Chief Information Officer at Buckles Solicitors LLP

Can you please provide a little introduction about yourself
I am currently Chief Information Officer for Buckles Solicitors LLP, a legal firm offering its clients a full range of mainstream and niche legal services. As part of this role, I am Head of the IT, Data, Project and Facilities departments. I am a member of the Operations Board, Learning & Development Board, Environmental Committee and ESG Group. In addition, I am a MHFA England-certified Mental Health First Aider.
What has your journey to your position been like? What path have you taken?
I’ve been working in legal firms for 17 years, and always had an element of IT interwoven within my roles. However, in 2013, Buckles gave me the opportunity to turn my passion for IT into a career and since then I’ve not looked back. I started out on our IT Helpdesk and have worked my way up from there. I’m in the process of finishing a Masters in Business Administration (Technology Management).
Has it always been your vision to reach the position you’re at? Was your current role part of your vision to become a tech leader?
As soon as IT became my full-time role, I knew I had made the right career choice. However, at the start of my journey, leadership and C-suite roles were something I had yet to consider. It wasn’t until I was made IT Manager that I recognised my passion for leadership, strategy, and innovation.
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Have you had a role model or mentor that has helped you on your journey?
I’m a firm believe that mentors are all around us, we just need to observe what our inspirational peers around us are doing to learn from them. That being said, I’ve had several formal mentors along my journey – the help of which has been invaluable. Working for a law firm forced me to look externally for tech mentors, and in doing so, I have gained a wealth of knowledge that I would not have otherwise obtained.
How do you see the role of the technology leader evolving over the next 5 years?
While there will be some elements of the role that remain untouched - technology is clearly key to the success of most organisations, and I don’t believe that will change - I think the three key focuses will be on data, cybersecurity/cybercrime and RPA.

With tech being such a primary focus for most, the CIO role is starting to morph into the COO role.  The shift to home working has, in my opinion, spend up this transition as tech is now even more so embedded within the normal operating practices of most organisations.
What skills do you think leaders of the future will need in order to thrive?
Wider business skills, strong leadership skills and broad technological skills.  
They will need strong business acumen with the ability to step back and look at better use of technology with a focus on benefits and outcomes.  The ability to have meaningful input into green technology and wider ESG governance will be key. In addition, data strategy, cyber security, and financial acumen are more important than ever. 

Finally, resilience and emotional intelligence.  It is important that leaders know themselves well and know what type of leader they want to be.  Leaders need to be aware of and able to identify their own triggers and have a sound coping mechanism for self-discipline. 
How do you keep current with new skills, technologies and personal development?
Personal development is something that I take very seriously.  I’ve you’re not learning, you’re moving backwards.  I’m part of several professional IT communities, 2 of which are tailored to the legal industry.  I’m a Professional Member of BCS, the Chartered Institute of IT and a member of several of their groups.   I attend numerous IT and innovation conferences each year, follow technologists, subscribe to blog posts, and read on subjects such as cyber security, data strategy, and leadership. 

I’ve just finished reading “Taking the Reins as CIO: A Blueprint for Leadership Transitions” by Tony Gerth and Joe Peppard.  A fantastic read for any CIO, regardless of experience, full of practical advice on how to handle the ambiguity of the CIO role and harness strategic success.
What do you see as the next leap in technology that will impact your business or industry in particular?
In terms of the legal industry, I believe 3 key tech themes will dominate: 

•    Robotic Process Automation
•    Machine Learning
•    Artificial Intelligence
"Take the time to study yourself and what type of leader you want to be."
If you were mentoring a leader of the future, what advice or guidance would you give to help them on their way?
Be humble and leave your ego at the door. Take the time to study yourself and what type of leader you want to be. Go into everything with an open mind; expectations will hold you back.
Is there anything in particular that you would still like to achieve in your career or what is the next step on your journey?
Yes, as alluded to above, I would like RPA, Machine Learning, and AI to become commonplace within the legal industry – in addition, I hope never to stop learning.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
Greater investment in green technology.

A big thank you to Mel Smith from Buckles Solicitors LLP for sharing her journey to date.

If you would like to gain more perspective from Tech Leaders and CIOs you can read some of our other interviews here.

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The CIO Circle Editor
Post by The CIO Circle Editor
March 23, 2023