We love this interview with Nilema Bhakta-Jones, group legal director of Ascential, a business-to-business media company that publishes titles such as Retail Week and Health Service Journal and in February floated on the London Stock Exchange at a value of £800m. Bhakta-Jones is an advocate for innovation and change and, speaking to Legal IT Insider, she talked about progress in tech within the legal sector – at last! – but how that is still strongly overshadowed by developments in the sectors in which Ascential operates.

Please describe your role at Ascential in a nutshell.

I’m group legal director. I work as a strategic business partner. I am committed to sustaining the right environment for our business to succeed and grow. I lead a multi-talented legal team and support them in their own leadership journeys.

What are the main challenges you face in delivering legal services to the business?

We operate at pace, and have recently completed an IPO, so creating time for ‘blue sky thinking’ / ‘horizon scanning’ can be hard. Although challenging, it is important that I keep track of evolving geopolitical and economic factors and increasing regulation in every region we operate in.

What are your key strategic priorities and goals?

My priority in the next three months is to help our business to acclimatise to the PLC world again.  I am focussing on enhancing some key protocols and ‘stress testing’ them.  A constant, overarching priority is to create a stimulating, learning and fun environment for my team.

How does technology help you in achieving these?

For my first priority, we have begun rolling out training and will roll out webinars and bespoke online learning modules to reach all employees globally shortly. Only last year we were tested on our emergency procedures when one of our subsidiary businesses was evacuated in a matter of minutes when the Holborn fire struck in April. The fire posed a risk to adjacent properties and our Business Continuity Plan came into play immediately with limited business interruption. There was real insight gained from this emergency and we decided to replicate the lessons in other office locations to ensure we are suitably prepared.

Please give an example from your sector where technology is changing the way your brands operate.

Technology is enabling our customers to enjoy the content rich environment we create wherever and whenever they want. Our fashion trend forecasting business is curating content from around the world every day, regularly loading up terrabytes of data to its platform. By using its own patented image tagging technology it can bring catwalk photos to its customers in record time. This business predicted the advent of wearable tech. Money 2020 is a Fintech event that is ‘the’ place to discover the next payment solutions. The speed of innovation in this area is breathtaking! Elsewhere we are seeing increasing use of beacon technology, AI and predictive analytics supported by bot technology. With so much content out there, it is no longer enough to simply grant access to ‘big data’ we need to provide expert interpretation and predictions to allow our business customers to make smarter, better informed decisions and in turn grow their businesses. There are exciting developments in mobile experiential technology, developments in cognitive science to improve sensory enjoyment/learning which we will see in the entertainment and education sectors (check out BETT).

How do law firms compare in their delivery of legal services?

A couple of years ago I was pretty gloomy about the external legal landscape but no longer!  Some firms are genuinely investing and starting to ‘think’ differently about the way they deliver their services and interact with their clients.  Some are just ‘kicking the tyres’ with their pre-existing tech and data.  I am encouraging every partner I meet to go to the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.  It’s truly inspirational!

Is there sufficient innovation within the legal sector?

No. Admittedly I would like to see a revolution, where lawyers are setting the pace and are at the vanguard. The Magic Circle firms and Big Four Accountants are investing and deploying products with IBM Watson. Although the investment in technology is not quite matched by what we are seeing in the fintech, health (biotech) or automotive sectors – it is encouraging that the legal juggernaut is starting to move in the right direction. Innovation is a core business pillar at Ascential and working in such an environment keeps our eyes open to what can be achieved.

What should law firms be doing?

I have a long list, perhaps hire real innovative/creative thinkers and entrepreneurs (from outside the law). Look around you, there are many places firms can borrow and mimic.  Create one team that incubates and launches new ideas and co-creates with clients. Think big, bold and radical! Where is the legal equivalent of Apple, Google or Amazon?

This interview first appeared in the latest Legal IT Insider – for this and all of our newsletters visit the website: http://www.legaltechnology.com//latest-newsletter/