Technology / Legal Research The Partnering Model At Thomson West: Anticipating Corporate Counsel's Compliance And Other Needs

Thursday, September 1, 2005 - 01:00

The Editor interviews Tim Wahlberg, Vice President, Strategic Marketing, Corporate Segment, Thomson West.

Editor: Tim, tell us about your role at Thomson West.

Wahlberg: As vice president of Strategic Marketing for the Corporate Segment here at Thomson West, my focus always starts with our customers. We think about their work flow, what they do every day, what keeps them up at night and what makes them successful. Then we try to provide them with the information, software tools and resources that allow them to realize their goals.

The Corporate Segment within Thomson West specifically serves legal and compliance customers within corporations; we begin with meeting the needs of corporate counsel, corporate secretaries, chief legal officers, chief compliance officers and continue to meet the needs of users throughout the organization. In our strategic marketing organization, we engage in traditional marketing activities, but we also focus on product and strategy development using customer research to understand what each of our specific customers is doing, what they need and how we can better serve them.

Editor: In many ways, the functions you describe and the way in which you go about performing them seems analogous to the partnering model adopted by so many law firms and their clients.

Wahlberg: At Thomson West, we truly do see ourselves as partners, both with our corporate clients, and with our law firm clients. Thomson West has a great tradition of serving both law firms and corporations, and we have established great partnering relationships with them through the tremendous amount of time that our sales, account management and customer care teams spend with them, discussing their issues and determining their needs.

But it goes beyond our relationships, because many of the services we provide - as partners - create further linkages between corporate counsel and their law firms that enable them to have a more productive partnership. And in a larger sense, we are even thinking further about how we can create productive linkages and improve bonds between corporate counsel and law firms with government agencies and academia as we move forward .

Editor: You mentioned that your product development activities are based on understanding corporate counsels' needs. What are they telling you?

Wahlberg: We try to spend as much time as possible not just talking with corporate counsel but also sitting with them and watching what they do, determining what they need.

One of the main things we are hearing right now is that their jobs are getting more complicated and the stakes are getting higher. Their jobs have become more complex as they become involved in a much broader range of activities, which is in large part driven by compliance and other pressures in the post-Sarbanes-Oxley legal environment. And the stakes are much higher in that, if something goes wrong, corporate counsel can now be held responsible if they are not ahead of the curve, anticipating every issue and requiring the right policy and standards.

Furthermore, not only are we seeing the range of their activities grow, but we are also seeing their budgets grow for the first time in several years - there were two or three years where budgets were flat to declining. We think the upturn now is being triggered by the added compliance and corporate-governance-related responsibilities. Corporate counsel have told us, however, that budgets are still not keeping pace with the demand for services; they continue to feel that the funds allocated to them are still too small given that the stakes are so high for not complying - placing their companies' futures and their own careers at stake.

Editor: What else have you learned?

Wahlberg: We are also seeing greater diversity in the way corporate counsel practice. Some of them have very focused practices, overseeing many smaller departments that focus much of their time on transactional activities. Others are a part of large legal departments where activities involve a wide range of legal specialties; those legal departments may advise many company activities. These larger departments often have the scope and levels of expertise of a large law firm. However, ALL corporate law departments, regardless of their size or structure, must cope with new compliance requirements. We at Thomson West recognize that the needs of corporate counsel will vary - and we offer services specifically designed to fit those diverse needs.

We have also learned that having the tools to "get out in front" of developments is of growing importance to our customers in many areas: legal activities, compliance work and government affairs. Corporate counsel are no longer - as they referred to themselves - "firefighters." Today, they are "risk managers" who spend more of their time trying to prevent problems from arising or mitigating their severity if they do arise. We provide corporate counsel with the specific kind of information that allows them to recognize they are setting the right policies, understanding trends and making appropriate adjustments as circumstances change.

Editor: Given Sarbanes-Oxley and the other post-scandal developments, it becomes very important for corporate counsel to be informed about "best practices" in compliance and corporate governance.

Wahlberg: Exactly. We have seen Sarbanes-Oxley increase the stakes significantly for our clients in maintaining state-of-the-art compliance and corporate governance programs. This means that there is an increasing need for interpretive and other material that provides information about best practices. Although these might not be traditionally thought of as legal research, it has become crucially important for corporate counsel and compliance officers to know not just what other companies are doing, but also what reforms have been suggested, and what the experts are saying. Thomson West has already brought together a large collection of corporate governance material - we plan to go even beyond what we already provide, however, and link all the relevant material together.

Editor: How do your new services and recent acquisitions meet these varied needs?

Wahlberg: In the Corporate Segment, we focus on the workflow of corporate counsel in an effort to broaden our offerings in ways that meet their many special needs, particularly in relation to their heightened compliance responsibilities. Netscan, for example, is a product that allows corporate counsel to meet those needs more precisely by adding a better source of pending regulatory and legislative information to our core products.

Building on Netscan and our StatutesPlus capabilities, we have further introduced a line of Fifty State Surveys, an excellent example of another product created to address the precise workflow needs of corporate counsel. Because our research indicated that corporate counsel needed a tool that would tell them how the laws on a topic varied from state to state, we created a line of survey-products that do that for particular, core industries. The surveys focus on the laws that people in each industry track most frequently, specify how those laws vary in each of the states, and then monitor any changes or updates. Given the emphasis on corporate counsel's role in ensuring compliance, this tool greatly enhances corporate counsel's ability to track and comply with state requirements.

Editor: I assume that, with Netscan, corporate counsel would get an early alert of pending legislation affecting their corporate client in a state and that it would also enable them to get more detailed information, such as copies of bills, so that they could take appropriate action. Is that the case?

Wahlberg: Yes. We are responding to the demand of our corporate counsel users to enable them to get out in front of and monitor developing legislative issues. With the increased emphasis on compliance, it is essential that corporate counsel be aware of legislative developments that may affect their companies' compliance responsibilities. For example, they would need to know whether any amendment to a piece of pending legislation may affect any portion of a bill that they care about. With Netscan, we put them in a position where they get advanced warning of an impending problem or opportunity; we then provide them with the informational tools that enable them to respond appropriately.

Editor: Can users of Netscan draw upon other kinds of in-depth information and tools in the West universe of services?

Wahlberg: Absolutely. Netscan is intimately linked with our core Westlaw functionality and content. For example, the value of Netscan is greatly enhanced by StatutesPlus, a new product that we introduced last year, which affords the user an opportunity to truly understand the full context of legislation.

Furthermore, next year, we plan to introduce a new product called Regulations Plus which is a complete redesign of our regulatory material. It will not only make regulations easier to navigate with annotations and an index, but it will also bring in a whole set of agency materials that will also be very relevant to compliance issues. This will make it easier for someone reviewing a legislative proposal on Netscan to see how it affects existing regulations and vice versa. The ability to do this is particularly important given the current importance of complying with ever-changing laws and regulations in a legal climate where state attorneys general and private attorneys are quick to recognize and investigate perceived compliance failures.

The integration of Westlaw and Netscan permits users to not only assess pending legislation in the light of existing legislation and regulations, but also to go beyond, as the user can then (through our linking) access relevant case law and related news stories. The great advantage is that all the information is brought together in one system with convenient links that enable the user to navigate within the system.

Corporate counsel want to focus on making the decision - we help by bringing together all the materials and tools needed to make that decision - and eliminate the need for corporate counsel to consult a variety of hard-to-access sources.

Editor: How did the GSI acquisition flesh out your existing services to corporate counsel involved with SEC matters?

Wahlberg: The most interesting component from the standpoint of corporate compliance is that Global Securities Information (GSI) allows direct access to the disclosures and agreements that accompany SEC filings. GSI is a leading provider of value-added securities and securities-related services specifically tailored for the needs of attorneys. This information provides absolutely necessary guidance for a corporate counsel in drafting similar agreements on comparable matters. Of course, as I mentioned, linkage is what we are all about. Thus, through GSI content integration, a user drafting a stock option agreement using our form content may well be using as precedents similar agreements retrieved through GSI from the SEC filings of other companies.

Editor: Could you tell us about the new dimensions that are added by CourtEXPRESS?

Wahlberg: The acquisition of CourtEXPRESS is part of our broader strategy to provide reliable, authoritative docket, trial court document and court information solutions to corporate counsel, among others. Our docket information, now enhanced by CourtEXPRESS, provides a valuable resource for corporate counsel to monitor litigation trends, assess the litigation matters their competition is facing and research outside and opposing counsel.

CourtEXPRESS gives corporate counsel a comprehensive view of litigation affecting your company, competition and industry. "Being in front" of events includes knowing when particular types of litigation are affecting a counsel's particular industry, which company he or she could reasonably expect to face, and makes proactive recommendations in the best interests of the company. Alerting services available through CourtEXPRESS provide instant notification of developments in litigation that matter the most to corporate counsel. CourtEXPRESS also allows counsel to review correlating case information to build strategy based on what has worked in the past, and select outside counsel and expert witnesses with experience in a specific area of litigation.

Corporations deal with litigation and dispute resolution in a variety of ways. Some have large litigation departments handling a high volume of litigation internally, and intensively manage and contribute to the work assigned to outside counsel. Others send litigation to outside counsel and simply monitor those cases. The services required will vary for every legal department. CourtEXPRESS gives corporate counsel access to the specific tools and services that are right for his or her department, in an intuitive framework that makes managing litigation quick and easy.

Editor: Can you tell us about some of the other acquisitions?

Wahlberg: One of our recent acquisitions was a company called Expert Ease, which represents a major step toward enhancing our West km knowledge management product line. Our Expert Ease acquisition provided us with a set of tools that enable corporate legal departments to better organize and use their work product. Although West km provided very good tools involving more traditional litigation-related or matter-related documents, Expert Ease's DealProof now provides the transactional lawyer with better tools for working with transactional documents.

With DealProof, we have speeded up the process of document review. This product makes it possible to compare versions and make sure a document is internally consistent from the standpoint of internal references and the use of definitions.

The internal controls environment required by Sarbanes-Oxley encourages the use of technological advances that reduce costs and improve efficiency in corporate legal departments. Expert Ease/DealProof is a productivity enhancement tool that does both. It also reduces the possibility of a compliance breakdown resulting from serious errors in important documents. This product is yet another illustration of the importance we place on building our products around the workflow of our clients.

Editor: You have mentioned just a few of the very large number of services available to corporate counsel. Is there any easy way for corporate counsel to navigate through this array of services to find what is appropriate for their needs?

Wahlberg: We realize that the governing metaphor patterning our action isn't research. The metaphor is delivering the right information at the right time so corporate counsel can make the right decision - which is so vital in today's compliance-oriented environment. And we have made sure that through our products and customer relationships we can recognize, and answer, any specific need.

For example, this year we enhanced our core product offering, called Westlaw GC Advantage. This product can be fully customized to meet the needs of particular legal departments so that only needed modules (services/functions/content) are provided. The modules included will be based on the industry and on what that specific corporate counsel or legal department does and how it does it.

We recognize that the array of services we offer can seem mind-boggling, but we strive through tools like Westlaw GC Advantage to bring the necessary services to that exact point in the corporate counsel's workflow when they need it most.

Editor: Your description of the services you offer and the additional services that are now available to corporate counsel has been very helpful. I am sure that many of our readers would like to get more detailed information. How can they go about getting such information?

Wahlberg: There is a local representative charged with working with corporate counsel in each geographic area. He or she would be happy to visit with your readers and provide more detailed information. If they call (800) 248-2449 they will be routed to the right representative and can make an appointment at that time. This information is also available on our Web site at www.west.thomson.com/corporate.