One year ago, the opening day general session at New York LegalTech featured Thomson Reuters, Legal CEO Peter Warwick and Mohammed ElBaradei, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former head of the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency. This session was a centerpiece of the WestlawNext launch, and their discussion explored the rule of law in supporting democracy and the role technology plays in connecting people, information and actions.

As part of the hour-long discussion, Peter Warwick noted that technology can be a very powerful force for positive change. “Intelligent information can be a tremendously effective tool both in the hands of democratic governments as well as in the hands of citizens,” he said.  And Dr. ElBaradei added that social media is serving an increasingly vital role in connecting and coordinating citizens around common causes.

Fast-forward one year and Dr. ElBaradei’s comments are prescient given the events of the past week in Egypt, his homeland. There, tens of thousands of protesters were mobilized via Twitter and Facebook (at least until the government shut down local ISPs), mounted a coordinated protest that has dominated headlines around the world, and may potentially change a political landscape dominated by President Mubarak for decades.

Last year’s rule of law topic springs from the mission that drives Thomson Reuters, Legal: to help the legal system perform better every day, worldwide. This mission is brought to life through our support of law firms and NGOs that work to advance social and political justice issues, and through an innovative partnership with Books for Africa and its Jack Mason Law & Democracy Initiative that is bringing tens of thousands of lawbooks to Africa, where they will fill the shelves of new law libraries.

Last year, Dr. ElBaradei noted, “Now, when an atrocity occurs, a photo can be put on Twitter for all to see.” Today, technologies like Twitter and Facebook are bringing like-minded citizens together and carrying to the world images and stories of a collective movement in Egypt that just may give rise to greater democratic rights.