The Good Guys of Legal and Professional Publishing

I wonder if many others, like me, find almost all those uplifting messages posted and spread on social and business media sites, intensely nauseating? Mostly they instruct, or rather order us to have some kind of simplistic emotional feeling surrounding “do something awesome”, “life is like a (any noun will do)”, “17 things that mentally strong people do” or, maybe even more shallow, the command that we “keep calm” followed by something really tedious. However, I could probably live with “keep calm and stop getting childishly over-excited about next to nothing”. Equally absurd is that the people who write or repeat the nonsense, when you actually know them personally, you are reminded that they rarely are true proponents of the supposedly high moral ground they espouse but are as likely to be even worse than the rest of us.

It makes me despair about such people or rather just the lack of real life experience of those who would create or pay any attention to this often deceitful drivel. Few in number I hope, but those unquestioning, never cynical or sceptical enthusiasts exist, ready to parrot whatever lies, myths and breakable promises that are handed down to them. I notice that they rarely are “experienced”, “trained”, “educated”, “knowledgeable” or “interested” in their field or necessarily good at it but almost inevitably “passionate” about what they do, an emotion that, entirely subjectively, I normally tend to associate either with romantic endeavours or uncontrolled criminality, sometimes both. Nothing is described in measured and comparative ways but only in terms of “awesome” and “amazing”, which it rarely appears to be. With, as I perceive it, their beliefs in the authority of whomever is in position, impossible magic, mysticism, myth and acceptance of the correctness of whatever status quo they encounter, while wishing them no harm nor intending to cause offence, I try to keep my distance from them. They just aren’t normally my kind of person. Probably no harm done; life’s rich tapestry and all that.

I haven’t come across an enormous number of such types working in legal and professional publishing, I’m pleased to report, yet I wonder why? Probably having something to do with the relative sanity and comparative rationality of the law is not irrelevant. More than this, it tends to attract somewhat “less is more” kinds of people who value statement of fact over hysteria and dishonesty, and opinion that is informed, maybe objective, even expert. In terms of a view on the world and such issues as social responsibility, quoting a former such colleague, and for those who have some familiarity with British journalism, those in legal publishing might, on balance, be enthusiasts more for The Guardian than The Telegraph. Consistent with the overall demographic base of publishing personnel, the presence of women is more fairly measurable than in some other places and there is more to be done but at least absurd attempts at exercising faux alpha-male traits tend to look somewhat out of place in the industry. Against that, in my own experience, genuine entrepreneurs in legal publishing seem somewhat few and far between, though not altogether missing. Perhaps the legal publishing types are too pleasant, thoughtful and cautious to take great entrepreneurial risks.

Therefore, one of my great attractions to the legal and professional publishing trade is the familiar presence of the good guys of this world. These are the ones who usually think before they speak, listen more than lecture, try to speak and act truthfully, honourably and with integrity and seek to avoid the political shenanigans that are an inevitable part of working life. At the same time, they are the ones who remain determined to make their industry and the products and services it produces exciting, innovative and relevant, rather than otherwise. I have thus far been able to keep close to these sorts and, where possible, avoid their risible management-speak opposites. I believe it serves me well.

I don’t think that the benefits that the good guys bring are minor or personal to me but rather are of massive significance to a successfully functioning legal and professional publishing industry and its customers. For those, and there are many, who would debunk the value of investing in creating and sustaining high quality standards in products and services, the good guys would certainly be off-message, I am certain. Jason Wilson’s comments on current and likely future trends are worth reading. Doing everything that is necessary, yet measured, proportionate and optimal to deliver the mix of great commercial and financial success with quality, customer service and satisfaction, responsibility to and for employees and shareholders requires a balanced approach is far from easy. Those who would take a one-dimensional approach to such challenges are not likely to be in for the long-term, as is evidenced by the revolving door in senior management positions, as the resolution of one set of own goal problems often enhances the significance of others.

For me, for all its pluses and minuses, the joy of being in and around legal and professional publishing is the camaraderie and in some cases long-standing friendships developed with the good guys of the trade. To witness in others professionalism, quickness of mind combined with depth of intellect, the ability to be aggressively commercial while simultaneously intensely caring about those affected by their behaviours and that of others, is a privilege. It is such a pity that sometimes those who are less close to the business, who, as customers or suppliers may occasionally see themselves as victims of the worst of its characteristics, are not always aware of some of the people who are part of it.

Perhaps the legal publishing industry, while the good guys are still there, could do more, instead of spewing out the platitudes of many of its public relations outpourings, to tell its audience about the general and specific range of issues it faces, including changing markets and digital challenges and how it is responding to or anticipating them. Much of what we see from them seems to pretend that the financial realities that some of them face do not exist and that their attention may, in some cases, not be on information publishing. Nevertheless, it’s pleasing when we see announcements of genuinely worthwhile innovation set in a context in which no less an authority than The Economist is optimistic about the future of the publishing industry; for the most part, I would agree. Still, I have no doubt that it could try even harder, honestly and genuinely, to present its more acceptable face and to be the sort of information, content and solutions partner that its customers would prefer to have and of which it is capable. In that context, as ever, the continuing and competitive rise of Bloomberg Law remains interesting.

Perhaps some of these issues will emerge and be further discussed at the 2015 Annual CALL/ACBD Conference taking place in May 2015 in Moncton, New Brunswick, in Canada. During the event, with Jason Wilson, I hope to be a presenter in a plenary session, moderated by Gary Rodrigues on the topic of The Future of Legal Publishing.

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