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Looking beyond the legal lens with Joseph Stoker

Last year was another turbulent year, coming on the coattails of an unprecedented 2020: people, nations, markets, and workplaces continuing to come to terms with being in the midst of a global pandemic.

During the volatile times, legal teams had to be more agile than ever, often asked by the C-suite to do more with less. We spoke to Joseph Stoker, Head of Legal, Privacy & Compliance at Dotdigital, about how he navigated 2021 and asked what he intends to focus on in the year ahead.

London-based Stoker describes the lockdowns of the past two years as "tumultuous" and says keeping connected in a disconnected world has been an imperative for his team. As part of a global company, Stoker's team was already equipped with the necessary tools to stay connected to one another and the wider business itself.

Tools had to be used in conjunction with a willingness to connect, and Stoker implemented daily check-ins with his team. "While this started as a check-in with my trainee on work, it evolved into something far more grounded and therapeutic to a chat about anything," he says.

Stoker says showing face is critical in maintaining relationships with other teams, particularly in times of remote working. "Teams need to know who we are in order to know where to come to, and equally we need to know other teams in order to collaborate."

Leveraging technology was a focus for Stoker in 2021 and will continue to be so in 2022. LawVu was his tech-win for the year, and he has been utilizing contract management functionality for supplier contracts. "It's something we have been desperate to get in place for years," he says. "The implementation has shown what we can do as we leverage technology more going into 2022."

A positive aspect of the 2020 lockdowns was that they provided Stoker with inspiration to make changes at work in 2021. Spending months at home led to him rekindling an old interest in graphic design, which took him down a rabbit hole of ideas of applying UX design principles to legal and contract services. "This changed my outlook and approach to everything, and it was easily my biggest learning from 2021."

While legal tech had been on Stoker's radar for years, 2021 was the year he began to understand the ecosystem. "Seeing the innovation out there was huge and a big part in making things more effective for the legal team."

This inspiration led him to spend the latter half of last year building foundations for the future, focusing on leveraging technology to automate processes and improving the UX design approach to in-house law. His aim is to create a more proactive function. "This year will be when we see everything in action," he says. "I can't wait."  

His in-house team's key areas of focus for 2022 are contributing to the growth of environment, social and corporate governance. "As well as ESG-related projects, I’m looking forward to honing and improving the experience of working with our legal function. It’s a long shot, but the goal is to deliver the best legal experience any of our clients (internal and external) have had."  

The steps Stoker and his team are taking to achieve this are automating contracts and improving the communication of privacy and compliance to clients.  

Becoming more involved in communities is one of Stoker's goals for 2022. "Real world limitations have definitely transferred to my virtual interactions in the last year," he says.

Making an effort to be engaged with other in-house lawyers is another priority.

Stoker's proudest moment of 2021 was seeing Dotdigital become ISO14001 certified. This achievement required hard work, passion, and collaboration from multiple people across the business. "While I wasn’t key in this initiative, it has shown me how in-house legal teams really can influence positive change," he says.

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