February 12, 2013
What Was the Most Significant Development in the Legal Publishing, Legal Solutions, Professional Legal Services (whatever) Industry in 2012?
No doubt we all have our own opinions on this topic. Here's mine.
The most significant development in our vendor industry last year was the appointment of Greg McCaffery as CEO of Bloomberg Law. That's right, it wasn't some product or service roll-out. It's a real live human being who succeeded Larry Thompson upon his retirement.
According to the Sept. 4, 2012 press release, "McCaffery will be responsible for development and execution of strategy and management of day-to-day operations as Bloomberg Law expands its role as a leader in the field of online legal research." The PR language is a fairly boilerplate iteration of a CEO gig. So that is not why Bloomberg's appointment of McCaffery as BLaw CEO is significant.
Can you name any WEXIS CEO who started his legal publishing career as a content creator? Any WEXIS CEO who worked his/her way up the corporate ranks from reporting and editorial as Greg McCaffery did (1986-1990) into management and eventually into the uber executive suite as McCaffery did when he was appointed BNA President and COO in 2007? I can't think of one WEXIS CEO who did. (NB: Jim Smith, TRI's current CEO, may have some sort of journalism background from way-back-when).
Being an aging and decrepit law librarian who starting practicing his profession as a research specialist in BigLaw back in 1980 by relying on expert-written and expert-screened publications like current awareness services such as BNA's USLW, Daily Tax, Daily Labor, Securities, Antitrust and Trade Reg, and BNA's loose-leafs covering practice specialities such as labor law, labor arbitration, employment discrimination, wage and hour, collective bargaining plus the first-to-market individual (employment) rights back in the at-will war days, I wonder if any of the content and/or tools I used were sourced by Greg when he was in the editorial trenches. Can you think of any other legal vendor CEO whose employment history might cause one to ask that question?
But pointing to something that's a quarter of a century ago isn't the reason McCaffery's appointment as BLaw CEO is the significant event in 2012. It's just a lead-in.
After the early days of BNA launching multiple websites for specific p-equivalents, BNA moved towards consolidation and integration of its web destinations. BNA's resource centers were Greg's babies. Perhaps only conceptually. Perhaps the concept wasn't even his idea. However, he was the one who said "do it" because he knew that for a business model which centers on Content, delivery of that content must change based on do-able technological containers.
But even pointing to BNA's resource centers isn't the reason why naming McCaffery BLaw CEO is significant.
Seeing that BNA did not have the deep pockets to continue to keep pace with technology, McCaffery realized that for BNA and its workforce to survive and thrive as a high quality legal publisher, this employee-owned company would have to be acquired by a company that valued and intended to maintain BNA's reputation with a substantial capital infusion. This is where the very deep pockets of Bloomberg came into play. You don't think Bloomberg paid $900-plus K, one hellva whooping premium above what any employee would have received for cashing out his/her BNA shares to the Company, to acquire BNA for its 1% world market share and/or for its subscription roll, do you?
After a couple of fitful attempts to mimic BNA's current awareness services as well as licensing treatise content from PLI and industry associations for online access, while pretending not to be all that interested in secondary source product lines, BLaw needed BNA to compete in the uber high-end private sector space. This is how a new player differentiates itself from the status quo of established vendors and their offerings. Bloomberg's acquistion of BNA had nothing to do with property and goodwill assets. It was a human capital acquisition, one that was overwhelming supported by BNA's employee-owners.
Bloomberg stated that BNA would remain a standalone. During the last 30-plus years of M&A activity up to and including some very recent deals in this industry, those statements are made routinely but such pro forma hands-off "commitments" do not endure. So why is McCaffery's appointment as CEO of BLaw the most significant development in 2012? It is because the appointment confirms that a guy who worked his way up the ranks from Editiorial to this latest promotion affirms that BNA was a human capital asset acquisition. Call it symbolic if you want but based on his 25-year career track record I seriously doubt Greg will be anyone's icon of a lap dog when it comes to the "development and execution of strategy and management of day-to-day operations" for BLaw.
End note. If BLaw's bar is stocked with nothing but the swill known as Bud Light Lime at the Seattle 2013 cocktail party, I'll have to publish a retraction. Despite his sense of humor, Greg probably won't be responsible for instructing the catering service to load the ice coolers with just that. However, the buck has to stop with someone and Greg isn't known for pushing anyone under the bus. (If the Bud Lite Lime Guy makes an appearance at Seattle, those coolers better be very well stocked.) [JH]