Like many of you, I have been working from home as I draft this post. As I work from home thinking about Thomson Reuters and our portfolio of solutions, I naturally find myself thinking about our customers. I know for many the last several weeks have been at best tumultuous. And I am not even thinking about our customers personal lives, but specifically about the ways in which work has been forced to change. About how lawyering and librarianship, research, content consumption and collaboration are changing even as I write this. I am struck by how much change the industry, one that has long resisted change was forced to do just that – and not because clients were asking for it (although they were) or because the firms are looking to be more innovative in their delivery of legal services (although they are) but the change has been brought on by an unforeseen world circumstance that has forced people into physical distancing and virtual work environments. That said, more than ever lawyers still need to draft and research, precedents, cases, secondary sources and reasoning still need to be at the center of those drafted opinions – that hasn’t changed. And so, it is incumbent on those of us tasked with supporting those lawyers and researchers to help usher in that change. It is the role of the research and collaboration solutions provider to find ways to bring content to you when and as you need it and to provide a variety of formats and medium from which to do that.
I am physical distancing with my family, and I have watched each of my children stream content on small handheld screens when there are large scale televisions available for streaming. I ask if they would be more comfortable on a television and I am met with scorn. I myself often pass the time reading, and I read books in print. There are 11 books to be read in a pile on my nightstand and no e-reader in sight. And the idea of holding a device to consume content as my children do so readily seems archaic to me. But maybe that’s the point. Content consumption is personal; how we interact with different media is specific to who we are and our life experiences including how we were taught to read or engage and how our brains are wired to absorb and interact with that content. Content consumption and preferences is akin to nature vs nurture. Some habits we can pick up along the way – like highlighting, making notes in the margin, searching with Boolean terms or tagging research with metadata as we work for future retrieval. But other less tangible and equally compelling factors – print or online, are a matter of taste. The last several weeks have taught us that we need to drive a digital agenda. While we will likely never replace print, just as person to person human interaction will never and should never disappear, there does need to be an alternative way for when one is not available or no longer meets the needs of the moment. A digital transformation of the way legal services is carried out is no longer a choice but a time sensitive imperative. We need to embrace technology not for its sake alone, but for the sake of being able to make research better in some way. This quote I saw recently springs to mind “We need to make sure we’re actually making things better, rather than just making things digital. These two things are not the same” [Hilton Hotels presentation @sheldonline Dan Sheldon 2015]. As I work from home, I can’t help but reflect on this and the work that I support – products like O’Brien’s Enclycopedia of Forms and Templates a product that is over 125 years old and is a cherished piece of the legal research cannon. The text has been available in a digital format that unlike the content is outdated, and so the content is being moved to a different platform that more robustly meets the needs of today’s lawyers and legal researchers. O’Brien’s is moving to WestLawNext Canada. Moreover, taking advantage of the opportunity to “not just make it digital”, moving O’Briens to WestlawNext Canada will allow for the federated search to surface O’Briens trusted content alongside similar content in Westlaw, on Proview or in Practical Law. The interoperability and connectivity of the data sources will make it easier to work and be more efficient to find what’s needed and to make use of it in response to a legal issue quickly. In this utility, moving to a platform like WestlawNext Canada is not just making it digital but making the delivery of legal services a better experience for everyone. Marshall McLuhan, famous Canadian media philosopher is most quoted for suggesting that “the medium is the message” and I think when it comes to navigating deep and rich legal content that is most certainly true. Print is an experience all its own – you interact with the pages, know by heart or paragraph indentations where something is on the page, with print you can touch and feel your way through an exercise. The digital experience is equally, though differently compelling. Online legal research is about connectivity, it is about pattern recognition and the practicality of metadata linkages setting off action. However, you choose to research, O’Briens will be available on WestlawNext Canada as of June 24, 2020. I encourage you to check it out and see for yourself if we have really made it better.
Zena Applebaum is a competitive intelligence strategist, legal industry observer, and personal brand advocate trying to change the legal industry one design thinking workshop at a time. Zena is currently the National Director, Market Insights & Customer Proposition at Thomson Reuters in Canada. In her role she is responsible for client intelligence, market insights, and sales enablement across all market segments. Having pioneered the discipline of law firm Competitive Intelligence nearly 20 years ago, Zena shares hers passion for the legal and CI industries as a speaker, writer and a contributor to blogs including 3 Geeks and a Law Blog. In 2015 Zena was inducted as a Fellow of the Council of CI Fellows, she has been a sessional instructor the University of Toronto iSchool, Rutgers University and a guest lecturer at law schools across North America. Zena honed her skills leading Competitive Intelligence groups at two of our GLLF firms prior to taking on her current role.