Monday, February 1, 2016

Thomson Reuters Rebrands as "The Answer Company," Leveraging Watson, Unveils E-Discovery Point, Practice Point and PermID

Last Wednesday, Thomson Reuters hosted an Innovation Summit in New York City for legal journalists and bloggers in advance of the Legal Tech Conference.
Before the presentation began I noticed  that TR has adopted a new corporate slogan: “Thomson Reuters the answer company.”  A bit of a pivot from their 2013 Innovation Summit where they seemed to be rebranding as a “solutions” company – de-emphasizing their legacy as a content provider and focusing on their development of cloud based practice management products. Perhaps they have found an elegant balance in “the answer company.” I assume this is driven by  emergence of  big data and augmented intelligence as important factors which will impact how lawyers find answers in the future.

Attendees were given an overview of two products, eDiscoveryPoint and Practice Point which will be debuting at Legal Tech in New York this week. They also provided some intriguing insights into the company’s recent alliance with IBM Watson and their PermID project.

Susan Taylor Martin, President, Legal opened the morning by framing TR's technology initiatives in the context of the today’s legal market challenges (the buyers market, maximizing efficiency, the rise of alternative service providers.) Thomson Reuters was positioned as an ally having “the intelligence, the technology and the human expertise that customers need to find trusted answers.”
Drawing a parallel to the challenges facing law firms, Taylor Martin described how TR has shifted to a more client focused development strategy. They continue to drive innovation internally but are also open to collaboration with other external organizations (IBM and Stanford Codex), as well as customers to shape what they will deliver in the future. 

TR Watson Will Debut in Global Financial Regulation
Ever since TR announced their collaboration with IBM Watson last October, the legal community has been impatient to learn how this alliance will manifest in a legal product. We still don’t know but TR did promise that they will be the first company for built a legal product using Watson technology. The alliance will combine IBM’s cognitive computing with TR’s deep domain expertise. A panel of executives from TR and Watson revealed that there will be a beta product available by the end of 2016. Their first collaboration will focus on taming the complexities of global financial regulation.

Practice Point for Transactional Lawyers
Practice Point appears to be a variation on the Practical Law workflow tool. It appears to have much of the same content but it is organized around tasks rather than practice groups. For example an M&A lawyer could browse a list of  M&A activities while moving through various phases of a merger. It includes one on Practical Law’s “wow” features – the creation of “what’s market” tables which can compare deals by a variety of criteria such as company, industry, and deal type.  My jaw dropped when I saw that Practice Point contains a “ rulebook” feature which I have been pleading for TR  to build. Practice Point includes a “bookshelf” of all the key rule compilations needed by a transactional lawyer.  Each book can be read in a browse-able book-like experience. Not clear at all why this would be included in Practice Point but not in Practical Law. Practice Point is also offered in an “in house” version which includes “in house” transactions such as planning a new product.

EDiscovery Point
Eric Laughlin introduced eDiscovery point which will be launched at Legal Tech. Laughlin promoted the product as  offering ease-of-use, increased speed of accuracy and pricing that makes sense. Since TR is a latecomer to the ediscovery market, TR executives knew that the product couldn't simply be different, it had to be better.  Currently most  ediscovery product involve complex  pricing where charges are triggered by a wide variety of factors. TRs new product will offer one price based on a single factor -- the volume of data in review.

Key features which were highlighted include
  • Flat $40 per gigabyte price
  • Eliminate slow loading times
  •  Lawyers can use WestlawNext search syntax  which they learned in law school
  • Eliminates complex training manual to learn search techniques
  •  Eliminate loading bottlenecks by breaking data loads down into smaller files which can be loaded simultaneously.
  • Searches execute 10 times faster than the competition.
  • Browser based searching 
eDiscovery Point

Perm ID is a unique identifier to 3.5 million organization and 240 thousand equity instrument and 1.17 equity quotes from the TR core entity data set. This will eliminate the confusion which arises from name changes, corporate family tree relationships, and different companies with similar names. In the future PermID will be expanded to support people, fixed income instruments and quotes and other business data. A PermID entity search API is available in the Creative Commons.  Companies can use the PermID data to match entities in unstructured data sets. I immediately think of the challenges law firms face in conflicts checking. Perhaps the permID can be used to clean up  conflicts data. But I can’t help but wonder why TR isn’t taking this data to build a commercial "conflicts checking" product for law firms. Try a company search here.

 “The Difficulty lays not so much in developing new ideas as escaping old ideas.”- JM Keynes

TR Legal President Taylor Martin opened the meeting with this quote from economist John Maynard Keynes. The fact that  Taylor Martin and Charlotte Rushton, SVP, Global Legal Markets  were presiding  over the meeting was itself a testament to how far Thomson Reuters had come in escaping some old ideas. This meeting stood in the stark contrast to my first meeting with West Publishing Company executives circa 1983 in St. Paul Minnesota. The leadership of West Publishing Company was a middle-aged gaggle of men who enjoyed recreational hunting and ice fishing. By the mid 1990's West's President, Dwight Opperman knew that the company could not evolve and compete in the 21st century without a dramatic overhaul and infusion of new blood and new investments. 

This year will mark the 20th Anniversary of  Thomson Reuters  acquisition of West Publishing Company.  During the Summit TR executives laid out a vision of change through collaboration and innovation. It is hard to imagine what law firms will look like in 20 years but I assume that those which survive will have mastered the escape from old ideas. Will Thomson Reuters actually evolve into a full fledged legal service provider in the future? After all they are "the answer company" and what lawyers (and librarians do) if not provide answers?

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