Features – From 0 to 360 in Seconds How to Get Up to Speed with Thomson’s Firm360

Donna F. Cavallini is principal, InfoFirst LLC, a research, competitive intelligence and marketing consulting firm serving professional service firms, industry organizations, and companies, both public and private. Ms. Cavallini has almost twenty years’ experience in the legal information profession in a wide variety of settings, including academic, government, and both large and small law firm. She is a regular contributor to information professional listservs and newsletters, has been a speaker for professional groups both large and small, and co-authored with Genie Tyburski, Introduction to Online Legal, Regulatory, and Intellectual Property Research, published last year. Ms. Cavallini received a B.A. in Classics from Washington University and a J.D. from St. Louis University. She is a member of the American Association of Law Libraries, Special Libraries Association (Legal and Competitive Intelligence Divisions) and the Association of Independent Information Professionals.

When does doing a 360 mean keeping control, not losing it? When it’s Firm360, a new business intelligence product from Thomson. Launched in May, Firm360 was designed to enable legal professionals in the library and marketing departments of larger law firms to generate customized, professional on-demand reports on companies, executives and industries, as well as keep abreast of developments of interest in general, including practice area developments, industry trends, and client and prospect company activity.

Firm360 is comprised of three major components – Report Builder, Company Monitor, and Litigation Profiles. These components draw on information already available via Westlaw and related Thomson products, but the new software allows users to view and analyze information in ways that Westlaw cannot.

Report Builder allows users to create client development reports on companies and industries within minutes, simply by selecting the desired level of report detail – Company Vitals, the most basic report, “Going to Lunch,” a report designed to prepare attorneys for business meetings, and Smart Report, the most comprehensive report option – and then choosing desired data from a checklist. That flexibility is important because it allows users to customize a professional looking report based on the specific needs of a particular attorney or practice group. Data is available on approximately 500,000 public and private companies, according to Thomson product documentation, and users can select from a wide variety of data elements (depending upon the specific report selected), including company contact information, brief business description, ticker symbol, SIC codes, employee count, subsidiaries, financial tearsheets, investment reports (including Investext analyst reports), transactional data (mergers and acquisitions reports), litigation, SEC filings, and recent news (divided between financial and general, a nice feature). A planned future enhancement, probably available in Q4 2005, will address the issue of conflicting sources of information on certain data points, such as revenue figures (this is particularly an issue for private companies), by allowing custom reports showing conflicting information side by side for comparison purposes.

The Company Monitor search interface allows users to set up alerts similar to Westlaw clips to monitor for new company coverage or activity in general, in financial news (including the New York Times), dockets, stock quotes, SEC filings (10-K, 10-Q, 8-K, Registration Statements, and Proxy Statements), M&A deals, Investext reports, and lawsuit filings. According to Thomson product documentation, Company Monitor alerts cover 100 newspaper sources, are updated twice daily and can be emailed or accessed via the product interface. These alerts are a powerful business development tool because they allow legal professionals to keep abreast of client and prospect critical business developments – executive personnel changes, corporate expansion campaigns and plant closures, capital investments, etc. – and thus be alerted to opportunities for additional work, cross-selling, etc. They also create an opportunity for attorneys to easily build, over time, a level of client business awareness that will ultimately give a firm a significant advantage over competitors because savvy corporate clients have come to expect business awareness in their most trusted legal advisors.

Litigation Profiles are available by company or industry. Company litigation profiles are probably the reports users will create most often, usually for getting a sense of a prospective client’s litigation patterns. Although variation in company names in lawsuits and the frequent need to include/exclude subsidiaries makes searching dockets comprehensively and succinctly both tedious and time consuming, company litigation profiles neatly address this issue by using Dialog authority files to create a pick list of related names from which users may choose the entities to be included in the report.

Industry reports offer many useful insights as well. These reports allow users to view litigation data from a number of different perspectives, with report modules for law firm analysis, federal court analysis, state court analysis, document type analysis, law firm size analysis, judge analysis, attorney analysis, legal role analysis, a practice area/ KeySearch™ analysis (this seems to imply that cases are tied into West’s key number system — which is really a logical product evolution and a potentially very powerful linkage — but at this time the KeySearch™ designation seems to be suggesting only a subject heading classification, and not the more extensive legal analysis that is to be found in West’s key number system), and a document match list, which links to West Legal Dockets (but this is not seamless, and requires a Westlaw password to sign on). Trying to determine whether a particular industry would be a good practice area addition? If companies in the target industry tend to hire mostly medium-sized firms, and the bar charts in the industry report show that litigation for this industry is trending upward, a strong case can be made for a medium-sized firm breaking new ground practice-wise. Looking to broaden your firm’s geographic footprint by acquiring a firm with a strong IP practice in California? Use this report to identify candidates for a short list of firms used by companies in a particular target industry, such as entertainment or semiconductors.

Despite the product’s promise, however, there are some issues to be resolved. A search on SIC code 7370, Google’s SIC code (the SEC’s classification for the company), returned a list of companies that did not contain Google, and a Report on OshKosh B’Gosh Inc. generated a pick list of report components that included an Investext report on OshKosh Trucking Co., even though a user selects the appropriate entity from a pick list at the beginning of the report preparation process, suggesting that Report Builder doesn’t seem to be able to differentiate between similarly named companies.

But there are more disconcerting issues with data currency in Thomson’s Legal Record, which is used to create the law firm reports. For instance, the report for Kilpatrick Stockton shows that the firm has offices in Brussels, Miami, and Reston, but firm records confirm that all of those offices were closed several years ago (Brussels in Q3 2002, Miami and Reston in Q4 2002). The report also suggests that the firm has 222 attorneys, of which 64 are Partners, 12 are Counsel, and 46 are Associates, with 120 attorney listings showing no status at all. A quick review of master attorney list on the firm’s own website, however, shows 496 attorneys, of which 251 are Partners, 30 are Counsel, and 215 are Associates. More detailed scrutiny of the attorneys listed on the Thomson Legal Record reveals that 13 are no longer with the firm, 16 listed as Associates are actually Partners, 8 listed as Counsel are actually Partners, 41 listed with no designation are Partners, and 2 listed as Associates are actually Counsel. Most disconcerting of all, some of the attorneys listed as Associates have been Partners for years – for instance, Craig Bertschi, a litigator, became Partner effective 01/01/1998 and Michael Brooks, another litigator, became Partner effective 01/01/2002.

Some of this can be explained away by the fact that law firms are not static entities, and head counts will change, depending on the date of inquiry. Some of this can be explained away by the fact that attorneys are not required to provide their information to Thomson’s Legal Record. But the disparity between what is shown in the TLR and what is accurate is not insignificant, even though the current data is available, for free, on the firm’s own website. Given that this is certainly true for the nation’s largest law firms, if not most US law firms, it would seem obvious enough that Thomson should dedicate sufficient resources to update TLR by at least checking database records against law firm website information, and possibly establishing a spidering schedule for law firm website attorney listings and firm press releases to ensure the utmost currency and accuracy in its data.

There are data currency issues with corporate information as well, primarily due to the static nature of some of the sources used to compile the reports. Because sources that are updated once a year will not, of course, be very current, a better and more dynamic approach to ensure data currency would be to continuously source data elements from primary documents, such as SEC and Secretary of State filings, rather than the most recently updated aggregator’s report, in order to populate the reports; this data selection methodology would more closely approximate the data selection/quality evaluation process that experienced legal researchers follow.

There also is some question about the comprehensiveness of the corporate data. Although Firm360 documentation suggests that joint venture data was loaded in July, and the record for IBM does include joint venture data, a search for Corning Inc. showed no joint venture records, even though the company does in fact, according to its February 2005 10K, have a number of joint ventures (including, inter alia, Dow Corning, Pittsburgh Corning Corp., Samsung-Corning Precision Glass Company, Ltd., Cormetech Inc. (with Mitsubishi), and Eurokera and Keraglass (with Saint Gobain Vitrage S.A.)).

In addition to resolution of the issues outlined above, one particularly desirable data enhancement that should significantly improve the utility of the docket information would be inclusion in the litigation listing some designation of the nature of the case – this would allow researchers to include, if necessary, only data for those types of suits which are relevant to the purposes of the firm doing the searching.

Firm360 offers law firms a number of advantages – the ability to create custom reports on demand, in minutes rather than hours, using content from trusted sources, and the ability to manage end-user expectations by establishing information consistency over time – and enhancements planned for the near future (including jury verdicts, executive affiliations, and shareholder information in November, and copyright/trademark/patent information some time thereafter) will certainly make the product much more robust. As for 0 to 360 in seconds, well, maybe that was a bit optimistic, but a little tinkering under the hood ought to make the engine hum in no time.

Posted in: Business Research, Competitive Intelligence, Features