From Westlaw to a Software Company – Thomson Reuters Bold Leap

At New York Legal Tech this week, Thomson Reuters will unveil an interesting basket of software products for the legal market. While a lot of hard innovative work has gone into the products to be released at the start of February, the most notable feature is the elements that they share in common.

The most significant development was not the suite of products that were unveiled but the change in strategic direction that they embody. I’ve commented before on how Thomson Reuters acquisitions appear somewhat disjointed. But this was evidence that the central vision of products like Serengeti has sunk in in Eagan’s corporate suites.

Mike Suchsland, Thomson’s described how (in a cubicle in Mumbai) the Thomson executives had tried to reconceptualize the company. The image they used was of a central core, with products radiating outwards. They described it initially as a pizza, and then as a doughnut, but neither have much of a core – it is really a way of placing client matters at the centre and radiating products and services outwards.

The aim is to develop products that enable project management-type workflow.

The implications of this are really quite profound.

Thomson Legal has (since its foundation as West Publishing, built its entire existence upon content, upon a portfolio of legal information, digitized within the domain of Westlaw. Legal content was central, and the products Thomson Legal sold were aimed to encourage users to come back to the well of Westlaw content.

For 100 years, Thomson Reuters has rested its entire success, strategy and orientation upon a deep corpus of legal information. The case law, statutory, and secondary literature materials built up by West Publishing, and acquired by Thomson Reuters, had literally been the company’s crown jewels.

Suchsland described how following the acquisition of Serengeti, and other companies that focused on a lawyer’s workflow, prompted the recognition that the company’s orientation had to be client and matter centric.

The products unveiled at Legal Tech this week illustrated this embrace of integrated platforms which supported workflow, collaboration, mobility, and cloud based storage.

The interesting thing, of course, is that this reorientation means that Thomson Legal is seeing itself more as a software company, than a content provider. And of course a software company is as good as its next release, and its R&D Innovation.

There are also serious implications for pricing. Thomson’s business success has been built on selling Westlaw and Latterly Westlaw Next to law firms across North America. The rise of alternative cheaper or even free case law and statutes means that this cash cow might start drying up.

However, Thomson’s pricing model (so far as it can be determined) appears to be that firms will have to subscribe for a suite of products, user by user, in order to optimize the functionality and benefit.

What I found revealing was the wholehearted embrace of cloud-based solutions, and a recognition that the basic platform had to be regarded in future, not as a PC desktop, but rather mobile devices. The entire suite of products were designed to be accessed through tablets such as Ipads. The three products demonstrated addressed different market segments, corporate counsel, the need for news updates, and integrated small firm matter management.

Thomson Reuters Concourse
is built for corporate law departments. It is a matter-based platform, which brings together integrated suite of tools. It deals with productivity and collaboration tools, legal holds, legal research and financial management. It is expressly designed for mobile devices such as IPads, IPhones and Android devices. Thomson are apparently moving to develop a similar product for government lawyers.

Thomson Reuters Firm Central is designed for solos and small firms. It is a desktop integrated set of tools bringing together document drafting, matter management, legal research, calendaring, email and time and billing. Like the other products, it is expressly designed for mobile devices.

The demo also showed a new current awareness product which appeared to be a defensive move against one of the key advantages of Bloomberg Law

A separate product which I have not seen is Hosted Practice Technology, which appears to be the next iteration of Thomson Reuters’ Case Notebook and Case Logistix. These are cloud based sets of tools that provide case analysis, document review, production of case documents and easy sharing of evidence, transcripts and other case information.

Again, the main significance of the products are not their actual content – they are nicely designed integrated sets of tools, but scarcely revolutionary – but rather the change in design and market orientation that they manifest.

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