Thomson Reuters is commemorating 150 years of customer partnership and innovation to honor the 1872 founding of John B. West Publisher and Book Seller. West’s innovative spirit lives on in Westlaw – a product that still carries his name – and in the AI-driven products and legal research technology tools used by legal professionals worldwide.

Our Legal Current series features voices across Thomson Reuters sharing how West’s legacy of customer partnership and innovation endures today. We hear today from Chris Fenne, senior director of Product Management, who has worked at Thomson Reuters for nearly 30 years.

“KeyCite blew my mind”

Fenne called the 1997 launch of KeyCite the most memorable moment of her tenure with the company.

“When KeyCite was introduced, I was recently out of law school,” she recalled. “Validating if the law was still good was a multistep process involving reviewing bound volumes and supplemental pocket parts to find cases and the relevant citations. It was incredibly tedious, time-consuming, and dated. Even the information available online required four independent steps to ensure that you found everything. Having a one-stop online citator as robust as KeyCite blew my mind.”

At the time, Fenne was a reference attorney. Talking with customers every day, she heard how much attorneys struggled with the research process and how helpful KeyCite was.

“I had been with the company for about three years,” she recalled. “And I realized, this company is about so much more than books or databases. This company is invested in changing the legal industry and how lawyers do their work. West Publishing [the predecessor to Thomson Reuters] was living its commitment to ‘better service to the bench and bar’ in incredibly innovative ways, and KeyCite was a significant part of that.”

Evolution of KeyCite

By 2008, Fenne was responsible for the KeyCite product and content. She noted the citator’s initial focus was on helping users quickly ascertain whether cases, statutes, and patents were still good law or valid.

“But it didn’t stop there,” Fenne explained. “We continually listen to customers and look to respond to their pain points about their research. We are constantly evolving the product. About 15 years ago, customers wanted to be alerted when a law changed. Then, they wanted to have more indicators and flags when cases went up on appeal.”

These enhancements were followed by a new generation of KeyCite as part of the 2018 Westlaw Edge launch and most recently with new features in Westlaw Precision.

“Westlaw Precision continues to surface the most important information to the customer faster,” Fenne explained. “Now, with KeyCite Overruled in Part, we not only tell them that there is something negative about their case, but specifically what point of law has been invalidated.”

Fenne said customers keep asking for more.

“It’s customer feedback that tells us to keep pushing, keep innovating,” she said, noting that sometimes customers’ suggestions are smaller in scale. “But those little things matter, too, in making their day-to-day research more efficient.”

Fenne attributed this process of continual innovation and close collaboration with customers to John B. West’s vision when he founded John B. West Publisher and Book Seller – the predecessor to West Publishing, now Thomson Reuters – in 1872.

“John B. West has been folklore from the time that I started with the company in 1994,” Fenne said. “It’s important to reflect on just how visionary he was in the late 1800s, and how prescient his vision was, and how we continue to live his legacy in 2022. Because of West’s vision, we have over 150 years of data classified to an industry-leading taxonomy. We have attorney editors providing expertise by synthesizing law and fact to create headnotes that help researchers find the cases they need.”

“No one else has the rich depth of analysis and data points that Thomson Reuters has,” Fenne added. “Westlaw Precision is the natural extension of John B. West’s vision.

Citators are critical”

“Westlaw Precision is the next generation of legal research,” Fenne said. “It’s about how we continue modernizing the search and content framework for customers. As Westlaw Precision evolves, KeyCite evolves as well.”

She said hearing how KeyCite has helped customers better serve their clients is exciting.

“A citator is table stakes,” Fenne said. “KeyCite advancements have given legal professionals increasingly indispensable tools. The innovative features have been game-changing for research librarians and attorneys who want to make sure that the law that they are relying on is current and accurate. It can make or break your case; citators are critical.”

Fenne said she expects Thomson Reuters to continue its leadership in this area.

“We were the first to have an online citator,” she said. “We led the industry that way.”

Read more perspectives on the Thomson Reuters legacy and watch Legal Current for additional stories.

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