The Cupcake: A new editorial paradigm for legal publishing?

by Jason Wilson on January 23, 2013

Contrary to popular belief, there were no prostitutes or blow at the Thomson Reuters’ Bloggers’ Summit, but there were plenty of other things going on to keep us aroused. Take, for example, Mike Suchsland’s comments regarding the acquisition of PLC and his characterization of their editorial model as “sophisticated.” This comment was loosely contextualized by a brief comparison with Thomson Reuters’ current editorial practices, which puzzled me a bit. After all, I had only had one brief conversation before the presentations on how TR might integrate PLC content, and now Suchsland was talking editorial models, not content. Was he saying Thomson Reuters current editorial processes and workflow should be more like PLCs, and if so, what exactly does that mean?

Rather than make assumptions about what I heard, I asked Suchsland if he wouldn’t mind clarifying. Thankfully he did, and here’s what he had to say:

I certainly didn’t mean to draw any direct comparison to the editorial standards of Thomson Reuters and Practical Law Company – perhaps other than to say that they’re both without peer.

PLC’s reputation in the marketplace is a direct reflection of the experience and insight of its team of expert attorney editors, many of whom have worked at the world’s leading law firms and corporate legal departments. Their collection of expert know-how is updated continuously by these attorneys to always reflect current law and practice. Its editorial standards and authority relating to legal know-how is best in class. Lawyers at all levels trust this content explicitly when advising clients every day.

Likewise, for 140 years, we’ve been steeped in the law and we’ve had a staff of attorneys creating our products since our beginnings. Our editorial standards around summarizing, analyzing, classifying and organizing the law are unique and our attorney editors are foundational to our products and our reputation. We have attorneys who are the hands-down world experts in their areas of specialization as well. Our attorney editors’ deep knowledge of the law and the care they put into their work for the benefit of our customers is a matter of pride for them … and for us. It’s this mile-deep relationship with the law that provides us our authoritative edge as well as our coveted standing in service to the legal marketplace and the U.S. legal system.

As you know, attorney authored and enhanced content like headnotes and case summaries, digests, Key Numbers and the National Reporter System were the basis of Westlaw and KeyCite, and decades later, the same attorney authored content and taxonomy became the metadata driving WestSearch on WestlawNext.

So rather than compare, I’d prefer to put them together. I believe Practical Law Company is a perfect complement to Thomson Reuters, and our attorney authored content uniquely positions the company to deliver new productivity solutions that marry world-class legal information, expert know-how resources and software tools to help in-house lawyers and outside counsel do their work faster and more efficiently.

My takeaway right now, without further information, is that PLC is going to sit on top of the foundation created by West’s attorney-editors, the icing to the cake so to speak. So while we’ll always have vanilla or chocolate as a base, we’ll be able to get all sorts of hip new flavors on top (e.g., bacon-infused chocolate with a sprinkle of Pop Rocks). If this is how it will work, then the blend seems to be something of an admission that processes for creating both types of content are really quite different, perhaps even mutually exclusive. I might even go further and say that captive editors, despite their mile-deep knowledge, will never be able to deliver the kind of analysis that an in-the-wild attorney can (although the lawyer might need a translator). The former will be better at baking the cake, while the latter mixes up the icing. It certainly suggests a new mode of accessing foundational content (i.e., through current awareness). In other words, PLC will become a driver for many Thomson Reuters properties.

Alas, so much to think about. 1 If anyone has some good working knowledge of PLC’s editorial practices, I’d love to hear from you.

[Image (CC) by tarale]

Notes:

  1. Like, will PLC’s real-time analysis be aligned with West’s taxonomies so that when the information becomes stale or otherwise ages it finds a way to seep down into and become a part of the foundation. Will aged PLC content be integrated into West secondary sources, and if so, how will the cost of that information be accounted for among divisions, if at all?

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