Today Thomson Reuters announced that it had launched the latest incarnation of Westlaw Business as “The Business Law Center on WestlawNext.” There have been seismic shifts in law firms and the legal publishing industry since Thomson Reuters first waded into the corporate practice market in 2005 with the acquisition of Global Securities Information (GSI). Seven years on, TR has to overcome customer cynicism and a complex range of competitors including: the big, rich and innovative (Bloomberg Law); the small and innovative (Intelligize); the small and commoditized (10K Wizard) and direct competition from Lexisnexis/Knowledge Mosaic.
A Brief History of The Big Bungle(s)
In 2005 Thomson Reuters acquired one of the most beloved legal research brands, Global Securities Information (GSI) owner of the LivEdgar product. GSI had a long history of providing securities research and retrieving documents from the public reading room of the SEC. It was the first product to offer “real time” access to SEC documents. To lawyers and researchers the “good will”of the GSI brand extended beyond the product to the extraordinary GSI customer support team of expert securities researchers. The team functioned as a trusted extension of the firm’s research team. It was in effect, an early “legal process outsourcer” which specialized in complex securities research. GSI also featured a simple “pay as you go” pricing. $10 to login and $2 a minute.
According to a former GSI insider, the company had many suitors, but Thomson Reuters beat out the competitors because they promised GSI’s founders that they would not fire the GSI customer support team. The team was not fired but it seemed to wither away and was unable to perform as it had when part of a small company. West’s customer support for their legal product remains one of the best in the business. That said, their attorney research generalists were not prepared to deliver the level of expertise developed by years combing through 10K exhibits or the mining the mysteries of private placement documents. Thomson Reuters also decided to discard the powerful LivEdgar brand.
· In 2007 Thomson Reuters relaunched LivEdgar as WestlawBusiness. It was a “stand alone” corporate research platform, separate fromWestlaw which offered SEC documents and specialized practice centers. The securities filings were no longer the centerpiece. They eliminated the low cost “pay as you go” model and instituted a hefty, flat monthly fee which was roundly criticized by the law librarian community. Customers grumbled that the personalized customer support was gone. To make matters worse, Westlaw Business launched at the dawn of “the great recession.” Transactional work tanked, armies of lawyers got “pink slips” and budgets contracted.
· In late 2010, Thomson Reuters created a GRC (governance, risk & compliance) business unit under the “Thomson Reuters Accelus” brand, and Westlaw Business was a part of it. Westlaw Business was renamed “Business Law Research.”
· In 2011 TR decided to eliminate the dedicated corporate research support team and moved support to the general Westlaw legal research support team. This resulted in large numbers of the Westlaw Business support team departing for upstart competitor Intelligize.
· In early 2012, amidst a company-wide reorganization, Business Law Research was moved back out of GRC and returned to TR Legal. It continues to be officially called “Business Law Research” but moved under the “Thomson Reuters Westlaw” brand.
· Today, it is launching as the “Business Law Research Center.”
Introducing the Business Law Center on Westlaw Next
1. Experts on Call. Making Amends to the GSI Loyalists.
The promotional flyer announces “You talked. We listened.” Not much a stretch to imagine that they are trying to reclaim the glory days of GSI customer service. The flyer also proclaims: “We can do the legwork for you, especially when you are faced with difficult request.” “Call our experts to discuss approaches to difficult requests.” Enhanced customer service promises “our Business Law Research Experts monitor the progress of your service ticket to insure timely resolution.” TR has reportedly recruited some former GSI customer support staff.. The business support team will offer 24/7 coverage. The customer support pitch is being promoted as much, if not more than the content.
2. The Business Law Center on Westlaw Next Features
The latest incarnation of Westlaw Business offers the Business Law Center where it features the faceted search capabilities of Westlaw Next.
o Filter search results using dozens of categories of information
o SEC filings will display related agreements and SEC comment letters
o New search templates for M&A, Capital markets, Loan and Bond transactions.
o Foldering – organize and manage documents and selected text in folders which can be shared with collaborators
o Search by relevance: results can be sorted by date ranges or transaction values..
o Experts on Call- provides 24/7 support by email or phone from team of corporate and transactional research experts.
o Global filings include filings Canada, UK and Australia
o Export data to spreadsheets
o Improved navigation through exhibits.
o Compare text of documents within the Business Law Center
o Improved no-action letter functionality
o Trending Topics on the main page
o Flexible Bill Back Optional ability to skip client-matter entry screens
The Business Law Center has an intuitive look and offers advanced filtering of document keywords and features. It offers a wider range of content with deeper contextual linking between securities filings and regulatory materials. It offers the future promise of linking to the Practical Law “know how.” It has changed so dramatically from the original Westlaw Business that it will be worth a second look by customers who wrote off the Westlaw Business brand during one of its prior incarnations. The market is likely to be both highly skeptical and highly sensitive to pricing. Transactional activity has ticked up since 2007 but Thomson Reuters will likely have to displace smaller competitors who have made significant headway in many firms. The Business Law Center will be on theWestlaw Next platform in a separate “zone.” It will require a separate subscription. Existing Westlaw Business customers who subscribe to Business Law Center will have access to both Business Law Center and Westlaw Business platform included in the price of the Business Law Center subscription.
Fighting for Control of the Transactional Desktop
The speculation will begin about whether the Westlaw Business Center will reclaim the lost legacy of GSI. Clearly that is only a short term issue for TR. This relaunch is surely about regaining lost “good will” and reinforcing credibility in the corporate practice space. But I suspect that the Business Center is a beachhead from which a greater initiative will be launched. It is becoming increasingly clear that as content has become commoditized, the large legal publishers will maintain their growth and advantage by providing more integrated content, enhancing context and folding content into tools for process improvement.
The launch of the Westlaw Business Center needs to be viewed in the context of TR’s recent acquisitions and other product launches. In this year alone TR finalized its acquisition of Practical Law Company, and launched integrated workflow products Concourse for in-house counsel and Firm Central for small firms. The emergence of Bloomberg Law will probably motivate TR to accelerate the integration of data from Thomson Financial with corporate and legal information.
I think we are about to witness a wave of aggressive product development and fierce competition as legal publishers grapple for control of the transactional lawyers desktop by offering increasingly sophisticated workflow tools. Riffing on Neil Armstrong:…” One small step towards securities research, followed by one bold leap to control the desktop.”