GC Spotlight: Fiona Callanan, Associate General Counsel, McKinsey.

Fiona Callanan is the Associate General Counsel at McKinsey. In this GC Spotlight, she takes us through her GC life and what challenges she has faced over the last 2 years and how Fiona and her legal team are overcoming these with integrity. Let's dive right in, shall we?

1. Hi Fiona, tell us a little about yourself outside of work. 

I’m a single mum of two great kids. I also teach yoga for Pure Yoga in Hong Kong part time (I specialize in Rocket yoga), and am a former TEDx speaker and current TEDx speaker coach. I love learning to do things that help me to have an impact on the world outside McKinsey, are a bit out of my comfort zone, and engage me creatively. That’s what keeps me feeling alive!

2. What skills are required to be a modern GC?

I think the most important skill required to be a great GC in this day and age is no different to what it has always been -  the ability to really connect with our clients. All of the core legal skills are assumed when we reach this level, but if we don’t understand our clients or have their trust then none of that matters. Conversely, if we can successfully build strong connections with our clients then we can do so much to help their ideas have real impact on the world, and to do this with integrity – something that the world needs a lot of right now!

3. What have been your biggest challenges during the pandemic?

Like every other business over the past couple of years the biggest overall challenge for the decentralized and diverse McKinsey Legal department has been ensuring that we all stay connected. This has been especially challenging for us because our department has expanded a lot since the pandemic broke out, meaning that many of our newer colleagues have never even visited a McKinsey office, nevermind met their colleagues!

We have tried our best to rise to this challenge by making sure that our colleagues check in with each other regularly on a personal level, by proactively asking for feedback from them, and by being as sensitive as possible to zoom fatigue and the general time zone and other problems that arise with such a global and connected department.

4. What do you think about the use of LegalTech, data analytics and process optimisation to improve your legal department's value (e.g., data relating to contracts, risk, tracking workflows, performance metrics, costs)?

Over the past couple of years we have been working hard as a Legal department to find ways to use LegalTech to help us to optimize the impact that our work has on the Firm. One of the things that we have been doing to facilitate this is to use data analytics to help us better understand the kinds of matters that our lawyers are working on, so that we can streamline and make better use of resources.

By way of example, one of the tools that we have started to employ helps us see the categories (or types) of contracts we are entering into with our clients and which we’re not. With this data,  we are better equipped to focus our lawyer time where it is needed.

We are big fans of this as it helps us to make better decisions about our processes and resourcing.

5. What developments or trends do you expect to see in the legal services industry in the next 5 years?

I believe that the next 5 years are going to be all about getting the Legal Profession comfortable with Legal Tech in general, and able to use it to maximise efficiency in delivery of service without losing personal connections or invalidating the vital role real lawyers play in advising their clients.

At McKinsey we’re working hard to collate the huge amount of internal data that we have concerning the work that our lawyers do – to understand the contracting life cycle in detail, analyse it, and then use that knowledge and information to enhance and improve how we serve our internal clients and how we interact with external parties. We’re taking a similar approach with other internal resources: cataloging deep dives on legal topics, advice and guidance, precedents, and other valuable information that we have but that historically hasn’t been as easily searchable or accessible to our lawyers as it could have been. It’s making a huge difference to the day to day work that our lawyers do.

Separately on the litigation and investigations side of things the use of Legal Tech has been increasing steadily over the past 10 years. When I was first involved in big regulatory investigations in banks back in the late noughties we used to manually search through emails and read them one by one on relatively archaic Compliance monitoring software. I laugh to myself a lot now when I think how much has changed for the good with the document retrieval, searching and review software since then, yet I still see some reluctance within the legal community to fully embrace this technology, largely because of very valid concerns about whether this tech can really replace the well trained brain of a real life lawyer.  

I think a lot of those concerns are very valid. But at the same time I think as a legal profession, we really need to be willing to embrace the tech wholeheartedly – because if used and understood properly, it can be an invaluable tool to allow us to focus our efforts where they are really needed – to give our clients the exemplary strategic thinking and advice that they really need for us.