impact in terms of dollars per client.  New entrants, like Rocket Lawyer, Neota, Margaret Hagen and others are pushing the edges for consumer legal services.

• If you had to do it all over again, would you? Or what would you do differently?

Good question.  Every step I made has created the me I am today.  My regrets are more along the lines of not asking for help in the moment.  I lost my father to cancer my first semester in law school, and by not getting help, I blamed “the law” for my not being there as he passed.  I lost some opportunities and created difficulties for myself because I was afraid of the “character and fitness” inquiry and the negative cast on getting help.  I came out during my third year of law school at a time when “computer security and the law” would not be open to us.  I wasn’t equipped to make that challenge, so went in to “straight IT” where my activism around AIDS funding and human rights would not be a problem.

• If a law firm was a startup pitching for investors, would you be an investor?

Depends on the mission, and the collaborative ability of the principals to harness technology to serve.

Wildcard questions:

• If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?

Consulting and business coaching in the areas of tech, innovation, security, privacy and of course, ediscovery.

• What would you like to be known for?

Advancing the careers and professional environment of legal/technology people with heart, who care about people without the gifts they have been given, who give back, and pay it forward.

• What would surprise everyone if they knew (they may now).

When people hear my name is Mary Mack, they frequently sing the old children’s song Miss Mary Mack to me- in many different versions, in public, on the phone. It just happened last weekend when I went to get my oil changed with a version I had never heard before as it has turned into a rap.

• What’s your favorite hobby or activity outside of law?

Connecting people

• What’s your favorite sports team?

I grew up with the Bills and studied for the bar at Wrigley, so the Cubs.

• What’s your favorite city?

Beyond Portland, the closest city to me now, I have great affection for Lackawanna, where I grew up, with Rome and Chicago, where I studied tied for second.

• What’s your favorite food?

Love Thai.

• What’s your nickname – and why?

Mackmary—twitter handle