Ten years ago, I missed out on buying my first home. Having scraped enough money together to pay the deposit and associated government tax, I only had to figure out how to pay for the legal fees. My plan was to use my 0% purchases credit card to pay my lawyer, and eventually pay this off over a series of months. It didn’t work out.  My wife and I were left disappointed when we discovered that the lawyer we had hired and counted on to execute the real estate transaction would not accept credit card payments. While we quickly looked around for another lawyer who did accept credit cards we lost the home to another family. And a law firm lost my business.

Fast forward 10 years and now almost every law firm accepts credit card payments. As a provider of software solutions to law firms, including practice management systems, it’s incumbent upon us at Thomson Reuters to bake in solutions in our products to make operating easier for the firm. Solutions such as credit card processing. So that nobody loses out on business again.

I’m a Product Manager currently working on our Firm Central practice management solution.  Firm Central enables firms to manage their client and matter intake, schedule calendar appointments, bill for time and create professional invoices, among lots of other great features.  Last year, we partnered with ClientPay and delivered credit card processing to Firm Central customers. The feature enables the firm to process card payments easily, all without leaving Firm Central.  Our current clients love it!

For a Product Manager, the real prize is to deliver a feature that delights customers and is innovative. By definition, that’s a feature that customers haven’t asked for 100 times before. It’s a feature that gives users what they need before they realized they really needed it.

We wanted our credit card solution to be even more valuable by enabling law firms to get paid faster and by enabling their clients to pay directly, round the clock, without having to call the firm up first. We wanted a solution that didn’t just think about the firm but also thought about the consumer of legal services. We knew the key was convenience! To make the feature as convenient as possible, we would have to remove obstacles to paying the invoice, such as not requiring a client to call in, or physically come into the firm, or login to a website etc.  We needed to make it safe, seamless and convenient. We finally found our innovative piece.

Once we conceived the framework of a solution, we assembled a small team and got to work to deliver the vision of real convenience for our customers.  After overcoming some technical challenges, late nights and long weekends we were able to do just that.  Recently launched, is an even deeper integration between ClientPay and Firm Central.  Now firms can choose to insert a link and QR code onto invoices they send out to clients. Clients can follow the link or quickly scan the QR code with their mobile device and pay their bills in under a minute. This automatically updates Firm Central in real time and delivers a notification to the firm that a client has made an online payment. This is a win-win for everyone. It’s easy and convenient for clients to pay their bills and laws firms get paid expeditiously!

If you’d like to learn more about leveraging these features for both you and your clients, visit FirmCentral.com and get started with a free trial today!

Thomson Reuters, the dominant provider of research and information services for the legal profession, last week announced plans to reduce its workforce by 3,200 and close 30 percent of its offices by the end of 2020. What is going on and what does it mean for the company’s customers?

The timing of the news, announced at a meeting of investors, seemed befuddling. Just two months ago, TR closed a major deal to sell 55 percent of its Financial & Risk unit to private equity firm Blackstone Group, in a deal that valued the F&R business (now rebranded as Refinitiv) at about $20 billion and that returned some $10 billion to TR’s shareholders.

On top of that, just three weeks ago, TR was touting what it characterized as “overwhelming” sales — 1,500 legal organizations in 15 weeks — of its new Westlaw Edge research platform, which it launched in July.

At the Dec. 4 investors’ meeting, TR presented details on why it is making these reductions in staff and offices and what they mean for the company and its customers. The overall goal, the company said, is to create a leaner, more agile organization that will allow it to better serve its customers and shift its orientation from a content company to a software company.

“As the velocity of technology change increases and the iteration cycles become ever shorter, the new Thomson Reuters needs to run leaner, be faster and more effective,” Neil T. Masterson, co-COO, told the investors. TR plans to accomplish that through three “levers” which will result in a headcount reduction of 12 percent by 2020:

  • Lever 1 is aimed at improving the speed and nimbleness of the organization by reducing management layers.
  • Lever 2 focuses on consolidating staff into 30 percent fewer locations.
  • Lever 3 is an acceleration of product convergence (reducing the number of products) and a shift to public cloud, to simplify product offerings and increase the number that are SaaS based.

“So by 2020, we are targeting a 12 percent reduction in headcount, an 11 percent reduction in the number of products, a 30 percent reduction in the number of locations, a reduction in management layers to an average of six and a reduction in CapEx as a percentage of revenue from 10 percent to between 7 percent and 8 percent,” Masterson said.

The majority of the headcount reduction “has been communicated” already and 90 percent of the site consolidation is already underway, he said.

None of these reductions, he told investors, will impact TR’s “go-to-market capacity.”

TR’s New Organizational Structure

At the outset of the investors’ meeting, James C. Smith, TR’s president and CEO, outlined the company’s new five-part organizational structure following the sale of its F&R business. The company now has five units, with most of its revenues coming from the three that focus on law and tax:

  • Legal professionals, with $2.3 billion in revenue in 2017.
  • Corporates, with $1.2 billion in revenue.
  • Tax professionals, with $800 million in revenue.
  • Reuters News, with $300 million in revenue.
  • Global Print, with $800 million in revenue.

TR enjoys “a highly attractive business model,” Smith told investors. Seventy-five percent of its revenues are recurring in nature and “produce very consistent free cash flow.” It has some 460,000 customers and a customer-retention rate of 90 percent overall. In the markets in which it competes, TR generally holds the number one or two position. The company has $2 billion in cash available for future acquisitions, and expects to spend most of that over the next 12-24 months.

But TR sees opportunities to grow its revenue even more, by pushing into new market segments, increasing cross-selling of its products (the average customer uses just one or two TR products), optimizing its pricing, improving retention, and better serving its customers through a “customer-first approach.”

“What do we mean by that?” Smith said. “We mean providing unmatched customer experience from the front end to the back end. It means taking a programmatic approach to increasing things like cross-selling, optimizing our offerings and getting the pricing right in ways that improve retention. And by serving customers in a way they want to be served, that means supporting the deep relationships that we have with efficient and effective digital channels and improving the customer experience.”

No More Silos

Co-COO Brian Peccarelli told investors that TR’s restructuring is aimed at eliminating product silos in order to better serve customers.

“The new structure … puts a laser focus on the customer,” Peccarelli said. “It allows us to view the world through the eyes of the customer in order to better align ourselves to do business with them the way they want to do business with us, a customer-centric approach.”

TR believes this new structure will drive growth in four ways:

  • Enable it to sell more to existing customers through cross-selling and up-selling of products.
  • Acquire more customers in the lower end of its market segments. Among smaller law firms, there are over 100,000 that buy nothing from TR, Peccarelli said. The plan to reach them is to “optimize and price our products in a way that’ll be compelling for them.”
  • Improve retention through a better customer experience, including better digital experience, removing friction from renewals and simplifying commercial policies.
  • Further tailor products and pricing to the unique needs and financial constraints of different customer segments.

Legal is Largest

The Legal Professionals segment makes up TR’s largest market. (Of course, many customers of its tax and corporate segments are also legal professionals, including corporate counsel, who fall under its corporate segment.) The Legal Professionals division grew 2 percent in 2017 and growth accelerated to 4 percent for the first nine months of 2018. TR divides this segment into five subsegments, as show here:

Peccarelli said that TR expects to continue to grow in this segment, and to do so from various sources:

  • Continue to invest organically, including building AI-enhanced software products such as Westlaw Edge. That is expected to help drive growth over the next few years.
  • Invest inorganically to supplement product offerings and seek to further distribute non-jurisdictional software products, including Elite and Contract Express, outside of the U.S. core market.
  • Reimagine and streamline legal workflow products.

The changing legal market presents new opportunities for growth, Peccarelli told investors. Opportunities come from customers’ interest in adopting more advanced technology such as AI, analytics, cloud and blockchain. Opportunities also come from potential changes in regulation of the legal profession and new business models for delivering legal services, such as alternative legal services providers and non-traditional law firms.

Peccarelli also sees opportunities in the growing numbers of startups active in the legal space. “This environment actually plays to our advantage, as our clients value a partner they trust that can provide more integrated solutions and that can provide the quality of service that they need and they demand.”

Part of improving the customer experience, Peccarelli said, will be to reduce the numbers of sales people approaching them and centralize around a single point of contact.

“One recurring theme is we have had multiple salespeople reaching out to customers, each selling specific products in an uncoordinated fashion,” he said. “A big priority in our customer-centric realignment is to make sure we coordinate internally and have a holistic view of our customer without losing the product-specific knowledge and relationships that customers value most.”

Moderation on Westlaw Edge

Despite the press release I mentioned at the outset in which TR touts the overwhelming success of its newly launched Westlaw Edge, CEO Smith was more moderate when asked by an investor how Westlaw Edge’s higher subscription price would contribute to revenue growth.

“I’m not prepared to share projections for Westlaw Edge simply because it’s real early in the exercise,” Smith said. “It’s really encouraging. But we are deliberately being patient as we roll that out and we’re looking at different ways to maximize the value we can get out of that product while delivering real value for our end customers. So we’ll see how those price points hold up.”

Another investor asked about how Westlaw Edge’s AI and machine-learning capabilities compare to those of LexisNexis and whether Westlaw Edge has a “secret sauce” that TR can maintain.

Andy Martens, global head of legal product and editorial, answered that he believes Westlaw Edge has a very defensible market position. “I do think that we do have some defensible positions based largely on the differences between our collection of editorial assets and Lexis’s. I think you’d find that ours are significantly richer. And we’re also in the process of tweaking our editorial processes to make our data even more optimized for machine learning than it is today.”

The Bottom Line

So should customers be concerned about TR’s reductions in staff, offices and products?

If you accept the information its executives provided to its investors, then the answer is no — at least not for the immediate future. With the sale of the F&R business and the resulting restructuring of its remaining business units, some office closings and even layoffs should not be cause for customer concern.

In fact, if the company is able to become leaner and more agile, as it says it will do, customers could benefit from more responsive product development and more targeted product pricing, not to mention a more streamlined sales process.

And there’s no ignoring the fact that this is, as I said at the outset, the dominant provider of research and information services for the legal profession, with the number one market position in several product areas and healthy recurring revenue.

But I strongly agree with Jean O’Grady that TR “needs to manage this message.” It needs to manage the message not only for its investors, as it did in this recent meeting, but also for its customers. The biggest question, as Jean points out, is: What products will be cut?

I first asked TR about layoffs in mid-October, when some TR employees in Eagan had already been told of their layoffs. A top TR communications executive responded that he was “unaware” and passed my inquiry to a colleague. That colleague sent me the same boilerplate response every other journalist has received:

Thomson Reuters is routinely looking at ways to run our global business operations more efficiently and effectively. This disciplined approach sometimes includes the need to make personnel, or other, changes which allow us to balance our internal resources with the needs of our customers in a highly competitive environment.

Throughout the investors’ presentation, TR executives repeatedly emphasized the importance of its relationships with its customers. “Our customers know they can count on us,” said CEO Smith, “and that is an enormous competitive advantage.”

Customers have lots of questions. TR should be out front in explaining these changes to them and answering the questions they raise. Boilerplate doesn’t do that.

[Image of Thomson Reuters building by ProducerMatthewOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link.]

At launch in 2013, Firm Central was a solid user friendly, cloud-based matter management software.  Fast forward through five years of gathering customer feedback and making product improvements, to present day, where the robust end-to-end software consists of customizable matter management, sophisticated time & billing, legal rules-based calendaring, enhanced reporting, and most recently, built-in accounting.

This year, has been one of rapid-fired, customer-centric enhancements.  One coming after the other, building upon the existing solid foundation to create an end-to-end, holistic platform for small firms to rely upon to run their successful business.

Let’s run through a quick recap of Firm Central’s most noteworthy improvements of 2018.

The year started off with a bang when the team released Enhanced Reporting, consisting of enhanced time & billing reports and a visual performance dashboard that provides a clear picture of the financial health of your firm using metrics.  This functionality allows you to quickly identify top clients and practice areas by revenue, check the status of bills and collections, view the financial performance of the entire firm, and much more. Now you can easily customize formats for displaying data in the reports, as well as delivery options such as PDF, Excel, Word, PowerPoint and XML. Additional reports have been added to include unbilled expenses, unpaid invoices,

Another significant improvement was deeper integration with ClientPay for online credit card processing.  Not only can your clients make credit card payments online, now you can include a clickable link or a QR code on your invoices to make it easier than ever for your clients to pay their bills.  Once the bill is paid online, you receive notification and the payment is automatically applied to outstanding invoices.

Customizable invoices give more control over the look and feel of your invoices. You can easily add account specific details, and an updated layout makes it easier for your clients to interpret the charges, which will encourage prompt payments.

Trust & Retainer Account functions now support multiple accounts per matter, prepayment and escrow accounts, and fund transfers between a matter’s accounts. You can easily view account balances to see if an invoice can be immediately settled.

Quick-View components provide more-effective client and matter management, including a new client billing feature that displays the client’s balance across matters. A new Matter Time & Expenses feature provides a single customizable view of all the time and expenses for a specific matter, regardless of who recorded them or when.

FindLaw Prospect Manager integration improves lead management, including tracking and conversion of client leads.

Calendar enhancements provide moreefficient management of deadlines and appointments with views of deadlines entered using Deadline Assistant, customizable events, color coding and expanded agenda data ranges for at-a-glance views of events and upcoming deadlines for individual matters.

Email Digest
An automated Email Digest provides improved client communication management due to timely notification when clients add documents and comments, or mark documents complete via the Client Portal. The digest also provides notification of your team member activity on matters, calendars, tasks and Deadline Assistant events.

And last but certainly NOT least, small law firms can now manage both their matter and finances all in one place with Firm Central’s recent launch of powerful built-in accounting; eliminating the need to integrate with third party accounting software.  This functionality allows you to manage accounts receivable, accounts payable, your chart of accounts, and check writing, along-side the existing trust accounting capabilities.  You can generate detailed accounting reports, including balance sheet, bank reconciliation, trial balance, P&L, sales tax liability and account transactions. Easy reconciliation and internal controls reduce errors and help ensure compliance and audit readiness.

And Firm Central’s built-in accounting functionality means no more need to enter data into or reconcile between disparate systems.

Firm Central is a leading cloud-based practice management solution for solo and small law firms, providing desktop compatibility with Outlook and Windows 10 and access to a user’s essential practice functions in one convenient dashboard. Firm Central combines firm management tools, such as scheduling and time & billing, with practice resources, such as legal research, rules-based calendaring and automated document drafting, to provide the most comprehensive legal practice management software in the small law firm market. It also allows firms to easily store, organize and share information in one integrated, secure platform. Firm Central’s fully integrated legal time & billing feature enables users to enter and track time within the Firm Central dashboard. Built-in accounting features provide seamless accounting and bookkeeping tailored to fit your law firm needs.

For more information on Firm Central, please visit: FirmCentral.com

By Cynthia Sharp, JD, LLM

You can’t control a natural disaster, but you can control how you prepare. Consider today’s legal practice management systems that make it easy to store and manage files, client information, and everything else that’s critical to running your practice, securely in the cloud. This technology is affordable and accessible. (In fact, it’s easy to get a free trial.) However, if you avoid it, it could be argued that you didn’t take reasonable precautions to protect your clients in the event of a natural disaster like Hurricane Florence. Meaning, you could end up violating one or more rules of professional conduct like:

  • Model Rule 1.1 which addresses competence. Comment 8 has been adopted by a majority of the states and, in essence, it requires lawyers to stay on top of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.
  • Model Rule 1.3 which addresses diligence. It states that, regardless of direct opposition, obstruction or personal inconvenience, you’re going to take whatever lawful and ethical measures are required to serve your client.
  • Model Rule 1.15 which addresses safekeeping of client property. While it mostly addresses money, this rule does note that property other than funds should be appropriately safeguarded. This could include the critical information that is included in legal files.
    Model Rule 1.6 which addresses confidentiality, says that a lawyer shall make reasonable effort to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of client information. If you store your confidential files to a secure cloud-based practice management system and send clients originals for safekeeping, you should be meeting this standard.
  • Model Rule 1.18 which addresses duties to prospective clients. If you met with potential clients a week before your law firm floats away and you haven’t stored their contact information and the outcome of these meetings in the cloud, you won’t have documentation of their status. You’ll be left open to a complaint from a client who mistakenly assumed you were representing them, unless you have proof otherwise.

Then there’s the resolution adopted by the American Bar Association House of Delegates which urges lawyers to “regularly assess their practice environment to identify and address risks that arise from any natural or manmade disaster that may compromise their ability to diligently and competently protect their clients’ interests, and maintain the security of their clients’ property.”

By using cloud-based law practice management to support your day-to-day operations, it could be argued that you have made reasonable effort to comply with this resolution while mitigating the issues posed by the ethics rules I’ve outlined above.

Find out all the benefits of cloud-based practice management in  Cloud Computing for Small Law Firms.

About the author
Cynthia Sharp is a business development strategist and veteran attorney who helps motivate attorneys to generate more revenue for their law firms through her coaching business, The Sharper Lawyer.

In July, CNBC reported that a Russian hacker is selling access to the data of a New York City law firm for $3,500 on the dark web. What’s even more alarming is that, according to Q6 Cyber, a cybersecurity company, the firm isn’t alone. Similar information is for sale from firms nationwide.

The report said it was the work of “very sophisticated cybercriminals,”[1]

However, those cybercriminals may not need to be all that sophisticated. During a session at the International Legal Technology Association Conference (ILTACON), “Watch a 15 Year Old Hack Your Firm’s Users,” self-taught teen hacker, Marcus Weinberger revealed how easy it is for a novice hacker to gain access to a firm’s network.

At the session’s outset, attendees were advised to turn off their Wi-Fi. Then Weinberger created an imposter Wi-Fi network. But even before he could access it himself, an attendee had already logged on. At that moment, this attendee was vulnerable to:

  • Having their password stolen. That’s because too many people use the same password and login for all their accounts. So when they sign into fake public Wi-Fi, the hacker will take login information and use it to sign into other websites. |
  • A man-in-the-middle attack where a hacker inserts themselves between two parties exchanging information to gain access to it. So, for instance, if you’re sending an email to a client, the hacker will be able to see it, too.
  • Device control. Through fake public Wi-Fi, hackers can even take control of your device.[2]

Weinberger explained that all it takes to fake public Wi-Fi are some Google searches, and purchases costing as little as $1.50 from eBay (if you’re patient) and $50 from Amazon (if you’re not). With a little time and money, you could have everything you need to breach a firm’s network.

The ILTACON session proves that now, more than ever, it’s critical that  law firms employ the same stringent security as global banks and brokerages to protect their networks and ensure their confidential data never ends up for sale. These security measures include:

  • SOC 2 Type II compliance and certification. This is an independent confirmation of data security that employs a rigorous audit process to ensure electronic communications are protected.
  • Encrypted emails and data both in storage and transit.
  • Daily backup to multiple servers in discrete locations that are guarded 24/7 with both physical and cybersecurity.
  • Continuous updating and monitoring by hundreds of cybersecurity experts who are supported by intrusion-detection and virus-protection software.

Find out more ways to secure your firm: Checklist: Five Most Important Cloud Security Measures.

While these controls make it virtually impossible for hackers to breach your communication,[3] it can be cost-prohibitive for small law firms to maintain this level of security on their own. The easiest and most cost-effective way for them to achieve it is through a self-contained law practice management system. (Remember, security is only as strong as the weakest link.)

You can find this world-class cybersecurity with Firm Central by Thomson Reuters. When you subscribe to Firm Central, you can be more confident that you’re taking every step to ensure the confidentiality of your firm and your clients won’t be compromised. Even better, you’ll have everything you need to efficiently manage your matters and your firm. Sign up for a free trial today and sleep easier tonight.

[1] Schlesinger, Jennifer and Day, Andrea, “Hackers are selling access to law firm secrets on dark webs sites,” CNBC, July 12, 2018.
[2] Thompson, Ernest, “The Dangers of Public WiFi: Hackers and Fake WAPs,” Business2Community, July 11, 2017
[3] FTC, Securing Your Wireless Network, https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0013-securing-your-wireless-network

When you start a small law firm, often-times you’re more interested and focused on practicing law (you’re a lawyer after-all!) rather than the business side of running a law firm.

It’s no surprise, then, that you find it difficult to manage all aspects of practicing law and running your business – especially when it comes to firm finances.  One area in particular that can be problematic is knowing how to measure the financial health of your practice and knowing what metrics to pay attention to in order to enhance your levels of profitability.

Wouldn’t it be great to easily identify which clients and practice areas are yielding the greatest profits without having to look at complicated spreadsheets and manipulate all kinds of tedious data?  Moreover, how helpful would it be to keep closer tabs on the accounts lagging behind in payments in order to better focus your collection efforts?

It’s now easier than ever to track the financial health and profitability of your law firm with Firm Central’s Enhanced Reporting.

Key Metrics At Your Fingertips

As user-friendly as it is attractive, the new reporting dashboard gives you a quick and easy-to-understand visualization of many of your most important performance indicators. You can now see the big picture of everything from your overall revenue to your most profitable clients, all in one easy place.


Under a quick year-to-date summary of your financials, there are a series of helpful widgets that break down your most important indicators of profitability. In all, Firm Central provides you with eight different widgets that present a snapshot of your firm’s financial performance. These include:

  • Revenue – the total revenue you’ve invoiced and collected so far this year
  • Current Work in Progress – the total value of the time that has been recorded for ongoing matters but not yet billed
  • Billed – the total amount invoiced year-to-date
  • Collected – the amount of your invoiced total that has already been paid year-to-date
  • Revenue Year to Date – the firm’s total revenue for the current year, separated out by month
  • Aging Accounts Receivable – the amounts you have outstanding, broken out by how long they’ve been outstanding (not limited to the current year)
  • Top Clients by Revenue – presents your firm’s top ten clients based on revenue over the last 365 days (includes both collected and outstanding amounts)
  • Revenue by Practice Area – a year-to-date breakdown of your total revenue by individual practice area

It’s All In The Reports

In addition to the visual information you get from the widgets, Firm Central now allows you to run detailed reports on nearly every aspect of your firm’s profitability for a more in-depth analysis. In all, there are currently 10 different time and billing reports that you can run, with more to be added in the future.

Just by clicking “Run,” the reports are pulled up instantaneously on your screen – no need to export to a different program or wait for data to be pulled in from other sources. Better yet, the reports are entirely customizable to suit your individual needs – easily expand, shrink, hide columns, sort and select data. You can even change font styles, colors and sizes.

If you do decide to export the data, your firm’s logo and address will appear at the top for a professional presentation with expanded delivery options, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, PDF and formats that can be easily embedded into websites, all with a simple click.

Double Down On Your Success

Do you confidently know which practice areas and clients are bringing in the most money to the firm?  For example, are you investing marketing dollars and firm resources on practice areas that may not be paying off as much as they should?  Utilize the dashboard metrics to recognize business trends so you can double down your efforts on and reallocate your business development and marketing resources where they will make the biggest impact.

At the end of the day, law firms are businesses and profitability is crucial to survival. Firm Central’s Enhanced Reporting gives you a simple way to identify business trends, top clients, and top practice areas, allowing you to maximize your marketing dollars and target the work that will help grow your firm. By having a better way to keep an eye on your accounts receivable, you can stay on top of collections issues and make sure you’re taking the best actions to get paid for the work you’ve done. Real-time metrics also allow you to make better decisions on staffing and set business goals that make financial sense.

Start enhancing your firm’s profitability today with Enhanced Reporting by Firm Central.

It was eight years ago that Thomson Reuters unveiled WestlawNext to great fanfare, eventually phasing out classic Westlaw entirely. A lot has changed in those eight years, both in the legal market and in legal technology.

Today, Thomson Reuters is officially announcing its next-generation legal research platform, Westlaw Edge, which uses advanced artificial intelligence and analytics with the goal of helping legal professionals find answers and perform research more efficiently and with better results.

The most-striking features of Westlaw Edge are:

  • An enhanced, AI-powered version of the KeyCite citator that provides warnings that cases may no longer be good law in circumstances that traditional citators could not identify.
  • WestSearch Plus, an AI-driven legal research tool that guides lawyers quickly to answers to specific legal questions.
  • Integrated litigation analytics, providing detailed docket analytics covering judges, courts, attorneys and law firms, for both federal and state courts.
  • Statutes Compare, a tool that allows researchers to compare changes to statutes.

Westlaw Edge also includes a variety of user-experience improvements throughout the platform.

This post was a LitigationWorld Pick of the Week.

Westlaw Edge will be offered as a subscription upgrade to Westlaw subscribers. Thomson Reuters will continue to operate Westlaw in its current form until 2024, but it will focus most major development going forward on the new Westlaw Edge platform.

Bloggers and journalists attended a briefing yesterday at Thomson Reuters headquarters in New York where company executives presented an overview of Westlaw Edge. I’ve been given a password to test it, and I will write more when I get a chance to try it hands-on.

Here are key points from yesterday’s briefing.

Enhanced Citator

Westlaw Edge’s enhanced citator overcomes a shortcoming inherent in most citators, according to Mike Dahn, senior vice president, Product Management. In order to identify when a case overrules or invalidates a prior case, there needs to be a direct citation relationship between the cases. As a result, cases may no longer be good law, but may not be flagged by citators.

This enhanced citator uses machine learning and natural language processing to train the system to identify cases that may no longer be good law, even when there is no direct citation relationship. For those cases, it now identifies them with a new orange KeyCite warning. The warning does not necessarily mean the case has been overturned, but it tell the research to check into that.

WestSearch Plus

Currently on Westlaw, as well as on other legal research services, when you enter a search, what you get back are documents. You then work your way through those documents in pursuit of the subject of your research.

But sometimes what you want is simply to enter a question and get an answer as quickly as possible. That is what WestSearch Plus strives to provide. Ask a question and it will take you not only to relevant documents, but also to answers to thousands of questions lawyers are likely to ask. Westlaw Edge uses AI tools such as machine learning and natural-language processing, as well as Westlaw’s own headnotes and Key Number System, to suggest questions as you type a query and provide answers to those questions.

“I do want to be clear: We have not built a robot lawyer,” Dahn said. This will not answer every question a lawyer will have. But what it will do, he said, is help them get to the answer much faster.

This feature will also be available in a new Westlaw Edge iPhone app the company is releasing.

Litigation Analytics

Litigation analytics have become increasingly popular in recent years, with a number of products on the market – most notably Lex Machina, which was acquired by LexisNexis and is now becoming a core part of its research platform.

With Westlaw Edge, Thomson Reuters appears to have come out of the gate running in the litigation analytics competition. It appears to be a powerful set of analytics and to include more data and practice areas from both federal and state courts than any other product on the market.

It covers dockets for every federal case types except bankruptcy and includes some 8 million federal cases. It includes analytics for 13 types of federal motions – plus filters for subsets of those motions types – and for expert challenges.

Analytics are incorporated into research results. Previously in Westlaw, when you clicked on on the name of the judge in an opinion, you would see biographical information. With Westlaw Edge, you still get that, but in addition you get analytics showing a wealth of information about how the judge handles different types of cases and motions, how the judge’s opinions stand up on appeal, how long the judge takes to handle matters, and more.

You can drill down through the visualizations to get to the underlying documents. You can apply searches and filters to see how a judges handles a certain type of motion in a certain type of case, and then see the actual ruling. In addition, related litigation documents are also available, such as the parties’ briefs and motions.

Among the ways these analytics can be used, according to Dahn:

  • Better understand a judge.
  • Better understand opposing counsel.
  • Venue evaluation for plaintiffs.
  • Better understand case and motion timelines.
  • Locate and evaluate local counsel.
  • Prepare client pitches, showing the strengths of your firm or the weaknesses of others.
  • Faster legal research.

State court analytics are not as robust as the federal analytics, in that they generally lack motion-level outcomes. (Although some state jurisdictions do have motion-level outcomes, including New York and Cook County in Illinois.)

Statutes Compare

Statutes Compare is a tool for analyzing changes to statutes. The tool compares two versions of a statute, using red-lining to show changes. By default, the tool compares the current version of a statute to the prior version, but the user can select any two historical versions for comparison.

The tool can be used with all federal and state statutes. However, there are a small number of states for which older historical versions are not available, only the most-recent changes.

User Experience Improvements

Westlaw Edge introduces a variety of small improvements to the user experience. One, for example, allows you to restore filters used in a previous search to apply them again in a new search. Another lets you expand or contract the synopsis at the top of a case with one click. Still another lets you see notes you’ve added to documents without leaving the document.

Dahn said that a lot of work was put into refining how documents are displayed, including refinements to fonts, line spacing and the like. A new document-level table of contents on the left of the screen shows you where you are in a document as you move through it. If you are in the dissent of an appellate opinion, for example, the table of contents will show that.

As noted above, Thomson Reuters will offer Westlaw Edge as an upgrade to Westlaw and will continue to operate both platforms. The company declined to specify pricing, but said it would be “extremely reasonable.” It will be rolled out to law professors later this summer and to law students next spring.

Better AI?

A key point that was repeatedly emphasized during yesterday’s briefing is that AI isn’t easy — at least AI done well. It’s not clear whether this was meant as a jab at other products on the market, but Thomson Reuters says its AI is distinguished in three significant ways:

  • Editorial quality matters for AI performance, and TR has the largest team of attorney editors in the industry who concisely describe the essence of cases and add important terms for better recall and understanding.
  • The quality of the data also matters, and TR has data enhanced by the Key Number system and sophisticated citation mapping.
  • The team matters, and TR has a team of leading research scientists at its Center for AI and Cognitive Computing who developed the AI that powers Westlaw Edge.

Bottom Line

I’ll be testing out the new Westlaw Edge and will write more about my impressions and specific features. If the actual product lives up to the presentation I saw yesterday, then it is a major step forward, not only for Thomson Reuters, but for the industry.

At a time when any number of companies are offering legal research and intelligence tools using AI and analytics, Westlaw Edge appears to have the edge, offering features such as quick answers to legal questions, sophisticated analytics across all federal and state courts, better warnings about potentially bad case law, and more.

Two years ago yesterday, at a briefing for journalists and bloggers, Thomson Reuters let drop a tantalizing tidbit about a product it was developing based on IBM Watson’s artificial intelligence platform. TR offered only crumbs of details, saying the product would help corporate legal and corporate compliance users untangle the sometimes-confusing web of global legal and regulatory requirements. Little else was revealed then or subsequently.

Until now. Today, TR is introducing Data Privacy Advisor, a standalone, data-privacy research product that combines legal guidance from Practical Law, curated news, and a question-answering feature driven by AI, jointly developed by TR’s Center for Cognitive Computing and IBM Watson.

“Innovation has been our lifeblood for more than 100 years,” said Susan Taylor Martin, president of the TR legal business, in a statement. “Data Privacy Advisor is a great example of how we’ve brought together our global content, domain expertise and distinctive technology to meet the needs of legal and compliance professionals.”

This is a specialty research product aimed at lawyers in corporate legal departments, corporate compliance professionals, and corporate and data-privacy lawyers in law firms. Its key features are:

  • Global statutory and regulatory materials, including pending legislation and regulations, data privacy country guides for more than 80 countries, the full GDPR library, and Practical Law know-how content directed to global legal and program management issues.
  • AI-powered question answering that allows users to ask questions in their own words and receive a full-sentence answer.
  • Curated news, analysis and blog content specific to data privacy.
  • A Related Concepts feature designed to help users discover additional insights that otherwise might go unnoticed, also enabled by Watson.

Ask Watson A Question

On Jeopardy!, the artificial intelligence computer Watson famously beat champ Ken Jennings by asking the right questions. On Data Privacy Advisor, you get to ask the questions of Watson.

To use this feature, the user clicks a button labeled “Ask Watson a Question.” Questions can be asked using plain English, and TR says the system will get smarter the more it is used.

TR and IBM spent nearly two years training the system, using more than 60,000 question-answer pairs created by subject-matter experts, according to Khalid Al-Kofahi, TR’s vice president of research development and head of its Center for Cognitive Computing.

The system was taught to understand the nuances of legalese, from simple definitions to more specific data-privacy concepts, he said. To further refine the training, data-privacy professionals were enlisted to review and grade Watson’s responses.

In the screen capture above, answers are shown for the query, “Can I use cookies without opt in consent?” Answers can be filtered by country, jurisdiction, confidence level, and other ways. The results always start with answers taken from Practical Law. Users can rate the answers with a thumbs up or down in order to further train the system.

The ask-a-question feature is currently trained to work only with certain jurisdictions, but TR will be adding more jurisdictions as the product is further developed. The jurisdictions currently included are: Australia, Canada, European Union, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Malaysia, New Zealand, United Kingdom and United States.

While the aim of this feature is to provide a single-sentence answer to a legal query, there will be times when a user wants to explore a concept more broadly. In such a case, the user can click the button, “Explore Related Concepts” and generate a knowledge graph that shows a visual map of related concepts. Click any related concept to see snippets of information about that.

This feature also uses artificial intelligence and will learn from user interaction.

In addition to Ask Watson A Question, a second key feature of this product is news and analysis curated by TR’s editors. This draws on news stories and blog content and is updated throughout the day. TR says the feature includes content from some 800 data-privacy blogs.

Users can search within news for stories related to a particular issue or jurisdiction. Users can annotate news articles, add those annotations to custom folders, and share folders with others in their organization.

A third feature allows users to browse governing regulations by jurisdiction. The product covers some 80 jurisdictions, and for Canada, the U.S. and the UK, it also includes state and regional jurisdictions.

Another feature allows users to compare laws and regulations across jurisdictions. The user would choose the two jurisdictions to compare a and then selects from a list of questions to compare for those jurisdictions.

(There are a variety of questions to choose from, such as “What data is regulated?” “To whom do the laws apply?” “Is the consent of data subjects required before processing personal data?” and many more.)

A final feature of the product is access to Practical Law materials. Users can drill down into PL resources by topics, resource type, or jurisdiction.

The Practical Law materials include a selection of templates related to data privacy issues, such as a sample workplace searches policy or a HIPAA business associate agreement.

As of a briefing last week, TR had not yet set pricing for this product. The product is available for general release today and TR will be demonstrating it at the Legaltech conference in New York. It is available to customers in the U.S., UK and Canada.

If you feel like you’re working harder than ever, but it’s not showing up in your revenue, you’re not alone.

According to the 2017 Report on the State of the Legal Market, by the Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute and The Center for the Study of the Legal Profession at the Georgetown University Law Center, the average billable hours worked by all lawyers has declined from 134 hours per month in 2007 to 122 hours per month through late 2016. For lawyers charging $250 per hour, that equals $30,500 in lost revenue annually.

Don’t remedy this by tacking another hour or three to the end of your work day – that comes at too high of a price. Instead, make improvements to how you manage your firm. You need to have the right processes and tools in place to improve your effectiveness and efficiency.  If you are feeling underwater or like you spend too much time at the office, this How to Manage a Small Law Firm whitepaper shares three tips to get you back on track and feel like a real lawyer again.

Cloud Computing for Lawyers

Many solo and small law firms are turning to cloud computing to get ahead, accomplish more at less cost and meet client demands.  The foundation of many small law firms is built with cloud-based legal practice management software.

Building a Case for Law Practice Management, a Blue Hill Research study, found that attorneys saved up to 8 hours of non-billable work a month with practice management and in smaller firms this time savings resulted in a 100% conversion to billable time.

According to the 2017 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report about half of law firms report having a practice management solution. However, the majority report that the solution is Microsoft Outlook.  A true cloud based law practice management solution, like Firm Central, offers many more benefits (these are a few highlights, not an inclusive list):

  • MobilityAt the courthouse and need to reference a file?  Receive an urgent client question and you aren’t at the office?  No problem.  Cloud-based practice management provides mobile access your client and matter information anytime, anywhere so you have what you need even when you aren’t in the office.
  • Matter Management: Save time and headaches by organizing all of your matter information in one location.  Easily manage deadlines, tasks, client files and documents and improve collaboration within the firm from a centralized, secure interface.
  • Automated time and billing: Improve the way you track your time and take the chaos out of month end billing.  Automatically track every billable minute with built in timers, even from a smartphone, and easily generate and send detailed invoices, or run financials.
  • Secure client communicationSafeguard your firm data and confidential client data by communicating with clients through a built in secure, encrypted client portal.  Exchange messages, documents, forms and other matter details with clients through the client portal and keep them organized in their centralized matter file.

Gain Productivity, Give More Value

Are you ready to make up for lagging productivity and still have a life? Are you ready to outshine the competition by providing clients more value in less time? Are you ready to drive more revenues? Then you owe it to yourself to at least explore integrated cloud-based practice management solutions.  This ROI calculator can help you understand how much value you can get by investing in efficiency at your firm.

If you still aren’t convinced, discover more benefits of cloud computing and the daily workflow efficiencies it provides small law firms in this whitepaper: Cloud Computing for Small Law Firms.

If you’re making a living as a small law attorney, you know that managing a law practice and a law business is incredibly challenging work and requires you to wear multiple hats throughout your workday.  If you could simplify the work demands, particularly on the administrative side, wouldn’t you be open to exploring options to make your life as an attorney easier?  For Cheryl Bergian a solo attorney in Fargo, North Dakota, her answer to this question was “yes”.  By answering yes, she chose to implement Firm Central, a law practice management software that helps her better manage her document intensive bankruptcy and estate planning practice.

“Lots of information is exchanged by email in bankruptcy proceedings, and being able to keep track of it all in one place with a few clicks—along with court proceedings, billing, and PDF documents—was my goal,” Bergian says—and Firm Central has helped her achieve it.

To help small law firms and solo practitioners like Bergian, Firm Central connects and integrates documents, communication, time and billing, calendar, legal research, and other administrative functions for greater efficiency and ease of use. It’s a securely hosted, mobile-enabled, cloud-based system, which means practitioners can access documents from anywhere, anytime. The matter-management functions can be customized to fit each individual or firm’s workflow processes, and all of the program’s other functions have been designed with an attorney’s workday in mind.

Although there are plenty of choices in the cloud-based practice management field, when making this kind of transition, it’s critical to choose a provider that knows the legal industry and provides the support and training you need to get you through the transformation.

One of the reasons the transition to Firm Central was so easy, Bergian explains, is that Thomson Reuters’ technical support team made the onboarding process as painless as possible. “The tech support people were very good about getting it installed correctly,” she says. “It went about as smoothly as one could possibly expect.”  She found Firm Central to be very easy to use, with a clean user interface right out of the gate.  And she points out, “It’s very intuitive, the help topics are clear and it’s easy to understand.”

In fact, when it comes to transitioning to Firm Central, the guess-work and uncertainty of introducing new technology to your practice is eliminated because of the world-class training and support you will receive as a new user.  Whether you’re transitioning from another practice management solution or are new to law practice management software, here’s an outline of the comprehensive complimentary training and support you can expect to receive as a new Firm Central customer:

Step 1- Introduction:

Your Thomson Reuters Sales Representative will introduce you to your firm’s dedicated Firm Central Project Manager who will assist and guide you through the onboarding process.

Step 2- Installation and Set-up

Your Firm Central Project Manager will schedule a virtual meeting to install and set-up Firm Central at your designated time.  They will discuss in greater detail your firm’s setup needs, including training preferences, data migration needs, etc.  They will work with you to schedule follow-up trainings at your convenience (as many as you need).

Step 3- Data Input/Migration

Your Project Manager will help you get started with importing and uploading your firm information into Firm Central through an initial 60-minute consultation, and will schedule post data input and migration user training.

Step 4- Product Training

Comprehensive training from your Firm Central Project Manager is tailored to meet your firm’s specific needs for as along as you need the support.  Extensive self-help resources are also available on the Firm Central support page and within the Firm Central product help section.

Step 5- Ensuring your success with ongoing support

Once your firm is confidently up and running with Firm Central, you will be assigned to a dedicated product specialist that will continue to help you get value out of the product, assist with more advanced training, answer any product-related questions, and help troubleshoot any issues should you ever need it. 

As current customer Cheryl Bergian confirms, the ongoing support has been superb, “When I do have a question, tech support is extremely responsive. They clearly understand the issues, and can tell me what the program can and can’t do.”

Although tech support is there when she needs it, Bergian says she rarely needs to call  on them because the program “runs so smoothly.” It’s also transformed the way she manages her business and her time. Before she began using Firm Central to help manage her practice, for instance, she had to manually back up email and documents and other correspondence, and keep track of her time and billing separately. Now, backup happens automatically, and her favorite feature—complete integration of the file-management and time-and-billing functions—saves her hours of time and hassle each month.

Having seen what Firm Central has done for her practice, Bergian’s advice for attorneys wondering whether such a cloud-based file-management system is “worth it” couldn’t be more straightforward. “Yes, it is,” she says. “My practice is small, so it’s critical that I operate as efficiently as I can, and Firm Central helps me do that.”

Start your Free Trial of Firm Central today!