Legal publishing is dead! Long live software solutions!

by Jason Wilson on January 21, 2013

This was the proclamation from the Thomson Reuters’s bloggers summit last week, or at least the way I heard it. Others might disagree, however. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I’ve gathered all of the comments on the matter from my fellow attendees for your easy digestion. The bolded terms are my random emphases.

From Bob Ambrogi (Law Sites):

Even bigger news than the new products, perhaps, was the pronouncement that Thomson Reuters no longer views itself as an information company, but as a “solutions business.”

“We have decided that our long-term vision is not information, it is software tools, solutions, ways to enable attorneys to practice in a more cogent way,” Mike Suchsland, president of Thomson Reuters Legal, told a day-long gathering of legal journalists, bloggers and technology consultants at TR’s Eagan, Minn., headquarters.

The new vision for the company, he said, is that TR “will give our customers a smarter way to work by providing unrivaled legal solutions that integrate content, expertise and technologies.”

“Make no mistake: we’re not taking our eye off the ball on content,” a briefing document that accompanied Suchsland’s comments said. “WestlawNext and legal information will still be at the center of everything we do, and we will continue to honor and build upon our heritage of attorney-authored information, like headnotes and case summaries.”

From Lisa Solomon (Legal Research & Writing Pro):

At the Eagan briefing, Thomson Reuters explained that its goal is to “evolv[e] from a content business to a true solutions organization [by] integrating [its] core legal information with software and solutions in a way that has a positive, and productive, effect on [its] customers’ workflow.”

From Ryan McClead (3 Geeks)

“My big takeaway from the event is that in their new role as a software and solutions provider, Thomson is focused heavily on design, seamless integration between products, and overall ease of use. They are very much trying to bring the consumer experience to the enterprise, so I think they are moving in the right direction.”

From Monica Bay (LTN):

“It’s the beginning of a new era,” for Thomson Reuters, declared Mike Suchsland, president of the company’s legal division [...]. “Thomson Reuters will give our customers a smarter way to work,” he said, by providing both “both legal expertise and technologies. We are evolving away from ‘content is king’ and adding technology and expertise.” [¶] The company’s five-year plan for a paradigm shift addresses three key elements, he said: mobile, cloud, and connectivity options.

From Jean O’Grady (Dewey B Strategic):

The New Direction Mike Suschsland, President of the Thomson Reuters Legal opened with the announcement that TR Legal was evolving from a content company to a software company focused on providing integrated platforms supporting total workflow, collaboration and mobility. Westlaw content will remain a key component of their offerings. In the past all of the Legal products have been built around Westlaw content. Going forward, the new platforms will be client and matter centric.

This is a strong move by Thomson Reuters, and one that I surmise could only have happened with James Smith coming in as CEO. To get the managers of all of the divisions and markets to play nice with each other could not have been easy. By way of example, James Jarvis, senior director for Serengeti’s New Product Development, stated near the end of the presentations that somewhere between 50 to 60% of the infrastructure (code, UI, etc.) that had been developed for Concourse had been shared with other groups, such as Firm Central for Small Firms. I found that to be quite shocking given how siloed TR divisions have been in the past. And this doesn’t even include getting financial information in new apps like My Business Intelligence (more on that in a later post), which had to have been even more difficult.

Lost in all this talk of paradigm shifts and evolutionary paths is the marketer’s nightmare (dream?). Thomson Reuters is now tasked with the job of telling us what they are beyond “software solutions.” They can’t be Thomson Reuters Elite, or WestlawNext, or Serengeti, or even Pangea 3. To move the evolutionary needle, they will need a new name, or at least a new branding strategy that gets you, dear consumer, to think of the organization as something other than “that company that bought West Publishing and a bunch of other companies that help law firms, oh, and that news outlet thing.” Without looking, can anyone even name all the companies (forget publishing titles) that Thomson Reuters owns? I can’t and certainly couldn’t, but it seems easier to think of the company as something that could probably satisfy all my needs.

And as if that weren’t enough, the branding strategy has to be compelling for their base of knowledge workers, the ones who used to be really important, but that are now sort of an amorphous center of a software company that doesn’t really focus on them and just uses them in ways that might not be really obvious (or maybe are really obvious like current awareness). And what’s worse is their fight for funding projects just got harder, and that has to suck. How does one grow a comprehensive legal publishing business inside of a software company? 1

Finally, what is the message to the rest of us just wanting the law, just wanting answers to our legal research questions? Is it now just Thomson Reuters books, or are those going away and we’re left with ProView? (The answer is “no,” BTW.) Is Thomson Reuters moving away from writing for large taxonomies to narrow, current awareness platforms? 2 Will we be forced (seduced?) into an ecosystem that follows the Pareto Principle, where we pay for the 80% we don’t use? What does a five-year evolution look like anyway?

Honestly, I think it’s exciting what TR is doing now, just like I find it exciting that my business—Jones McClure—is headed in a similar, but almost entirely different direction. And the fact that the transition and messaging is going to be hard for both of us in our respective markets simply means we need to do our best to convey value, both to the consumer and to those who make us tick. Legal publishing is transforming folks, just not in the way or the directions that some people thought.

[Image (CC) by jcarlosn]

 

Notes:

  1. Like in Alien, where legal publishing grows inside the company and then bursts through its chest and says, “Fuck you, software! Die!” I’m telling you right now, the battle between editors and software engineers will never end until someone finds a way to align us.
  2. God forbid, are we heading to Circa-like information delivery? Which is cool for general news, but could be a disaster for law.

{ 7 comments }

Jordan Furlong January 22, 2013 at 9:34 am

Jason, I put together a list of Thomson's various divisions on the day they announced the Pangea3 acquisition in November 2010. Here's what the roster looked like then:

WestLaw: Legal research, legislative and case law resources
West KM: Knowledge management services for lawyers
ProLaw: Law practice management software
Serengeti: Legal task management and workflow systems
Elite: Financial and practice management systems
FindLaw: Website development and online marketing
Hubbard One: Business development technology and solutions
Hildebrandt Baker Robbins: Law firm management and technology consulting
GRC Division: Governance, risk and compliance services
IP Services: Patent research and analysis, trademark research and protection
TrustLaw: Global hub for pro bono legal work
Pangea3: Legal process outsourcing services

There've obviously been a few additions and subtractions since then, not counting the sale of BAR-BRI and the acquisition of PLC. The changes even since 2010 are interesting.

I also tweeted what I thought was a more concise mission statement for Thomson than the ungainly one it was waving around during the PLC announcement. I suggested the mission was now: "We make lawyers whose clients require greater productivity more productive." No royalty cheques arriving from Eagan yet….

jasnwilsn January 22, 2013 at 10:23 am

Well, you see those acquisitions, but they still don't tell you the entire product line story. The large law firm segment has a ton of products under their umbrella.

Charles Ter Bush January 22, 2013 at 10:04 am

This is hardly new news. The strategies of the big 3 legal "publishers," WoltersKluwer, LexisNexis and Thomson Reuters have long been to provide information in the context of software solutions. Having worked for many years for WK and LN, it was apparent that legal content as such has been steadily reduced in importance as a separate product line (witness LN's recent decision to finally shutter Matthew Bender).

Shareholder presentations given by the head of WoltersKluwer, for example, as long ago as 1999 showed a plan to progress up the food chain from mere information to software productivity tools with an information component.

Having said all this, I don't think that the strategy will prevent any of these companies (or Bloomberg BNA) from charging a pretty penny for "mere" information.

jasnwilsn January 22, 2013 at 10:27 am

What you may consider "news" might not be the same thing. TR's announcement that they were moving to the cloud fell flat even though it clearly felt like a big announcement. And for them it was because it was a big internal shift. The same goes for product alignment across the entire Thomson Reuters family. Getting everyone on board with the idea of blending product streams into digital dashboards, etc. isn't an easy task because everyone values their information and services differently (mine's better than yours).

Lisa Solomon January 23, 2013 at 5:36 pm

Did I miss the details about Jones McClure's evolution (teased in the last paragraph of your post)? Or have you not announced them?

Also, do you think there's any value in integrating a legal research tool into a practice management platform, as TR is doing with WestlawNext and Firm Central?

jasnwilsn January 23, 2013 at 5:50 pm

You haven't missed the details yet, but we're taking a rather interesting direction with it. Details will follow soon. As for the integration of the research tool, the only thing I can think is that you have to have it if you have a practice management platform. That's where the lawyer is, so make access easier. But conceptually, the two are completely different. Now utilizing WestSearch on the practice management side makes sense, but then I start wondering if its too powerful of a system for such a tiny amount of data. I don't know, I need to play around with everything first before I get a good sense one way or the other.

Charles Ter Bush January 22, 2013 at 12:17 pm

I agree it's a huge task getting alignment internally, especially across both Thomson and Reuters, facing a similar potential blend in Bloomberg of non-legal and legal content. One of the advantages/disadvantages I have is being relatively old and taking the long view, which affects my view of what is news. Suchsland was a colleague of mine at WK (then CCH) 20 years ago in strategic planning and we were formulating the strategy even then. Executing is clearly another thing entirely.

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