Rachel Dooley – McKinsey & Co.
- Written by: David Harry
- Produced by: Liz Fallon & Matt Schwach
- Est. reading time: 4 mins
What do a world-class racing yacht and a steel mill in India have in common?
Artificial intelligence, of course.
Specifically, AI developed with and by McKinsey & Co. The consulting firm helped design a bot that helped Emirates Team New Zealand defend its America’s Cup sailing title in 2021. It also supported cutting edge AI enabling a Tata Steel plant in India to improve productivity by better controlling the superheating process needed to cast molten steel.
As managing counsel and global legal practice head for McKinsey Digital, Rachel Dooley supports its technology consulting services, which has grown so that almost half the firm is comprised of technologists and digital practitioners. However, providing legal guidance in an emerging and ever-changing tech environment can be difficult, she says.
“AI is reaching a place where those not solely focused on the development have a hard time understanding its functionality,” Dooley says. “The person who built it is not the same person who runs it, and the chain of responsibility can break down. There’s rarely precedent, so we’re doing a lot of real-time problem-solving and drawing from ethical considerations.”
Taking the lead in tech
McKinsey & Co. was founded in Chicago in 1926 by James O. McKinsey, a professor of accounting at the University of Chicago. Within 20 years, the firm had opened offices in New York and San Francisco, as well. In 1952, it recommended incoming President Dwight Eisenhower to appoint a chief of staff, something every president does now.
McKinsey also helped develop the structural organization for NASA and worked with IBM on early computer simulations used in banks in the late 1950s. In 1970, the company worked with the Uniform Grocery Product Code Council, as well as manufacturers and retailers, to develop the universal product codes, or UPCs, that are scanned at checkouts.
There are now more than 130 McKinsey offices in more than 65 countries. It has about 30,000 consultants advising companies in fields including advanced electronics, aerospace and defense, financial services, oil and gas, and retail.
In 2015, the company launched its artificial intelligence services by acquiring QuantumBlack and establishing McKinsey Digital. QuantumBlack is a pioneer in using AI and machine learning, Dooley says. McKinsey Digital combined 2,100 people, including more than 800 developers, designers, IT architects and data engineers as well as analytics experts working in digital labs.
Balancing need and risk
Dooley was hired in 2018 as the second attorney to serve McKinsey Digital. She says analytics can dramatically accelerate business development and growth. However, a 2021 survey on the use of AI and machine learning found managing risk remains a significant challenge for companies in many industries, whether it’s in cybersecurity, regulatory compliance or protecting personal and individual privacy.
In 2019, Dooley and her closest collaborator, Expert Associate Partner Liz Grennan, developed the Center of Risk Excellence to assess and triage the legal issues and risk involved for companies that undergo digital, analytics and cloud transformations.
She compares the work to a pit crew for a racing team looking under the hood—colleagues are consulting clients to help them minimize risk while maximizing the impact of using AI and machine learning.
She adds she and her team form a chassis—they understand where industries and areas are more regulated. They also advise on compliance with regulations on the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulations as well as U.S. laws such as the California Consumer Privacy Act.
In 2021, Dooley designed and led the creation of McKinsey Legal Lab to engage McKinsey lawyers on developing approaches and tools for the future of legal practice. It also helped reconnect them as they’d been working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
MLL has introduced new initiatives such as quarterly global tech summits focusing on technology and legal issues and the first blog from an in-house legal department.
This year, it launched new courses in areas such as unlocking creativity and seeing opportunities to use it while advising on tech and the law. MLL helped launch a “Legal Innovation Olympics,” led by Dooley’s colleagues Keith Langlais and Jim D’Ambra Jr., to build creative thinking skills and develop new legal tech and innovation.
“The more lawyers we can get excited about emerging technology and catching the ball, the better off we’ll be,” Dooley says.
An engineered approach
A native of Michigan, Dooley says she had a different career in mind when she earned her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan in 2002.
Though she’s always been drawn to machines and an engineer’s approach to problem solving, she says she also wanted to be a part of the conversation around tomorrow’s problems and opportunities.
She earned her J.D. from the Fordham University School of Law in 2005 and went into private practice as an associate with the firm of Wilkie, Farr & Gallagher LLP.
While in private practice, Dooley founded Gemma Redux Inc., a jewelry company featuring her hand-made designs. While she stepped away from her law career for nearly seven years and made fashion week circuits in New York, Milan and Paris, she reevaluated her future when her two children were born.
She continued to run the company and eventually turned it into a nonprofit with its proceeds supporting cognitive research, but her longing for analytical challenges brought her back to Wilkie, Farr and Gallagher in 2015. She then joined McKinsey in 2018.
“I think the constant is understanding enough about where the space is going to develop a moral and ethical compass around it,” Dooley says. “Coming in with an understanding of the guardrails brings your analytical brain and your human concerns and fears. I can be both lawyer and mom in the conversation.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Summer III 2022 Edition here.
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