It has been 150 years since John B. West Publisher and Book Seller was founded in St. Paul, Minn. – creating the first iteration of what later become West Publishing Company, and eventually, Thomson Reuters. Now, Thomson Reuters is honoring West’s spirit of innovation and customer collaboration, which lives on in the AI-driven products and leading legal research technology tools used by legal professionals worldwide.

Legal Current looks back at the beginnings of the company established to better serve the legal community.

1872: Humble beginnings

John B. West

John B. West opened a small shop in Minnesota, John B. West Publisher and Book Seller, in 1872. He later took on partners and founded West Publishing Company.

West catered to the needs of lawyers across the region, frequently traveling to meet with them to better understand and anticipate their needs – particularly for information. From these humble beginnings, West established a legacy as an unparalleled content provider and an innovator who modernized the practice of law through close collaboration with customers.

The early days: The Syllabi evolves into the North Western Reporter

The country was still recovering from the Civil War and Minnesota, which had only been a state for 14 years, represented the northern-most reaches of the U.S. western frontier. While the U.S. legal system struggled to keep up with the country’s westward expansion, its promise of equal justice, just as it does today, relied upon a clear understanding of how courts have treated like matters, and that required access to the nation’s laws. But for practitioners in Minnesota, it could take months or years for court decisions to find their way from courts in the east to the state’s law offices and court rooms.

West began by systematically collecting decisions and providing them to area legal professionals. The Syllabi, a weekly publication containing excerpts of opinions from the Minnesota courts, quickly evolved into the North Western Reporter, which included attorney-authored editorial enhancements to court decisions from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Dakota territories. From there, The West National Reporter System quickly followed, becoming the most trusted source of information for legal practitioners across the United States.

An enduring legacy

“Many of the earliest innovations of John West’s business, such as bringing in a large team of attorneys to annotate the law, creating digests, and developing the West Key Number System taxonomy to organize the law, revolutionized legal research for generations and remain critical to our business today,” said Paul Fischer, president of Thomson Reuters Legal Professionals business. “Our exclusive attorney-authored content and our living taxonomy of the law provide the deep data needed by artificial intelligence technology to drive our next-generation legal research products.”

West’s impact on the U.S. legal system and legal systems around the world is the result of his passion for listening to and learning from his customers.

“We owe so much of our success to our customers, today and through the years, who have shared their legal research- and business of law-related problems with us and have allowed us to innovate at their side,” said Fischer. “It’s appropriate that our most sophisticated and important product, Westlaw, with versions for legal professionals in the United States, UK, Canada, Australia and more, deeply relies on West’s innovations and continues to carry West’s name.”

Check out a timeline of key moments in Thomson Reuters history, and watch Legal Current for more on the company’s legacy of innovation and customer collaboration.

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