Rachel Dooley is the Managing Counsel for McKinsey Digital. She’s an experienced tech lawyer who is passionate about emerging technology, including quantum computing, AI, and data and ethics.
On this episode, Rachel discusses how lawyers in corporate legal departments can be more intentional in integrating design into their legal work. She also shares her thoughts on why creativity is important for lawyer health and wellbeing, and why trust between lawyers and clients is essential for producing great client outcomes.
Our Key Takeaways From This Episode
Human-centered design’s promise can extend to corporate legal departments.
Corporate counsel can also deploy its power by understanding, not only the legal issues at play, but also the needs, interests and emotions of the client.
As lawyers, to really move the industry forward, we need to create space for focus, an atmosphere that celebrates failure, or - more positively stated - learning, and a bias toward action in trying new solutions to problems in the legal department.
By doing this, lawyers will build new skills and create new ideas for navigating and succeeding in a rapidly changing future.
Lawyers and clients need better ways to relate to each other.
For any relationship between lawyer and client, but particularly in an arena that moves at a pace of emerging technology, putting lawyers to the side until the project is nearly complete will ultimately result in frustration when the client learns of a legal issue that derails an entire project. But teaching lawyers how to collaborate and guide efforts so that clients are eager for them to participate at the start is a challenge we need to tackle.
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Full Episode Transcript
Jennifer: What makes you optimistic about the future of the legal profession?
Rachel: I’m optimistic about the fact that we are even talking about creativity and innovation in the practice. Because I think when we start really unleashing those powers in lawyers, so much is possible and so much about the industry will change.
Jennifer: Hi everyone I’m Jennifer Leonard, Chief Innovation Officer at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School. As an alum of the law school who practiced law for a decade in private sector and government practices, I realized there are so many ways we lawyers can better serve our clients. And now through the Future of the Profession Initiative, my colleagues and I focus all our energy on thinking about how to do just that. Our profession is full of bright, engaged lawyers working at the highest levels. But we frustrate many of those we want to serve because of the way we’ve structured the practice of law and our legal systems. Students coming to law school today need new skills that turbocharge their legal education so that they can navigate the dynamic landscape that lies ahead.
Jennifer: To develop fresh approaches to the way we educate lawyers and serve our clients, we need to open up the conversation. On this podcast, we’ll hear from experts working to change the legal profession, and leaders who’ve developed creative solutions to complex problems in other fields. We’ll also discuss how the law school is producing the next generation of lawyers. A generation that will create new ways to put the people they serve at the center of everything they do. There’s so much to do, so let’s get started.
Today, I’m excited to welcome Rachel Dooley. Rachel is the Interim Managing Counsel for McKinsey Digital. She’s an experienced tech lawyer who is passionate about emerging technology, including quantum computing, AI, and data and ethics. Rachel’s passionate about legal design and how lawyers embedded in a business and technology problem create solutions. Rachel joins us today to discuss how lawyers in corporate legal departments can be more intentional in integrating design into their legal work. We’ll also explore why creativity is important for lawyer health and wellbeing, and why trust between lawyers and clients is essential for producing great client outcomes. Here’s my conversation with Rachel Dooley.
Rachel, welcome to the podcast.
Rachel: Thanks for having me, Jen.
Jennifer: I know that your professional experience as a lawyer, your journey has been a little unorthodox, and you started practice as a patent litigator, and we’ll come back to that in a minute. But you left practice pretty early on, and you went to run the Fashion Week circuit. And you were actually a professional jewelry designer for seven years before you came back to practice and join McKinsey. So, tell me about that. How did you go from being a practicing lawyer to being a jewelry designer?
Rachel: Yes, yeah. I was making jewelry during law school as a way to decompress, particularly when we were studying for the bar, right, and you’re just used to doing note card flips all day long, and I needed to let my brain settle at the end of the day, so I was making jewelry on the side. And that slowly morphed into gifts to friends and friends who were in the industry. And it just was this normal ebb and flow, until all of a sudden, it had this exponential growth, where it got into the hands of the right people, one of them being a friend of mine who knew somebody at the closet of Gossip Girl, that incredible, epic journey of socialite kids in Manhattan. And it was when they were starting out, and so they asked if I would make them jewelry for the show. And I said, “Yeah, absolutely. That sounds great.” And I made them some, and they put it on the main character, Blake Lively’s character, and then she started wearing it over and over again.
And it’s just… It was this weird Sonic Boom moment, where all of a sudden, it just was like, then press came, and then editors came, and then we started figuring that it needs to get in stores. And it rapidly evolved after that, to the point where I was working as a lawyer during the day until very late hours, and then making jewelry in the middle of the night. And I’m like, this isn’t sustainable, this is not a life, and thinking, give it a shot to go into the fashion world. And then I did for seven years, and did New York, and Milan, and Paris. And it was wonderful. It was so wonderful, and it is such a wonderful community. But it’s a different way of using your brain. And I missed using my brain the way that we do on the analytical thinking side of lawyering. And so, I made the pivot back, and it was wonderful. So, yes, that was my journey.
Jennifer: What an amazing and cool and unique journey. And I was so excited. We were introduced by a mutual friend, and I was so excited. Before I even met you, I looked you up online. And we said this during our first meeting, but before I even talked to you, I knew that I would just love learning from you, because I love thinking about how lawyers can be more creative in the way they deliver legal services. And so, you have the perfect background. And it’s also a good lesson for our law students too, that you think there’s this one true path to what success is defined as in the profession. And you’re a perfect illustration of leaving, doing something totally different, but then informing what you do later with what you learned in that experience.
Rachel: Totally. And I will say that, that was mutual, right? We got on the phone with each other, and we’re like… I’m like, you were my favorite new meet from COVID, and like you, I feel like we were destined to be friends. And it was, I deep Googled you, and you deep Googled me. And it was all about how creativity can really make the profession that I think we were both drawn to, right? You go to law school thinking that this is going to be some sort of analytical dive, and you’re going to learn these new thinking skills, and you totally do. but to bake some creativity into that and to bake some let’s think about this differently, which is not how the profession is hardwired right now, to… I don’t want to say think outside the box. It’s not that. It’s just rethinking how we get it done. That is what’s really exciting, right?
Jennifer: Yes, it’s whatever the equivalent is of a bromance. It’s a modern friendship store-
Rachel: It was a momance, right?
Jennifer: A momance. We talked a lot too about being working moms during the pandemic, and we’ll talk about that too today, which is a whole other dimension of our friendship. And so, I want to move into talking about McKinsey Digital. And just first getting an understanding of what McKinsey Digital is. I’m generally aware of what McKinsey does as a global organization, but how is McKinsey Digital different?
Rachel: Yeah, yep. So, McKinsey Digital is a group within… It’s fully inside of McKinsey & Company, the consulting firm, and it’s called… We call it a growth platform, and it is growing. It is technology enabled services. So, a lot of the same types of problems that I think you would aim to solve with traditional consulting services, but enabled by technology. So, thinking through advanced analytics, and really getting our arms around these massive, complex datasets, and how we can use them to help inform future looking trajectory business issues or problems or complex next move planning right now. That is certainly a big part of it, and just the future trajectory of technology. So, right now, AI is the big or the sharp edge of… The point of the spear, I suppose I’ll say.
But very soon, that will be quantum computing, and how are we butting up against the physical limitations of computing that we have right now, and how as we, and I’m saying we as society, not we as McKinsey, but how are we as society going to crack that nut to unlock the next level of technological advance, so that we can… Technology becomes more powerful, certainly, but hopefully, more diffused across communities, across the globe, across all of society so that this becomes powerful tools that are available for everyone to better their lives, while also, obviously, keeping a real clear eye on the downside of that, and what happens when technology isn’t in check, or we’re getting out ahead of our skis.
So, those are all categories of issues that my group thinks about from a legal and regulatory perspective, and then supports the professionals who are trying to help our clients think through a lot of those same issues.
Jennifer: Yeah. But it’s interesting what you’re talking about, this advancement of technology to deliver the kinds of services that McKinsey traditionally delivers, but reimagining those services, leveraging the acceleration of technology that’s available to us now, disseminating it on a global scale. It’s the conversation that we’re just starting to have in legal, belatedly, I would argue, as compared with maybe an organization like McKinsey. And it’s a little bit meta in the sense that you’re embedded in an organization as legal counsel to guide a different industry in adapting and adopting these new technologies. And I know with your team, you think a lot about human centered design. And I would imagine McKinsey Digital thinks about that with respect to the way that its services are received by the end consumer. How are you thinking about that in a legal department, and leveraging human centered design to provide better service to McKinsey Digital?
Rachel: Yeah, no, it’s a great question. You cannot be a lawyer who doesn’t understand what your stakeholders are doing and think that you’re doing a good job. And that’s awesome for me, because that’s what fun that I get to just, as part of my job, keep up with where technology is moving, and really try to understand as best as I can what’s coming around the bend, and how that’s going to change our world.
So, I think the empathetic approach to being a lawyer is when I don’t have it, and when I feel like I don’t have that connectivity with a team that I’m supporting, or a particular individual that I might need to be in touch with, and I feel like I can’t make that connection, it’s much harder to feel satisfied by being a part of that, right? So, for our team, we try to really develop those skills of just looking outward from yourself, but that ultimately serves you too, right? When they understand that you see them, then they see you too. And I think that’s real… It’s a skill that I think is difficult to develop. And sometimes as lawyers, we don’t get the time and bandwidth to develop, so it’s a little bit forced, but it’s really important in our view.
Jennifer: Yeah, we’ve talked about this with other guests as well. It also doesn’t come naturally based on the way that we’re trained, right? We’re trained to think like lawyers almost exclusively. So, shifting our mindset, shifting our perspective of being trained to think like clients or think like team members that you’re supporting and empathizing with what they’re actually trying to achieve is so important. And I’m curious about how you actually take this global idea of infusing human centered design, infusing empathy into legal service delivery within your organization and what it looks like on the ground. How do you organize either training opportunities or activities with your team to teach each other and to learn design thinking, and then what are the activities that you do to generate new ideas?
Rachel: Yeah, there’s so many different pieces to it. And truthfully, there’s not a set path that we have, but I will talk about all the different blips on the screen. I think a lot of that starts with leadership on down, because so much of what we learn as lawyers is the apprenticeship model, right? And so, I think it’s making sure that everybody on the team gets the right amount of facetime and shadowing time and things like that with the folks who are masters of it.
I think the other thing that we do as a team more deliberately is we run design sprints around issues that we sometimes explicitly come down from stakeholders, or here’s a bottleneck I’m seeing, or why can’t I… I don’t know, why can’t I get an NDA, right? How can I get that as fast as possible? Why can’t there be a frictionless system? And then we try and solve for that. Or I’m having a hard time figuring out who I go to for XYZ, and then we solve for that in a design sprint. And I think that… I think the design sprints are in design thinking, in particular, it is one method for unlocking your brain to come up with new solutions, right? It is certainly not the only one. But I think doing design sprints where people are around a whiteboard, even if it’s virtual, but hopefully in person, a whiteboard with stickies and colored dots and markers, and you’re drawing stuff, it just gives your brain the bandwidth to think differently than when you’re sitting in front of a Zoom call, but emailing on the side.
I think there’s… I was talking about this with a friend of mine recently, there’s the research about the different parts of your brain that turn on when it’s creativity versus that turn on when you’re in that fight or flight mode of, I’m just responding to email shrapnel. So, we need to get people away from that to really unlock and say, okay, let’s think big, maybe this fails. And I think the other important thing that comes out of the design sprints, but comes out of a lot of our creative problem solving sessions with the team is to celebrate the failures too. I think as lawyers and a lot of professionals in general, but certainly as lawyers, we aren’t trained to celebrate the failures. In fact, we’re probably more trained to, say, minimize them and say they never happened. And that makes it more difficult for us just be like, what if? Let’s try it, right? What if?
But I think it would be really fun to just say, let’s take a run at it and see what the real big blockers are, and then celebrate the fact that we put some bandwidth against it. And you learn something along the way. You always learn something along the way. So, even if the project itself may fail, to celebrate what you learned and how you unlocked new ideas about the way you practice is so important to moving the needle. And I think it’s just a good team bonding thing too.
Jennifer: Yeah, there’s so many things you just said in that, that I’d love to explore. I think this theme has come up in other conversations we’ve had with different guests too, is this need to try things and this need to create an environment where trying and learning from things that lawyers would define as mistakes or failures is more of the norm in our culture, and then figuring out how to do that in a way that is safe, that protects our clients’ interests, that protects the interests of society at large, if we’re talking about court systems, or we’re talking about representing an individual. And it seems like that is the next chapter of this, is if we can accept that we’re failing in a lot of different respects with respect to the way that we deliver legal services, we need to create the opportunity to innovate. And innovation requires failure or learning. So, how do we create those environments where people feel comfortable that… Especially lawyers, I think we’re trained to spot risk immediately out of the gate. So, we do these design thinking activities, and I’m sure you’ve had this experience, because you’re trained this way, an idea comes up, and your lawyer brain is immediately like, here’s 13 reasons legally why that would not work.
Rachel: Yes, totally. Totally. And then you need to just get that down on paper, and then start picking that apart too, right? And so, to really start to pick that apart and challenge our assumptions, I think is such a… It’s such a fun part of thinking through the future of the practice. And it’s such a critical part to actually making progress, because I think you and I will agree, and I’m sure a lot of people who would listen to a podcast like this would agree is that this profession is ripe for bold ideas and bold new ways of doing the work. Twist your path and figure out how to respond to those things.
Jennifer: Yeah, it’s funny, because one of the things we like to do in our initiative, our Future of the Profession Initiative is learn from our colleagues across campus, particularly at Penn medicine, and some of the ways that they’ve innovated in healthcare delivery. And I’m sitting here with this card game that I got from Penn medicine-
Rachel: Oh, fun.
Jennifer: -which I’m going to send you because you might do something like this with your team.
Rachel: Oh, my gosh, yes.
Jennifer: It’s basically talking about how innovation requires both innovation and constraint. So, just because you have a really interesting idea, you can create a safe space for people to explore that recognizing that the constraint is going to come in later. So, you want early on to have this big, bold vision. And I think with lawyers, it’s comforting to know, don’t worry, there will be constraints on this. And we’ll get to do that, and we’ll get to deploy our lawyer training. And actually, a lot of the research around innovation shows that really good innovation comes from constraints, not from blue sky. If you think about… I will say this, not on behalf of both of us, but you think about big social media companies that were completely new, right? And there were no constraints. And the damage that that has created in a lot of different contexts, because there’s no winnowing down what makes sense or an exploration of any of that until you’re too far down the road. And then you’re backtracking and trying to figure out how it should have been designed from the outset. But good innovation has that inspiration piece, and then you can narrow it, whittle it, and come up with something really amazing on the other side.
Rachel: Totally. And that’s… It’s so funny that you said that, because I’ve never quite heard it phrased like that, weirdly enough, but I have this very clear memory of when I was doing the jewelry business. And my first few collections were very constrained by money and materials and what I knew how to work with. And I remember just… My brain would just run, right? Because you’re just… It’s almost like you… And I watch it with my kids too, you put three markers in front of them, and they can draw forever. You put 100 markers in front of them, and all of a sudden, you’re like, your brain’s on overload. But then in my jewelry business, there was this point where I flipped the switch towards using partners in the garment district who could make things for me, and so it could just be like… And then I could literally do anything. And it almost was stifling, because then it’s like your brain doesn’t even know where to hook on to, because it’s too many options, and you’re sort of… You lack focus.
And so, I think that’s such a powerful message. I think that innovation is not… It’s because of the constraints is when it really… You hit that starting block, and you really explode off of it. It’s not in spite of. I think that those two things can really go hand in hand in a really powerful way.
Jennifer: Yeah, and I know at Stanford d.school, they have a class or they had in the past classes on designing for extreme affordability. So, it would be the same exercise, what would you do if you had unlimited resources? And now what would you do if you only had 50 cents to make each one of these things that you’re trying to make?
And that’s how you generate really good innovation. And I think that that’s why… I think that if you and I and others in the profession who are interested in innovation do our jobs well, we can help lawyers understand that first, as we’ve talked about in other contexts, innovation is not this fad buzzword that’s just there to sound sexy and exciting. There’s actually processes that you can engage in, like the design thinking activities and design sprints. And also, it does not mean that you’re a bull in a china shop.
Rachel: Totally, yes, or that you’re making your own clothes and going and dancing like a hippie in the streets. It’s about the practical application to write that it really is the… You are addressing a problem, right? You’re thinking about it creatively, and you’re trying to bring in resources and thinking outside of what has normally been associated with that profession or that problem or whatever. But you’re still solving for a problem, and you’re still working towards iterating towards impact against a better solution, a better impact for a bigger population, whatever it might be. So, those things are so grounded in being able to prove it up, right? You just have to true up that there’s something good that comes of it.
Jennifer: So, we’re talking about McKinsey Digital today, but McKinsey also has a legal lab. Is that right, Rachel?
Rachel: Yes, we’re launching… It’s an innovation accelerator for the legal department called McKinsey Legal Lab. And it’s really a space for the lawyers in McKinsey, broadly across the globe, to collaborate on innovation projects. So, we have a lot of folks. McKinsey legal is dispersed across the globe, and we have a lot of folks running at innovation for their particular region or their particular practice for things that could be leveraged across the globe, and can be leveraged across practice areas. So, it’s an opportunity for folks to work together to duplicate efforts, certainly to the extent that there’s things that two teams want to do to collaborate and get that done quicker. And then truthfully, it’s also just a great way for this global team to cross cut together and have little accelerator pods, accelerator squads that run out these issues together, and you get to work with colleagues that you might otherwise not get to work with often.
So, the lab really is focused on shoot the moon ideas, big ideas, but also ideas of things that we hear from leadership that they really need a way to get this particular contract right away, and it’s not something that we need to review. And so, we figure out how to build them a tool where they can access it, and that’s just a technology leverage. So, it’s been a real… It’s just kicking off, and we have a couple of projects that are already out of the gate with them, including some external initiatives that we’ll be launching from the legal department externally through McKinsey, which is super exciting to have an external voice. But it is really a place for the lawyers to leverage their creative juices and work together to solve some of the bigger bottlenecks that we see in our profession.
Jennifer: That is so cool.
I want to go back to something else that you talked about. You talked about this phenomenon of creativity being tamped down when we feel under threat. And I was reading a post that Randy Kaiser wrote for Legal Evolution blog, Bill Henderson’s blog, recently about how his perception of the pandemic so far is that it has not been as helpful for innovation and legal as you might think this huge disruptive event would be, because we’re so under threat, and we’re responding from a place of trauma, from a place of confusion and fear. And that really, creativity requires some level of peace, and comfort, and hope, and optimism for the future, which is really difficult to cultivate right now. And I don’t know whether you’ve seen or experienced this in your work with your teams in your organization, or across the profession, and what you think about that theory, and how we might move forward from here to create better environments to learn what we’re learning now in this weird experience and take it to the next chapter.
Rachel: Yeah, I think it’s a great point. And it certainly rings true for me, right? I think that for a year and a half, we’ve been saying, well, when we get to the other side of this. And there were very few moments where at least… And I think you and I have talked about this, but there were a few moments where that felt true, right? I think that people are just still a little exhausted.
I will say that what we do is to try and make it a little bit more discreet. So, the big think issues are definitely, as soon as someone’s in the brain space to throw it out there and has big think issues, let’s get it on a whiteboard, which in these times is a box note. But let’s put it down on paper. Let’s remember that we had it. And let’s try and think about when we might be able to iterate against it when we have the bandwidth and have the mental space to do it. But otherwise, it is celebrating some small wins too. And I think sometimes we say innovation, and people think it means these big, shoot the moon with the X moonshot, the biggest possible problem to solve for. And it does, but it also means, just cranking out on these little issues and making lots of tiny, little improvements that ultimately bring you this incredible change in what you’re offering, and the satisfaction of folks in their profession.
So, I would say that by and large, we’ve done a lot of the little solutions throughout the pandemic.
Jennifer: Yeah, I think that’s great. And I remember early on in the pandemic being… I always say I felt a little bit like a chicken with my head cut off. You’re in the middle of this just enormous, traumatic disruption, but I just was getting up every day and logging on and trying to keep doing meetings, because it’s all I knew how to do, and answering emails. And I would go on LinkedIn, and people were putting together webinars three days into the pandemic, and they’re writing articles. And I remember just this anxiety of, you’re not doing enough to respond to this crisis, and all these people out in the profession are somehow doing this. And I think, to your point, having the grace to just do what you need to do to get through what you need to get through that day, but also saving that optimism that as we do that, and we get small wins, or we come up with a small adjustment, or we get to build something cool.
But I want to move into talking about those big team activities that you talked about. Because I know at McKinsey Digital, you have something called Tech Trust Teams. Can you talk a little bit about what those teams are, what the goals are, and what it looks like in practice?
Rachel: Yes, totally. So, Tech Trust Teams, the concept is basically that within development teams, you teach the development team how to work with a lawyer or select other risk professionals, whether that’s cyber, whether that’s data professionals, whatever it might be, work with them in the room as they’re developing, so that those real time decisions around… That are scoped in terms of, we’re developing this new application, we’re developing this new spin on this technology, and it’s cutting edge, those can be made in the real time that they are now, but they’re future proofed as they go through with the lawyers in the room.
So, it’s teaching them how to work with the lawyers. And then the flip side of it is, of course, teaching the lawyers how to be a part of that room. And that for lawyers to understand what development life cycles look like, whether that’s waterfall, whether that’s agile, whether that’s whatever is coming next, whether you’re doing a big design strip down, and just a rethink from the ground up, having lawyers understand how that process works, and get embedded in it
I think it is just human nature that we can only think so far in front of technology. And some of it has to be like, well, if you’re the first out of the gate, how much of that can you plan for? So, I think the idea of Tech Trust Teams is really, these should be collaborative elements. And they should be whatever it takes for those decisions to be made real time, but very thoughtfully, so that things can move at speed, but as safely as possible. That is the goal of this.
And then I think for… I speak personally, but also, I think folks that I’ve talked to who are similarly situated to myself, this is what’s fun about the job, right? It’s fun to feel like you can help craft something from the start that you know will be better, frankly, for society, right? It’s fun to help solve those issues, where you’re like, this might actually… And when we’re talking about some of these really powerful AIs, you and I are moms. I think about what this will mean to my kids, some of the things that we as a society are putting out there, and to be at a place where I feel like I can help with a small slice of that, of helping to think through the issues, collaborate with my colleagues inside and outside of the firm as to how we crack these really complex problems for the betterment of society, is… That is a really… It’s a really great part of being a lawyer.
Jennifer: Well, I really enjoy the way that you frame it too, and talk about this moment that we’re in, because I think as somebody who is not technologically inclined or part of the tech community, when I hear the words tech lawyer, it’s, I guess, what I thought about math class in high school. That’s not something that that resonates with me, really. I’m more attracted to the humanities. But when you talk about this moment that we’re living in, and really, how these technologies are impacting humans, and how you have the opportunity using your legal counseling to have a hand in guiding the creation of that technology, and its impact on everything from societies and democracies, to the kids that we love and put to bed every night. I think that really clarifies what it is that you do for those of us who maybe don’t have a clear picture.
Rachel: Yeah, no, and I think it’s part of why the profession is so great, right? And I think sometimes we get caught up in the lawyer jokes, and being part of, oh, lawyers are so risk averse, and we’re not fun at parties, and all that. And I fully, wholeheartedly disagree. I’m like, lawyers are brilliant people Not to be cheesy about it, but it’s part of the dream big piece of lawyering that I think is totally worth leaning into for our next generation of lawyers, of just, we all inherited, well, this is what recitals look like. And these are reps and warranties. And yes, of course, right? Of course, there’s case law that matters, and there’s precedent that matters. But we still have a lot of edges of creative latitude and motion to test on how we do that better, and how we equalize access to that for broader communities. So, I just, I hope that our next generation will continue to think this is… There’s stuff that I can help improve here. There’s a lot of room for that.
Jennifer: Yeah, and we’ve never been in the same room together, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that 100% of the lawyers in this conversation are phenomenal amounts of fun at parties. But I think your broader point, and this is something that I think about a lot too, is something that makes me excited about the future of our profession in this moment is we’re talking a lot about diversity and inclusion. And I think one of the dimensions of diversity is diversity of personality in our profession, and this idea that you don’t have to… You are serious professional, but you can bring to the profession and your work your own personality, and your interests, and your own motivation.
Rachel: Totally, totally, totally. And something that you and I have talked about, to go one step further, I feel like that is a good lead in for neuro diversity, and that lawyers have different personalities, just like all people have different personalities, and different mental states, including incidents of mental illness. And I think that part of what some of these bigger initiatives also might help address as certainly as a sidebar, but hopefully explicitly in some cases too, is the incidence of mental illness in our profession, and, I think, how that has been so much more of an acute concern in the pandemic. And what you and I have talked about, how will we make sure that the really smart, creative, awesome thinkers stay in the profession, and that they feel like they have space for it?
Jennifer: Yeah. And it’s another thing that I really love about this moment in the profession. And if you think about how old our profession is, it’s incredible that we get to experience it and have roles like we have at this moment. I was doing career counseling for law students eight years ago, which is not that long ago in human history. And some of the conversations we would have would be whether female candidates have to wear a pantyhose to a job interview. And there would be lively debate about the answer. And eight years later, we’re talking about using gender pronouns to identify candidates, and self-identify, and bringing your whole self to work. And thankfully, we’re not really talking about the wardrobe piece of it, and the hair piece of it anymore, and how people have to look like they fit this mold of what a lawyer should be. And we can focus on solving the really big important problems that we need to solve as a profession.
Rachel: Totally. And what an incredible… Wow, that’s incredible. That would have just been eight years ago. What an incredible unlock, hopefully, that has been for some folks, right, to just feel comfort around, I don’t have to answer to this, right? I don’t have to come up with an answer. I have enough hard things to deal with being a professional and dealing with the professional questions that I get to not also have to talk about. I remember when I was going through early interview week, it was like, what color top you could wear under your suit jacket to have it be not memorable, because your… It shouldn’t be memorable. So, even a light blue, and I’m… What a fantastic change, right?
Jennifer: Yes, and it’s sometimes feels like things haven’t changed. But when you just look back not that long ago, it’s a fundamentally new world, and that excites me.
Rachel: Totally. Absolutely.
Jennifer: So, I would love to do some lightning round questions with you, Rachel, if you’d be down for it.
Rachel: Yes, yes.
Jennifer: Okay. All right, so I’m going to ask you a few questions, and I’d love to hear just five to 10 seconds of your thoughts on each.
Jennifer: Okay, here we go. What do you think is the most self-defeating trait or behavior of lawyers when it comes to earning client trust?
Rachel: I mentioned it earlier, but I think it’s the lawyer jokes and playing into the trope of what lawyers are supposed to be.
Jennifer: And we talked a little bit about how we have a momance. You and I are both working moms and lawyers, and you’ve lived, parented, and worked through the pandemic, which first of all, I just want to celebrate before I even ask you a question. What was the most important thing that you learned?
Rachel: I would like to say patience, but I don’t know that I learned patience. I learned that I wish that I had more patience than I do. Grace. The grace to acknowledge when days are hard, and also to be open with folks in my professional life when those days are hard, and when maybe I just needed to leave to go cry.
Jennifer: Yeah, crying at work, another taboo from 10 years ago that’s gone by the wayside. What is one wild concept do you think creative lawyers should consider integrating into their services?
Rachel: I think alternative methods of communication. So, I think we are programmed to think in terms of words, memos, briefs. And I think changing it up and doing visual, audio, those type of things, I think, really flip the script a little bit.
Jennifer: I agree. And what’s the best idea or the coolest idea you’ve had emerge from one of your design sprints?
Rachel: I think it was… There’s a lot of them. So, it’s different… I would say the one that I like the most is this idea of doing periodic reports on what we see coming down the line, how we see the world changing, forecasting what the world might look like in our little piece of it in six months, 12 months, whatever it might be, and then including graphics and visual representations of how that might change our work. I think that’s a really cool one.
Oh, that’s really cool. I like that. So, do you have any questions for me about what we’re doing at the law school level as we’re talking about all of this change?
Rachel: Yeah.What excites you the most about what you’re seeing in the profession right now, both, I guess, either in the law school, or what you’re seeing from your vantage point for folks exiting law school?
Jennifer: Yeah, I think what excites me most is this alignment between experienced professionals who believe that the legal profession needs to change, and the students who are really clamoring for change. Usually it’s one generation fighting another generation. And ultimately, it gets diffused, and nothing really changes. And it just feels to me like this moment where everybody is stepping back and saying, yeah, things can be better in a lot of different respects. And maybe we can, to the point of design thinking, co-design what the future looks like. And our students are so excited to be here at this moment. They’re so excited to become lawyers. And it’s so great to know that we’re past the pantyhose days, and they’re entering at this time when we get to welcome them in, and they get to help us figure out the next chapter.
And their disciplinary diversity is really exciting to me, because just the backgrounds, particularly the STEM backgrounds coming into law school now, really force a lot of us, including me, to think in new ways. Even those of us who are open to thinking in new ways to learn from our students about what an engineer thinks about when they think about breaking down a problem, or a technologist, or a computer scientists. So, I just… That’s what really excites me about this moment.
Rachel: Oh, that’s so awesome. God, that’s so awesome. Yeah, and it’s like… It feels like there is this moment, right? It’s a moment happening. So, I’m so excited to see what comes of it. And so, if you’re going to look ahead 20 years, what do you think is the big move that you think is going to happen?
Jennifer: I think there are two. I think one is mobility of licensure and practice environments. I just can’t imagine that the combination of this experience we’re having, the fact that our work really is intelligence-based work that can be done from anywhere, and the fact that other disciplines have moved in this direction for much longer than we have, even though we’re probably more capable of doing it than other disciplines. And I just can’t foresee that we will remain an attractive profession to all those bright, talented, young law students to be if we remain the one that’s geographically planted in one state or one city or one office tower. So, that’s change number one that I think will be the biggest.
And then the second one that I’m really excited about, I think regulatory reform efforts will really contribute to if they really gain momentum is the breaking down or blurring of boundaries between the legal profession and other disciplines, and having more multidisciplinary teams attacking a problem, and not just having the lawyers come in from an outside organization to just dispense legal services, but to really have an integrated approach to solving both society wide problems and individual client problems.
Rachel: Totally. Oh, my gosh, 100% to that. Well, to both of those, but I loved that last one.
Jennifer: Wow, I love every time we talk. I feel like we could have been roommates in college and just never gone to sleep, because we would just be talking nonstop about all the cool things that we get to do with our lives and our careers. And it’s been a pleasure having you on the podcast, Rachel, and I look forward to meeting you IRL, in real life sometime.
Rachel: I cannot wait.
Jennifer: But until then, continued great work at McKinsey Digital, and we can’t wait to see what’s on the horizon.
Rachel: Thank you so much for having me, friend. This was awesome.
Jennifer: What an enlightening conversation with Rachel Dooley. Here are my three key takeaways. First, human centered design’s promise does not have to just be for courts, public interest organizations and advocate communities. Corporate counsel can also deploy its power by understanding, not only the legal issues at play, but also the needs, interests and emotions of the client.
Next, as lawyers, to really move the industry forward, we need to create space for focus, an atmosphere that celebrates failure, or more positively stated, learning and a bias toward action in trying new solutions to problems in the legal department. By doing this, lawyers will build new skills and create new ideas for navigating and succeeding in a rapidly changing future.
And, finally, lawyers and clients need better ways to relate to each other. For any relationship between lawyer and client, but particularly in an arena that moves at a pace of emerging technology, putting lawyers to the side until the project is nearly complete will ultimately result in frustration when the client learns of a legal issue that derails an entire project. But teaching lawyers how to collaborate and guide efforts so that clients are eager for them to participate at the start is a challenge we need to tackle.
Rachel shared how projects like McKinsey Digital’s tech trust teams can start to shift the dynamics between lawyer and client, which will only be more important as change accelerates and legal issues proliferate.
Thanks to all of you for joining us today. Make sure to subscribe to this podcast wherever you listen. Be sure to leave us a comment and rate the show too. We’ll see you next time on another edition of Law 2030.
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