Over a career spanning more than 30 years, Mark Yacano has guided a wide range of law departments on both legal and business strategy. As a law firm leader, a practitioner and a strategic advisor, he has worked with clients to reduce their legal exposure, control their expenses and streamline their operations.
As a Managing Director on our Transform Advisory Services team, Mark frequently advises companies on the adoption of a wide range of technologies, including contract management, billing, matter management and discovery platforms. In addition to technology selection, he guides clients through the development of workflow and best practices that accompany the adoption of technology.
Tell me a little about your work and how you got interested in speaking about mental health in the legal profession.
Thanks for the opportunity to talk with you, Colin. My professional focus is working with legal departments to improve their operations. I am part of Major, Lindsey & Africa’s Transform Advisory Services Team. My focus is on how legal departments leverage technology to deliver better outcomes and to use their talent more effectively. Other members of our team, work with legal departments to improve their cultures, build strategic growth plans, and help their team members reach their full personal and professional potential.
MLA decided to contribute to the body of thought leadership on mental health issues in our profession because our team members across the globe felt passionate about the subject. Our recruiters work with people every day to find “The Job” that brings out their best selves personally and professionally. For me, mental health has been a passion for many years based on both my own experience, trying to navigate the mental healthcare system, and watching other colleagues struggle as well. The company created an opportunity and space to lean-in to the issues by empowering me to host our Erase the Stigma: Conversations about Mental Health podcast.
Why do you think there remains a persistent stigma around mental health, particularly for lawyers and law students?
First, let’s acknowledge that mental illness is stigmatized outside the profession in the world at large. T.V. dramas that associate people with mental illness with criminal acts and a normalized vernacular that makes it okay to characterize people we don’t like or disagree with as “crazy” or “bipolar” or “psycho” are stigmatizing. Then people who go to law school or join the profession as a practitioner and they often walk right into an unforgiving environment. The mantra for both law students and practitioners is do great work, deliver on time, and do not let your personal issues get in the way. There is an expectation that we can work through anything by just working harder. Combine the long hours with an unrelenting pressure to deliver that never lets up, and you create the perfect breeding ground for anxiety disorders, depression, or alcohol or substance abuse. Admitting that you are struggling and need mental health services is hard to do in that environment. Asking for help is a counter-narrative in such a corrosive culture.
How do you suggest we try to overcome/eliminate the stigma?
The power of story and education are critical components to fight the battle to eradicate the stigma associated with mental illness. As more people tell their stories, it becomes easier for others to join the narrative. We have several guests on our podcast that have done just that. American Law Media’s Mind Over Matter project has helped jump-start the process of creating awareness by bringing the ABA/Hazelden study into focus and through ALM’s own recent survey showing the depth of the problem in our profession. The work that some law firms are doing to create healthier cultures and to bring resources to attorneys and staff are sending a great message to the rest of the profession. I believe we are making progress towards a more accepting climate.
What can law schools do, in your view, to help with combating this issue?
That is a complicated question. I think it starts with creating easily accessible resources for students that are struggling to get help. Law school professionals and staff should be trained in mental health first aid to help them them identify students and colleagues that might be struggling. Many law firms have done that and have reported that they have been successful in getting people who need help what they need to feel better. Education about mental illness is critical. Mental illness can be, and often is, a biological disease. Stress and culture can devastate those with undiagnosed mental health issues, particularly if those issues intersect with a disease of the mind. More education is needed on what mental illness is to demystify and normalize it. Once people know they are neither weak nor alone, they can more easily ask for help.
Throughout your career thus far, what has most surprised you about the legal profession?
I have been so fortunate to have practiced law for 20 plus years, managed a legal services company, and then come to MLA to help it build MLA Transform Advisory Services. I have witnessed so much evolution within the profession. Those of us who started in the business in the ’80s has a “I ruined my shirt from an ink stain from the bates stamp story.” Now we produce unfathomable amounts of documents and other data seamlessly and digitally. Probably the biggest surprise is how communication has evolved. When I started practicing, we did not have computers, so no one had email. When we got email it could take an hour for an email you sent to go to your colleague two floors-up. Early in my career, there was a water main break underneath our building. The firm had to set-up a temporary office in another building. Only a couple of us had laptops, no one had phones with email and all documents required wet signatures. Look how far we have come as in the midst of this terrible crisis an unfathomable number of lawyers had to start working remotely, leveraging video conferencing, collaborative work tools and smart devices. Today, we can do more with an iPad that we could ever do with a desktop computer in the 80’s and 90’s.