Q&A: Juta and Company

Juta and Company CEO Kamal Patel on being at the forefront of the next frontier of law research and creating a new generation of online products

Q&A: Juta and Company

Q: How does Juta, given its 165-year history, continue to stay relevant?
A: As an independent local player in the legal and academic publishing industry, and one that has weathered successive waves of technological change, it is a unique feat to have endured as we have since 1853. This milestone comes as Juta is poised to enter a new phase of technology-enabled growth. Juta continues to reinvent itself and does so by evolving to meet the shifting legal information needs of a range of users, and by diversifying our core skills and competencies.

It’s one thing to be a respected and fondly regarded player in the SA legal information landscape, but it is imperative that Juta’s business remains innovative and responsive to emerging trends. We are constantly presented with opportunities that redefine the value we can offer to the users who rely on our content, which is a hallmark of our rapidly changing legal information landscape.

Our defining purpose is to enhance the rule of law and promote the administration of justice in SA. We see ourselves as the trusted custodian of the country’s wealth of legal knowledge that reflects the momentous political and social challenges we have been through as a nation. We are committed to meeting the challenges of the future and believe that access to our legal resources will contribute to the realisation of the shared goals of our constitutional democracy.

Q: Who uses Juta’s legal content and why?
A: The range of legal textbooks and commentary works, law reports, legislation, journals and legal current awareness services we have are invaluable to the practice of law and the effective functioning of the judiciary, government and business. Users of our legal products and services extend well beyond traditional lawyers, judges, law students, legal academics and researchers, and Department of Justice officials.

An increasingly regulated business environment means the spectrum of non-legal users requiring legal information to carry out their jobs or comply with the regulatory burden impacting their organisations has increased exponentially. All C-suite executives and directors have fiduciary responsibilities encompassing a raft of legislated duties and responsibilities related to governance and compliance, and depend on credible information such as ours to do so.

Moreover, every SA citizen who enjoys the rights and associated responsibilities of living in a constitutional democracy can benefit from having access to the content we have to offer.

Q: How does Juta deliver legal information?
A: Juta’s primary law as well as authored works are available in hard- and soft-cover print, as well as a variety of digital and online electronic formats. The big number of e-books and other electronic research resources available from Juta serves the requirements of a broad range of customers, ranging from scholars and academics to practitioners and corporate users.

The research functionality of our digital platforms allows for hyperlinking of content, referencing, web linking, note taking and the inclusion of supplementary content that simply is not possible via print publications.

Juta’s subscription services facilitate the frequent updating of content to meet the demands of users for current and consolidated legal information. These updates, also known as ‘revision services’ in loose-leaf print format, reflect statutory changes effected by Parliament as well as recent case law precedents. Juta also publishes works for the SADC region as well as other countries on the continent as and when opportunities arise.

Q: How does Juta view the copyright changes currently under discussion?
A: The issue of copyright in SA is in the spotlight and proving a contentious matter for all role players impacted by the proposed new Copyright Bill. Balancing the commercial interests of rights holders against broader societal interests is at an important crossroads, with many competing views needing to be addressed.

The unfolding copyright debate is not unique to SA – it is playing out internationally in a number of interesting ways. Recognising the value of indigenous knowledge systems is an important new feature of current copyright thinking, as is the recognition of new forms of technology-enabled creative expression. Defining and codifying emerging issues in copyright legislation is essential to protecting rights and encouraging a healthy IP regimen that will promote fair and responsive commercial exploitation.

We are obviously monitoring these developments with great interest and will be ready, when the time comes, to respond for the benefit of our stakeholders – including end-users of our products. We believe in achieving a win-win copyright outcome.

Q: What does Juta’s law publication portfolio comprise?
A: It’s extensive and includes authored works, student and professional textbooks, law reports, statutes and peer-reviewed journals. We also provide governance, risk and compliance solutions. Our LegalEase series delivers legal content in a practical way. Legalbrief is a range of specialist electronic news services that provides topical, consolidated and timeous legal-related news and information for professionals. It is, in itself, expansive – covering aspects of current legal interests, including environmental, forensic and even African political information with a legal slant.

Q: How does Juta select its ‘legal’ authors?
A: Our diverse list of authors and expert contributors are drawn from the senior ranks of private practice, legal academia, the judiciary and the corporate sector. Juta’s authors and contributors are vital partners in the business, and we all share a commitment to excellence. This is what individual reputations depend on and the esteem in which authors, and the company, are held is inextricably linked to the quality and professional standing of the publisher. In our case, that also means bearing the distinctive Juta hall marks of authority, accuracy and trustworthiness.

Q: What is the value of the Juta Law Reports?
A: Juta is renowned as the leading publisher of the South African Law Reports series that is extensively relied upon for its precedentary value by legal practitioners and judges, and is considered the most widely respected and referenced in terms of SA case law. Our Juta law report editors are responsible for deciding which legal cases are worthy of reporting and for the drafting of headnotes, flynotes, case annotations and other value-added entries.

Q: How is technology shaping the future of legal research?
A: Trying to predict the future of legal technology is all at once overwhelming and impossible yet also incredibly exciting. Cognitive computing and AI are fundamentally changing the way we work and engage with information, and translate into our being both consumers and co-creators of content.

Now, more than ever, we need to understand the information needs of our customers and develop products and user journeys that allow for the integration of that content with theirs but in more dynamic and accommodating ways.

The augmentational power of AI is a game-changer for knowledge production and consumption, and navigating vast repositories of primary and authored legal content to extract a depth of information and results has never before been this accessible. The exponential curve of machine-learning constantly improves the speed, quality and accuracy of research, allowing researchers – in our case, legal researchers – to focus their efforts on interpreting results and adding their unique set of skills and insights to deliver the real value for which customers are willing to pay.

Q: What is Juta’s specific response to AI?
A: The needs of an increasing diversity of non-legal professionals and corporate users requiring access to legal content to perform their functions are catered for by a new generation of technology-enabled Juta resources. Our soon-to-be-launched legal research platform, which we are calling Jutastat Evolve, will harness the quantum advances in AI and integrate this with our trusted, authoritative content. This will create a new generation of online products and solutions that satisfy the increasingly sophisticated information needs of our users, delivering results that radically redefine the user experience in unique and innovative ways.

This advance on the existing Jutastat platform includes the use of RAVN, an enterprise search and knowledge-management system that presents the user with a new research platform, and the benefits will be immediate and obvious. It’s a revolutionary new way of going about legal research, and although it means learning some new terminology, it has the benefit of being able to unlock new insights into the legal content that our customers already know and trust.

Q: How does Juta contribute to the development of legal education?
A: Juta’s engagement with legal practitioners begins in their formative years as law students and continues through into practice or whatever career paths they choose. Superlative reasoning and writing skills are essential components of success in the legal profession and to this end, Juta enjoys a long-standing partnership with the South African Law Reform Commission in the sponsorship of a legal essay writing competition for LLB and LLM students.

The competition is aimed at developing critical legal writing skills while simultaneously generating innovative ideas for the reform of law in SA. It also encourages legal scholarship and public dialogue around human rights and the rule of law. Supporting broader academic scholarship initiatives aligns with the broader mandate of Kagiso Media, which wholly owns Juta and Company.

By Kerry Dimmer
Illustration: Haleema Rawoot
Repro: Karin Livni